Published Friday, 30 August 2013
The British clubs certainly had mixed fortunes this year. Here are my picks for the winners and losers from the draw.
Manchester United - Overall David Moyes will be satisfied with the games handed to him on his maiden Champions League campaign. United are the strongest team in the group and should top it comfortably but they won't have everything their own way. Expect a few bumps along the way especially with away trips to Donetsk and Sociedad.
Shakhtar Donetsk - Champions League regulars who have caused a few upsets in the past. Play with Brazilian flair given their imports but will be lucky to continue their European run in the Europa League this time round.
Bayer Leverkussen - The 2002 finalists have gradually improved over the last few seasons and are currently third in the Bundesliga. Kiebling is the man most likely to get goals but fans should look out for midfielder Sidney Sam who could be the key to securing second place in the group.
Real Sociedad - Could be the surprise package in this year's Champions League. Impressed in 4-0 aggregate victory over Lyon to progress to the group stages. Arsenal fans will remember Carlos Vela who has finally found his scoring boots.
Real Madrid - Desperate to finally secure their 10th European Cup and with the possibility of Bale joining Ronaldo at the Berneabu will be many people's favourites to lift the trophy. Tricky ties against Juve should be offset by easier games against Galatasary and FC Copenhagan.
Juventus - Italian champions will look to impress again this year and the added firepower of Tevez and Llorente will ensure progress from group stage is straigt forward. Depending on draws in the later stages could reach semi-finals.
Galatasary - Turkish giants did well to reach the quarter finals last year but will find it difficult to finish above either Real or Juventus. Third place is more likely and should have a good run in the Europa league.
FC Copenhagen - Danish league winners are capable of a shock result but nobody should expect it. Former Wolves manager Stale Solbakken is at the helm but will not be able to steer Copenhagan away from the bottom of the group.
PSG - Splashed the cash again this summer and have arguably the best front five in world football with Cavani, Ibrahimovic, Lavezzi, Lucas and Pastore. Not started well this season in Ligue 1 but will improve and are my picks to do both a Ligue1 and Champions League double if Cavani and Ibrahmiovic can co-exist.
Benfica - Could have been Portugese champions had it not been for defeat to Porto at the end of the season going an incredible 28 games unbeaten in the league. Unlucky in defeat to Chelsea in last year's Europa League final and have enough to qualify for knockout stages.
Olympiakos - Resident Champions League participants but have never really found their feet on the big stage. Unlikely to find them this year and will finish bottom of the group.
Anderlecht - Belgian football is far and away the sophisticated football fans' favourite topic at the minute with people pointing to the likes of Lukaku, Fellaini and Hazaard. Anderlecht striker Massimo Bruno is another one on the Belgian production line who could turn a few heads this year. Europa League qualification is almost a certainty.
Bayern Munich - Built upon last season's success with the additions of Gotze and Thiago. Last season's Champions League winners will be looking to be the first team to retain the trophy but the Guardiola factor could be a crippling distraction. Semi-finals will be best bet for them this year.
CSKA Moscow - The Russians struggled last year in what looked an easier group on paper. They will struggle again this year but are best placed to finish third and continue their European adventure in the Europa League.
Manchester City - It's fair to say the last two European campaigns have been a disaster for City but will find things easier this time around under Manuel Pellegrini. Tevez and Balotelli have been replaced with upgrades in Negredo and Jovetic but City will still find it hard to beat Bayern to top spot in the group.
FC Viktoria Plzen - Plzen have shocked a few teams in the past and are very good at home. The Czech side will make life tough for City and Bayern but will be unable to do enough to survive the group.
Chelsea - The Special One is back at the Bridge and will be desperate to claim his third Champions League success after failing during his tenure in Madrid. The Blues have made some good signings in the transfer window and that strength in depth will see them go far in the Champions League this season.
Schalke - Scraped through qualification but have a striker in Huntelaar who is as good a finisher as any striker in world football. The key for the Germans will be to keep their talisman fit and if they manage to do that they should make the last 16.
FC Basel - Stunned Tottenham and made life difficult for Chelsea in last season's Europa League. Europe's second tier competition is a good fit for them and they will find themselves in contention for that competition again this season.
Steaua Bucharest - Steaua will feel unlucky to be drawn in such a tricky group as they are a good side who play some decent football. The 1986 European cup winners have a proud history and will not want to finish bottom of the group but unfortunately every group has to have a fourth team.
Arsenal - The Gunners could not have gotten a tougher group. Arsene Wenger will seriously need to invest and use all of his experience to navigate the north London club through Dortmund, Napoli and Marseille. This could finally be the year Arsenal don't make it through the group.
Marseille - Started the season well in Ligue 1 and if it were not for the billions of Monaco and PSG they would be France's best team. They are quick going forward with Jordan and Andre Ayew and are solid at the back. This group is up in the air and any two of the four could make the last 16.
Dortmund - Last year's runners up have lost Gotze but crucially have kept hold of Lewandowski. Their key man will be Liverpool reject Nuri Sahin who people forget that two years ago was thought of just as highly as Gotze is now.
Napoli - Rafael Benitez has invested heavily in replacing star man Edinson Cavani and is putting together a very good team in Naples. The loan signing of Pepe Reina could be just as crucial as the acquisition of Gonzalo Huguain. As I said this group is up for grabs but Benitez's tactical brain could be enough to see Napoli through.
Porto - Unbeaten Portugese champions last term but have lost key players in James Rodriguez and Joao Moutinho. Old boy Hulk could come back to haunt them and Atletico Madrid look the most likely to top the group so the 2004 winners might have to make do with the Europa League place.
Atletico Madrid - David Villa and Diego Costa will provide the goals but Arda Turan is the man who makes Atletico tick and I am amazed that no premiership club have come in for him. Los Rojisblancos will make the quarter finals this time round despite the loss of Falcao.
Zenit St Petersburg - Big spending Zenit will be a difficult side for all three teams in the group and it is their home form that will see them through the group. Away victories might be trickier to come by and it could come down to head to head games with Porto that will decide second place.
Austria Wien - I have to admit I don't know a whole lot about Austria Wien so by process of elimination they are my pick to finish bottom. As ever with the Champions League there is always a possibility that a small team can pick up a shock result and Austria Wien will be hoping to just that.
Barcelona - Barca have added Brazilian superstar Neymar to their ranks and have started the la liga season in impressive fashion. The holy trinity of Messi, Xavi and Iniesta will once again dictate their season but it could be a breakout season for Cesc Febregras. Again draw will determine progress but are my pick for the final against PSG.
AC Milan - Not at the level of Milan teams from the past and no longer amongst Europe's elite. Balotelli and El Shaaraway are the stand out talents for the Rossoneri and if they are firing on all cylinders should qualify from the group but are unlikely contenders to add to their European Cup pedigree.
Ajax - Frank de Boer looks to have lost midfield maestro Christian Errikssen to Spurs and that could have a big say in how they progress in Europe. There is a chance they could nick second place if AC Milan and Celtic struggle.
Celtic - The hoops proved last season that you can never count them out. Everything points to Celtic finishing third or bottom of the group but football isn't played on paper and I wouldn't be surprised if a few more famous European nights at Celtic Park will see them progress further.
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