It’s that time again. Europe’s top 32 clubs head for the sunshine of Nyon, UEFA’s draw headquarters, for the group stage draw of the UEFA Champions League. It’s the note on the calendar that really reaffirms the beginning of the new season.
While there are lots of familiar meetings, the competition between the top European sides is sure to be fascinating at the highest level. Here are four things to keep an eye on during the group phase:
Bundesliga faces Premier League: Part Two
Borussia Dortmund, Schalke and Bayern Munich will face exactly the same opponents as last season from the English Premier League. It’ll be another chance to shape up what many regard as the two strongest leagues on the planet.
Dortmund will welcome Arsenal in an exciting match-up, with Turkish champions Galatasaray offering uncomfortable opponents in the same group. Group E sees Bayern Munich and Pep Guardiola provide tough competitors for English champions Manchester City who will be looking to add to their 3-2 win against the Germans last season.
On the contrary, Bayern’s 3-0 destruction of City at the Etihad Stadium will give Manuel Pellegrini much to think about. Elsewhere, there’s a repeat of 2013 for Schalke 0-4 and Chelsea, in which Jose Mourinho’s men both encounters by three goals to nil.
Roma to push City or Bayern:
Italy’s best hopes this season look to be AS Roma. A club well-managed in recent seasons were in the hunt for the Scudetto last season that eventually went to Juventus. Rudi Garcia’s fast, transition-led football with stars, such as, Bosnia’s Miralem Pjanic and Francesco Totti set to make their return to Europe’s top-table for the first time since 2008-09.
And they should be capable of pushing two heavyweights all the way. Manchester City meet Bayern, again, and the prospect of a three-way battle for the two qualifying positions is one of the mouth-watering match-ups. Ironically, the club’s defensive stalwart Mehdi Benatia only joined Bayern Munich in the last 24 hours. In replacement, Roma have purchased Konstatinos Manolas from Olympiacos and also added the highly-rated Juan Iturbe this summer.
There won’t be any room for error on the part of those clubs, while CSKA Moscow, with all due respect, will make up the rear of the section.
Barcelona and Ajax meet, then Zlatan:
Having made strong changes in the summer, Barcelona will have the chance to test their new recruits against the strength of Paris Saint-Germain and Ajax. Luis Enrique has convinced the bosses to open up the cheque book, moving away from an ethos of nurturing talent through La Masia to keep pace with Real Madrid in the Spanish top-flight.
For around 80 million euros, Luis Suarez has arrived – albeit carrying a ban – from Liverpool, whilst Jeremy Mathieu and Ivan Rakitic have also been recruited. One of the interesting angles around the Camp Nou is whether the club can cope without Cesc Fabregas, Carles Puyol and Victor Valdes in this new generation.
Barcelona will welcome Ajax, a familiar foe in European football; both clubs having been shaped by the same Dutchman, Johan Cruyff. The former Dutch internationalist managed both clubs and played for the two clubs, winning a glittering level of silverware, including three European Cups, four Spanish titles and eight Dutch championships.
Then, there’s the Zlatan connection. The Swedish striker is a box-office arrival at any club in Europe and considering his departure from Spain on bad terms, he’ll be eager to get one back on his former employers.
Liverpool’s return against Real Madrid:
After an excellent runner-up spot in the English Premier League last season, Brendan Rodgers will test his attacking side against, arguably, the most iconic club in relation to the European Cup – Real Madrid. After all, Los Blancos have won the tournament 10 times and are the current holders.
Liverpool have spent well over 100 million euros with the signings of Adam Lallana, Ricky Lambert and Dejan Lovren from Southampton, Emre Can from Bayer Leverkusen and Lazar Markovic from Benfica. In the last few days, Mario Balotelli also agreed to make a return to England with the Merseyside club, arriving for a fee of around 20 million euros.
The teams have met on one occasion before in the Champions League, back in the 2008-09 season. Liverpool produced a thrilling performance at Anfield, winning by four goals to nil. The chances of the score being the same against the current Real team, however, will be pretty far-fetched.
The Reds will also welcome FC Basel, the champions of Switzerland, and Bulgarian cracks Ludogorets Razgrad who qualified on Wednesday night with an outfield player in goal during their penalty shootout with Steaua Bucharest.SHOW MORE