Once you recover from the cleverness of the title of this post, continue on to find out the eight groups set up by today’s draw for the next phase of the UEFA Champions League, followed by my thoughts on them. Go on, treat yourself.
I can’t see Juventus having too many problems making their way through to the knock-out rounds in this group. No offense to either Bayern or Bordeaux, who will present tricky match-ups at the very least, but none of these teams has the same quality as Juve. Munich is the likely favorite to go through in the second spot, but look out for current Ligue 1 champions Bordeaux to challenge all parties.
Sir Alex is sitting pretty after drawing this group, as Manchester United won’t face a single team from either Italy, Spain, or France, although they do have to contend with Bundesliga champs VFL Wolfsburg and Russian Premier League runners-up CSKA Moscow. Still, the Mancs should have little difficulty navigating this group, although I would love to see a shock results from the German upstart club.
Humdinger of a match-up in this one, as Kaka makes his first return to the San Siro since moving to Real Madrid. Marseille are a very high-quality third team as well, so this one should be interesting till the end. It’s a tough group to predict in some ways, because we have little indication as to how the retooled teams of AC Milan and Real Madrid will perform this season. Milan’s opening day win over Siena was convincing enough, and Real Madrid’s preseason form was fairly encouraging, but real competitive play is another story altogether so we’ll have to see. Group C will definitely have some of the best storylines, though, no matter the outcome.
This is one of just two groups that has three teams I could legitimately see getting through. You have to feel Chelsea are a lock, but both Porto and Atletico have equal claim on that second spot in my mind, at least for now. If Atletico’s strikers maintain the level of form they had last year, and if their back line can achieve some semblance of solidity, they should sneak through. But Porto are always tough at home and will be looking to secure their own place.
This is the other group with a three-way traffic jam at the top. Once again, the English team is the clear favorite, but Lyon and Fiorentina will really duke it out as well. Lyon will be playing to prove something after being knocked off the top spot in Ligue 1 by Bordeaux after seven straight years at number one, and finally breaking through in European play would help in that regard. I still expect the Viola to top them, though, and bolster the Italian presence in the quarterfinals.
In case you needed any more Spain-Italy drama, you’ll get to see Eto’o and Ibrahimovic face each other after swapping teams as Barcelona and Inter face off in this easiest of groups to pick. Inter are the favorites to defend their Serie A crown, and Barça are favorites to win just about everything else, so unless they somehow cancel each other out, both will be waiting for the next draw for the knock-out stage.
This is the bland kind of grouping that convinces me that UEFA isn’t fixing these things, at least not at this early stage in the tournament. The lack of star power doesn’t mean a lack in quality, though, as Sevilla have a very solid team and Stuttgart have some big name players as well. Granted, most of them are cast-offs from bigger teams (Jens Lehman, Alexander Hleb), but the Germans will still have something to say about the outcome of this one. I’m happy to see Sevilla with a relatively clear path to the quarters here. They deserve it after all their workmanlike effort in La Liga, and more people need to see Jesus Navas. Wow.
As an Arsenal fan, I am more than pleased with the draw they got. As with ManU, they won’t have any competition from the biggest leagues (in Arsenal’s case, no Spain, Italy, France, or Germany). AZ Alkmaar and Standard Liege are the champs of their respective leagues, and Athens is always a tough place to play against Olympiacos, but with no Real Madrid, Inter, Juve, etc., you’ve got to think they got off easier. Hopefully they can lock up their spot relatively early and not have to bank on getting a result in Athens in that final game.
So that’s that. Barcelona-Inter and Real Madrid-AC Milan are the headliners of this group stage, which should mean some good head-to-head match-ups but with each team still making it through to the quarterfinals. I never completely understood how they set up the qualifying rounds, but it has indeed opened the way for some teams we wouldn’t normally see, a number of whom have a real shot to make it out of the group stage. Aside from pulling for Arsenal, I’m hoping for a good showing from the Spanish sides, because it’s about time La Liga started making a stronger showing outside of just the big two. Sevilla look poised to move on, and Atletico will like their chances as well, so we shall see. I don’t know how I’m going to wait till September 15th-16th to get this thing rolling.