Real Madrid secured their much treasured ‘La Decima’ in May, but only a few months later, the biggest club competition in Europe is back up and running. With the annual, some may say overly drawn out, draw for the group stages on this years Champions League. The draw for the English clubs have thrown up some familiar foes and exciting ties.
Defending Premier League champions Manchester City have not been able to replicate their recent domestic form across into European football. Their job has been made much harder by their low seeding for the competition. Largely due to the fact they have only featured in the last few seasons. City once again have been put in with defending German champions Bayern Munich, just as they were last season. City were just pipped to being group winners last season by the Germans, with head to head goal difference being the deciding factor. It cost City as they were drawn against Barcelona in the following round and knocked out. Munich will provide the hardest test in their group, but they did win at the Allianz Arena last time around. A long midweek journey to Moscow also awaits them, as CSKA Moscow prepare to take on the English side. Another case of Deja Vu, the Russians were also in City’s group last season, finishing bottom. City beat Moscow both times last season, and they will be looking to do the same again this time around against the Russian champions. Pot 4 had some wildcards, in the likes of Roma and Monaco, who most would have liked to avoid. But the Italian side cap off the group. Roma had a successful season last year, finishing runners up in the league, with a squad containing the likes of Strootman, Gervinho, Totti and Pjanic, the Italains have more than enough to provide City an uncomfortable few games. On paper, Both City and Munich should go through, but Roma will also fancy their chances on stealing a qualification spot.
Liverpool finally make their return to Europe’s top table since the 2009-10 edition. It was a long time away for a club such as Liverpool. This had a large effect on their coefficient, which meant a tricky group would be possible, and it cant get any more tricky than being drawn with the current European champions, Real Madrid. In what should be one of the group stages most tantalizing games. Liverpool will have good recent memories of Madrid, beating them 5-0 over two ties in 2009, with a Torres inspired 4-0 win at Anfield. Madrid are now a totally different beast, so they will be looking to at least avoid defeat in their matches. FC Basel of Switzerland will provide a stern test for the Reds. Basel have been prominent in the last few editions of the Champions League. They beat Chelsea twice in the group stages last season, and knocked out Manchester United in the group stages in 2011. They may have lost key players such as Xherdan Shaqiri and Mohamed Saleh since then, they are still a team Liverpool should not underestimate. Ludogorets Razgrad make up the final spot in the group. Ludogorets are the current Bulgarian champions, and earned their place in the group stages with an amazing tie with neighboring Romanian champions Steaua Bucharest. With the game edging towards penalties. Ludogorets had their keeper sent off. Which meant defender Cosmin Moti took up the gloves for the shoot out. Moti became a club hero saving two penalties, and sending the team to the group stages, though they will not be expected to get any further from here. Liverpool will be hoping to take that 2nd qualification spot, but Basel will proved stiff competition.
Alexis Sanchez has already helped pay back his vast transfer fee for Arsenal, by scoring the vital goal against Besiktas which took Arsenal to the Champions league group stages once more. Their consistency in the competition meant they were among the top seeds, but they have still been assigned to a difficult group. For the 3rd time in 4 seasons, they have been drawn with German side Borussia Dortmund. Last season, in a very tough group, in which Arsenal, Dortmund and Napoli all ended up on 12 points, it was Dortmund who took top spot via goal difference, and Napoli who cruelly had to miss out. Dortmund will once again provide the hardest test this time around, although the loss of Robert Lewandowski to Munich will have hurt their cutting edge, players such as Marco Rues,Mkhitaryan and Großkreutz are still there. They will be Arsenals main challenge for top spot once again. Turkey and Galatasaray will await the Gunners in winter. The Turkish side managed to make it to the Last 16 last season, only to get knocked out by Chelsea. Didier Drogba has since departed and returned to Chelsea. Wesley Sneijder and Felipe Melo are still there, but they will have to be at the top of their game if they want to progress, Arsenal will most certainly have an awkward night at the Türk Telekom Arena. Finally, its a trip over to nearby Belgium for the final group opponent. Belgian champions Anderlecht did not have the best of times last season in the Champions League, finishing last in their group, without registering a single win. Things may not get any better this year in another tough group for them. Arsenal will be hoping to top the group this time around, last season they were looking good to finish 1st, but in the end, the 2nd place finish meant a trip to Munich, in which they once again went out to the German champions,
Chelsea will be the most satisfied by their draw. They have been drawn with Schalke 04, Sporting Lisbon and Maribor. As with City and Arsenal, Chelsea once again meet a team from last season. Schalke 04, who finished 3rd last season in Germany will most likely provide the hardest test to the English side. A squad that contains Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and the much sought after Julian Draxler. But Chelsea dispatched the Germans with ease last season, winning 3-0 on both occasions. Sporting Lisbon may be one of Portugal’s most illustrious teams, but they are not the powerhouse they once were. They have not featured in the Champions League since 2008-9. Sporting will want to make a good impression on their return, and boost their coefficient. Nani has returned from United on loan, and may spark his career back on track. They may make a run for that 2nd spot. Maribor of Slovenia are the last team in the group. Maribor have been in the spotlight recently, after being involved in the fall out between the Celtic/Legia Warsaw farce. After Celtic were provided a second chance, Maribor took it away from them, with a convincing win at Celtic Park. Maribor are one of the lowest ranked teams in the group, so not much is expected from the team. Chelsea should have more than enough to win this group, with their great squad depth. Though they should be cautious not to let complacency set in.
Hopefully, come the new year, we will see all 4 English teams in the draw for the last 16, the last few years have not been too kind on the English coefficient, with the German & Spanish leagues featuring largely in the later stages. Lets see if this season provides an English fight back!