01 Sep 2014
The draw for the group stage of the Champions League has again thrown up some exciting clashes and all four English teams will be confident of progressing through to the knockout stage.
Probably the highlight involving the Premier League teams in the draw in Monaco was five-times winners Liverpool, returning to the competition for the first time in five years, being paired in the same group as reigning European champions Real Madrid. Reds boss Brendan Rodgers says taking on the La Liga giants home and away will be “special” but he will be equally pleased his side were drawn with Swiss champions Basle and Hungarian newcomers Ludogorets in Group B.
Real will undoubtedly be a huge test for Rodgers’ developing side but finishing second behind them should be do-able. Basle can be dangerous opponents –as Liverpool found out back in 2002 And Manchester United learned in 2011 – but the Merseysiders have more than enough talent to see them off. Ludogorets represent an unknown quantity and will be well-organised and spirited but shouldn’t pose too much of a threat over two games.
Chelsea will also be pleased with their draw after being grouped together with Schalke, Sporting Lisbon and Maribor. German side Schalke will be a side Jose Mourinho will need to be wary of but are only likely to get anything off the Blues if they are below-par on the night, while Sporting will be challenging opponents away from home. Maribor, who just about saw off Celtic in the play-off round, will – like Ludogorets – not be good enough over two games to pose any real threat.
Arsenal do face an overall tougher looking group than their aforementioned Premier League rivals but, again, Arsene Wenger’s men should be able to negotiate the first stage. Borussia Dortmund provide testing group opposition for the second year running for the Gunners and, while Turkish giants Galatasaray and Belgian Champions League regulars Anderlecht will be no pushovers, finishing in the top two is more than achievable.
So what of Manchester City? Despite finishing as Premier League champions, Manuel Pellegrini’s men have, as the football betting odds suggest, clearly been handed the toughest group of the four English sides. They take on familiar rivals Bayern Munich for the third time in four seasons, as well as CSKA Moscow, who they also played last season, and a talented Roma side. Bayern, Champions League winners at Wembley in 2013, will always be a difficult side to tackle and those two games could easily go either way.
A long trip to Russia is never appreciated by managers in the middle of a gruelling domestic campaign and taking on CSKA will bring back bad memories for City midfielder Yaya Toure after he claimed he was racially abused by the Russian club’s fans in the corresponding away group fixture in 2013. Italian side Roma, who were Serie A runners-up last season, were the one team from pot four that no-one wanted to draw so there will be no easy games for City as they attempt to get out of the group stage for just the second time in their history.
However, like the other three English sides, it would be a surprise if they didn’t take their place in the last 16 come the new year.