The big spending Parisians will be fairly pleased with this group. Porto aren’t as strong as previous incarnations while Dynamo Kiev shouldn’t provide too much of a problem to a team containing the talent that PSG do (granted the trip to Ukraine’s capital might prove a difficult game to navigate). Dinamo Zagreb were hopeless last season and will be hoping to at least come out of this with a point to their name. It is probably the most they can achieve.
Sales Point: Seeing how well the moneyed Parisians do in the competition they aim to become integral to.
If just for one game…: Porto - Paris SG (the kind of game that the Qatari owners have paid for)
Arsenal will be fairly pleased with this group although Olivier Giroud might be a little uncomfortable returning to Montpellier so soon. It looks fairly close for who is likely to progress along with the Londoners so for that this group does retain some wider interest. However, it’s probably the least inspirational group in this draw. Schalke 04 and Olympiakos are of good European pedigree but won’t particularly frighten anyone and whoever goes through with Arsenal will be preferred opposition in the knockout stages. Hopefully Montpellier’s supremo Louis Nicollin will do something wacky to generate some wider interest.
Sales Point: Occasionally the weak groups provide the most entertainment.
If just for one game…: Montpellier - Arsenal (The French side’s biggest reward for preventing PSG lifting the Ligue 1 title last season. Not to mention the Giroud factor too).
With Milan’s downsizing reducing them to being one of the worst Milan teams in the club’s illustrious history, this group is fairly open. Money remains the main factor with Zenit spending in their bid to make a more significant impact on the continental stage while Malaga’s odd situation has question marks over what to expect from them. However, with Manuel Pellegrini in charge they will certainly provide a challenge to the top seeds. It might also be an opportunity for Anderlecht to sneak through. Yes, Milan really have fallen that far.
Sales Point: Zenit could buy your attention. Don’t blame them; it’s a widely accepted method to generate interest in football.
If just for one game…: Milan - Zenit (the Rossoneri can hold onto their status as big dogs or they can relinquish it with surprising ease. Worth a watch don’t you think?)
It’s the strongest group of the lot on paper. Real Madrid will be aiming to get that elusive tenth European title. Manchester City will want to improve greatly on last season’s effort. Ajax will want to show that they are moving in the right direction on the biggest stage and Dortmund will be looking to produce performances more akin to their league standard. Should the Germans do so then this group will at least get close to living up to the over-inflated expectations.
Sales Point: The champions of Spain, England, Holland and Germany competing in one group. It’s what the Champions League should be about.
If just for one game…: Dortmund - Real Madrid (aesthetically probably the best tie of the group phase)
Nordsjaelland will be loving this. A group consisting of last year’s winners, an established name in European competition and a returning giant will have fulfilled the desires of their fans for the group phase. Nothing is expected of them and they can enjoy just being there. That might sound demeaning but it is truthful. Shakhtar make the group highly interesting in competitive stakes and regularly deliver on the entertainment front.
Sales Point: The Old Lady is back and testing herself against a Chelsea team that’s undergoing surgery to reduce the signs of ageing. The Italian game has taken quite a kicking over the past few years and for the good of calcio, Juventus need to continue to build themselves back up to being a heavyweight. It just might take a little longer than Italy hopes.
If just for one game...: Juventus - Chelsea (the Old Lady is back with Europe’s biggest and with their English-style arena welcoming the reigning European champions, it’s sure to be a game to enjoy)
Last season would have sucked for Bayern supporters. It all seemed so good but thanks to those upstarts at Dortmund on the domestic scene and Chelsea really pooping what was meant to be a great Bavarian party at the Allianz Arena last season, it has been a summer of deep analysis. New faces have added positivity for the new campaign and if their league start is anything to go by then they’ll be in the reckoning once again this season. Just without a final at their home ground. That really must sting. As for the other teams in the group, both Valencia and Lille are entering new chapters: Mauricio Pellegrino’s first job in management at the Mestalla while Lille enter the Post-Hazard days. BATE Borisov are appearing much more frequently and along with CFR Cluj, serves as a poster team for the changes that Michel Platini made to Champions League qualification. However, they would do well to pick up any points in this group.
Sales Point: As a club, Lille have continued to improve in status and with their new ground, they’ll be keen to upset an unconvincing Valencia and a Bayern team that just might get complacent.
If just for one game…: Lille - Bayern Munich (Bayern just might do what Manchester United did last season and it’ll be in the game at Lille where they’ll need to keep their wits about them most to avoid making progress anything less than a formality)
This looks fairly dull doesn’t it? Let’s be honest, Barcelona will win this group before the final matchday and Benfica will finish in second place. It’ll be a little closer between Spartak Moscow and Celtic for third but given that Neil Lennon is the boss at Celtic, the Russians should land in third. At least Aiden McGeady will enjoy a Glasgow reunion.
Sales Point: If you like your tiki-taka (a phrase that grates more and more) then enjoy as Barcelona comfortably skip past teams that will try but will ultimately fail to derail the Catalan campaign.
If just for one game...: Celtic - Benfica (history and all that. We are talking about Celtic in Europe)
Do you remember Manchester United in Europe last season? Wasn’t pretty for them was it? Admittedly for everyone else it was delightful but it will have now provided a wake-up call to Sir Alex Ferguson and they won’t make the same mistake again. Although we can dream can’t we?
CFR Cluj just might fancy their chances in a group like this. Braga are decent as are Galatasaray but the Romanian poster boys for Platini’s handiwork could capitalise on any slipups from them.
Sales Point: Manchester United were stupidly arrogant in what was perhaps an easier group last season and they fell flat on their face, missing out on the knockout rounds. It’s highly unlikely they’ll do it again but this is football we are talking about (yes, it is a hateful cliche but it is necessary).
If just for one game...: Braga - Galatasaray (one of the best looking grounds in Europe hosting one of the most vocally supported sides in Europe)