Petro-dollars FC (Paris St. Germain) have an excellent opportunity in Group A. After a poor start in Ligue 1 following a summer of heavy spending including the capture of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva. The Croatian champions Dinamo Zagreb, Portuguese side Porto, Ukrainians Dynamo Kiev complete Group A. All eyes are on PSG and their star-studded squad.
Group B: Arsenal, Schalke, Olympiakos, Montpellier
Olivier Giroud will return back to Montpellier sooner than expected after the French Ligue 1 Champions were drawn with Arsenal in Group A. The Gunners have lost Robin van Persie, but will be pleased with their Champions League draw. Realistically, they will aim to top their group but Montpellier and Schalke will challenge for the remaining spot in the Round of 16.
Group C: AC Milan, Zenit St. Petersburg, Anderlecht, Malaga
Malaga, despite their financial difficulties that prompted the sale of Santi Cazorla to Arsenal, navigated the Champions League playoff round into the lucrative Group Stages. Zenit St. Petersburg provided a tough match in the Round of 16 with Benfica and only just missed out on a clash with Chelsea in the quarter-finals last season. Anderlecht also qualified via the playoff round and will look to perform far better than fellow Belgians RSC Genk did last season. A leaky Genk defence conceded 16 goals in six Group Stage matches. The minnows were bait for the top sides in the Group, but Anderlecht have a reasonable chance in Group C. AC Milan are never to be discounted, but the loss of Thiago Silva, Ibrahimovic and others may prove to disrupt the Italian giants this season.
Group D(eath): Real Madrid, Man City, Ajax, Borussia Dortmund
What more can you say? Almost the epitome of the cliché “Group of Death”. La Liga, Premier League, Bundesliga, and Eredivisie Champions make Group D certainly worth watching. Real Madrid made Barcelona look comparatively average in La Liga after a record-breaking season, and a Champions League semi-final penalty-shootout defeat at the hands of runners-up Bayern Munich furthered Madrid’s credentials as one of the elite European sides.
Premier League winners Manchester City find themselves in another tough Champions League group after crashing out at the Group Stage last season despite a solid debut campaign. Borussia Dortmund may well be ready for a European assault, despite losing influential playmaker Shinji Kagawa to Manchester United. Home matches will, once again, be crucial for the back-to-back Bundesliga winners. Highly unlikely that Ajax will find themselves in the knockout stages.
Group E: Chelsea, Shakhtar Donetsk, Juventus, Nordsjaelland
Chelsea – The European Champions after defying the odds – find themselves back in the Champions League despite a sixth place finish in the Premier League. Their penalty shootout win over Bayern Munich, much to the chagrin of the football majority, brought them back in the Champions League and delivered the first European Cup to London. Roberto Di Matteo’s Chelsea are probable joint-favourites with Juventus; The Serie A Champions will be gunning for the Champions of Europe. Minnows FC Nordsjaelland offer little threat but the Ukrainian champions, Shakhtar Donetsk, will be tricky opponents especially on home soil.
Group F: Bayern Munich, Valencia, Lille, BATE
Last season’s Champions League runners-up, Bayern Munich, will be raw with emotion after missing out on winning the European Cup at their home stadium. Valencia, who were brushed aside by Bayer Leverkusen and Chelsea in the group stages last year, will be the biggest threat to Bayern. Lille, after losing Eden Hazard to Chelsea in a big-money move, may struggle to challenge Bayern Munich and Valencia. BATE will be pleased to collect some television money, and leave with their pride intact.
Group G: Barcelona, Benfica, Spartak Moscow, Celtic
Pep Guardiola may have left the Nou Camp but Tito Vilanova’s
Barcelona remain relatively similar in approach. Handed a relatively easy group, the 2011/12 semi-finalists will expect a painless passage into the knockout rounds; A heavy-weight amongst continental light-weights. Benfica, Spartak Moscow, and Celtic will fight for the second spot in the group but that positioning in Group G is very tricky to predict.
Group H: Manchester United, Braga, Galatasaray, CFR Cluj
After a pitiful group stage campaign last season, following their 2010/11 Champions League final appearance, Manchester United have strengthened heavily in the summer. Mere seconds away from a twentieth Premier League title – Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero dashed those hopes – Sir Alex Ferguson’s side added Shinji Kagawa and Robin van Persie as United look to keep Manchester red. Braga and Galatasaray, the Portuguese and Turkish league champions respectively, will battle for second spot in the group. CFR Cluj will be thankful for the TV money, and hopeful of a famous result for the club.