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Thursday, 25 August 2011

Champions League Group Stage Draw Reaction

I know it sounds silly, but I love watching the Champions League Group Stage draw, even though it rarely throws up that much excitement with the vast difference between the sides in pots 1 and 2 and those in the last 2 pots.

However, this year was a little different with the likes of Manchester City, Napoli, Borussia Dortmund and Zenit St Petersburg being potential banana skins for the big teams.

Group A: Bayern Munich, Villarreal, Manchester City and Napoli- This looks an interesting group and all 4 teams must fancy their chances of Qualifying.

Manchester City have some tough away games in that group, but they have got together a squad that has plenty of Champions League experience and I think they will be good enough to join Bayern Munich in the next stage.

Trips to Villarreal and Napoli will cause problems, but I think those two teams will not travel so well and that's what will let them down.

Group B: Inter, CSKA Moscow, Lille and Trabzonspor- On first glance, I would be extremely surprised if Inter Milan fail to get through the Group and are very likely to finish top.

CSKA Moscow are tough to play in Russia and I think that will make the difference and help them join Inter in the last 16.

Group C: Manchester United, Benfica, Basel and Otelul Galati- Manchester United will be extremely happy with the group they have been given, and it should provide an opportunity for Sir Alex Ferguson to give many of the younger players their first taste of European football. I expect the likes of Phil Jones, Danny Welbeck, Tom Cleverley, Ashley Young, Chris Smalling and David De Gea to play in the majority of these fixtures and give the more experienced players a chance to keep the Premier League run going.

Benfica are the toughest opponents in the group and I think their performances at the Stadium of Light will ensure they get enough points to join United in the next round.

Group D: Real Madrid, Lyon, Ajax and Dinamo Zagreb- Jose Mourinho should be very happy with the draw, especially after helping remove the Lyon curse Real Madrid had last season.

Lyon and Ajax should be fighting for 2nd place and it could come down to how they play at Dinamo Zagreb, a very tough looking away game.

Dinamo may feel they can cause a surprise if they get off to a positive start, but I think Real Madrid will be joined by Lyon's experience in the next stage.

Group E: Chelsea, Valencia, Bayer Leverkusen and Genk- Chelsea should be glad what the draw has offered, with little travelling required during the early part of the season and with opponents that should not have enough for them.

Valencia are not the team of old, having lost a number of key players over the last couple of years including Juan Mata to Chelsea and they may just be surprised by Bayer Leverkusen in getting through.

Genk are easily the weakest team in the group and will likely be satisfied if they can get one win, while enjoying the financial benefits of hosting the sides in the group.

Group F: Arsenal, Marseille, Olympiakos and Borussia Dortmund- At first glance it looks like Arsenal have a decent draw, but a little further digging suggests it may not be as straightforward as it seems.

All 3 away games will be tough, while Borussia Dortmund were the best team in pot 4 and the most difficult opponents for the Gunners.

Marseille showed how tough they can be when pushing Manchester United in the last 16 last season, and also beating Chelsea at home in the group stage, while Olympiakos are a tough ask in Greece.

Arsenal will need to improve their away form if they want to go through, else it could be a shock exit in store for Arsene Wenger's team.

Group G: Porto, Shakhtar Donetskk, Zenit St Petersburg and Apoel- This is perhaps the most unappealing group (unless you support one of the sides involved) in terms of viewing. The top 3 sides will feel they can all make it through, while Apoel may be all the better from their previous experience at this stage.

Porto have been weakened by losing their manager and star striker Falcao in the Summer, so I think Shakhtar Donetsk will win the group after reaching the Quarter Finals last season.

Zenit could be the surprise to join them in the last 16 this season, with Porto being the most vulnerable of the Pot 1 clubs.

Group H: Barcelona, AC Milan, BATE Borisov and Viktoria Plzen- It looked like shaping up to be the group of death after the first two teams were put together, but the latter two sides don't look likely to cause too many problems so I do expect Barcelona and AC Milan to move through in that order.

I will make some outright picks before the first group games begin in September, but I think most of the big names will be very glad with what has been put in front of them. I can't see too many surprises, although Arsenal and Manchester City will need to start off well if they don't want to cause too many problems in their qualification.

Porto look the weakest of the top seeds and I think they may be the most likely to go out at this stage.

Teams like Borussia Dortmund, City, Zenit St Petersburg and Bayer Leverkusen look the teams most likely to reach the last 16 after being outside of the top 2 pots in the draw.

Hopefully the layers will have their prices up soon in the outright and group betting markets, and we can find some angles to move forward with.

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