If you could be the fly on the wall in Manchester, Liverpool and London, surely you would hear completely different reactions by the time the Champions League group stage draw was all said and done. Much to the expectations of many, there were similar match-ups for Arsenal and Manchester City, while Chelsea and Liverpool will be rather pleased with their results.
Brendan Rodgers’ first foray into continental competition could not have been a more generous task, with Liverpool being let off extraordinarily easy. While they have been drawn with current holders Real Madrid and Cristiano Ronaldo (and the ludicrous supporting cast), they were looked down kindly from the big man upstairs when they ended up in a group against top Swiss side FC Basel and Bulgarian cinderella story PFC Ludogorets.
The draw undoubtedly gives Rodgers an easy acclimatization to the juggling act between the Premier League and Champions League, one that has Kopites chomping at the bit and fancying their chances to comfortably progress.
Chelsea and Jose Mourinho have the other “easier” draw for the Premier League representatives, something that he undoubtedly will welcome as he looks to push for the league title this year properly. While German stalwarts Schalke 04 and talented Portuguese side Sporting Lisbon have talent on offer, it could have been far worse for the Stamford Bridge outfit. Rounding out the group is Slovenian side NK Maribor, who did well to deal with Scottish giants Celtic to gain passage into the group stage. A trip to Eastern Europe is never easy, but it could have been Roma instead, so the Blues won’t complain.
Arsenal were drawn against familiar foes Borussia Dortmund, having met Jurgen Klopp’s men in previous season’s. While the Gunners did so well to beat Dortmund at home in last year’s group stage, they still finished group runners-up to the Germans. After struggling to deal with Besiktas in the third qualifying round, the Emirates side was also handed the tough task of dealing with Galatasaray, and another trip to Istanbul; it may be an amazing city, but surely the Gunners are tired of making sure their Turkish visa’s are sorted.
Arsene Wenger’s troops did well to avoid the likes of Monaco and Roma coming out of pot 4, but still were handed a potentially tricky opponent in Belgian giant RSC Anderlecht. Despite being the easiest opposition on paper, anyone who knows European football will know that they are never an easy side to deal with.
And finally for Manchester City, well, they were not looked upon fondly in the slightest. Yet again, City will have to tackle Bayern Munich, who will once more be up there with the favorites to feature in the final. If that was not difficult enough, CSKA Moscow and AS Roma provide the other two sides to fill out the group. With trips to Moscow (it’s never easy going far east in Champions League) and Rome in addition to squaring off in Munich, it’s highly conceivable that City will be ousted from the tournament in the group stage – this is without question the group of death.
If I’m honest, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal should all feature in the knockout rounds, and even though City do have the depth and the quality to progress, such a tricky group could well cause them to slip on the banana peel.
Champions League group stage draw in full
Group A: Atletico Madrid, Juventus, Olympiakos, Malmo FF
Group B: Real Madrid, FC Basel, Liverpool, PFC Ludogorets
Group C: Benfica, FC Zenit, Bayer Leverkusen, AS Monaco
Group D: Arsenal, Borussia Dortmund, Galatasaray, RSC Anderlecht
Group E: Bayern Munich, Manchester City, CSKA Moscow, AS Roma
Group F: Barcelona, Paris Saint Germain, Ajax, APOEL
Group G: Chelsea, Schalke 04, Sporting Lisbon, NK Maribor
Group H: FC Porto, Shakhtar Donetsk, Athletic Bilbao, BATE Borisov