Europe’s most prestigious football competition is imminent, and the eight groups have been decided. Much to the content of futbol fanatics worldwide, the group stages are ripe with competitive, intriguing match ups. Many clubs will do battle with international foes who have been their undoing in the past, and players will make quick return visits to their former clubs. This will undoubtedly prove to be an exhilarating and excitement-ridden group stage.
Bayern Munich (Germany)
Manchester City (England)
It is only fitting that this collection of clubs make up Group A, being the most competitive of the eight by miles. In Manchester City’s inaugural Champions League run, though they still look to be the favorites, the other three sides will push them to the brink. With four-time champs Bayern looking to play the final in their home arena this time around, they will be stiff competition. Along with buzz worthy Italian side Napoli, who with Edison Cavani, Marek Hamsik, and Ezekiel Lavezzi will look to take the group by storm. In the end, I still see Mancini’s Manchester men and the hometown heroes of Bayern progressing.
Inter Milan (Italy)
CSKA Moskow (Russia)
Champions of two years ago Inter Milan have drawn CAKS Moskow yet again, whom they defeated en route to their title in 2010 during the quarterfinal round. Even with the recent departure of super striker Samuel Eto’o to another Russian club, the Nerazzurri remain the favorites of the group. French champions, lead by Belgian wonder Eden Hazard will face off against Trabzonspor in the opening round. Inter Milan will win the group handily, but second position is semi up for grabs. I think CSKA Moskow will prevail in the long run, and beat out the French contingent by a small margin.
Manchester United (England)
Otelul Galati (Romanian)
19-time English champions Manchester United will face off against Portuguese side Benfica in the first round, while one of Switzerland’s most successful clubs FC Basel will clash with Otelul Galati. Obviously Manchester United will go on to come in first in Group C, hopefully by capturing full points. Sir Alex Ferguson’s side will still have memories of losing to Catalan giants in last years final, but wit ha revamped, youthful squad they will return as one of the favorites. Benfica will more than likely clinch the second place position.
Real Madrid (Spain)
Dinamo Zagreb (Croatia)
The Special One‘s Real Madrid will be reunited with two formidable foes who have proven difficult opponents in the past. Drawing French top flight side Lyon and Dutch squad Ajax, Madridistas will be all too familiar with these two opponents. Mourinho-led Madrid handled Lyon last year in the second year with a 4-2 defeat. They defeated Ajax in the 2010-2011 installment of the tournament as well. Real Madrid is going to dominate the group, and ultimately finish in first, and in my mind a very strong, and refurbished Lyon team should come in second, behind the play of such stars as Michel Bastos and the recently acquired French International Yoann Gourcuff.
Bayern Leverkeusen (Germany)
Under new boss Andre Villas-Boas, the Blues group may seem fairly simple, but all three teams will provide the London club with a serious test. Though they have not been the same since the departure of David Villa to Barçelona, and Juan Mata’s inter-group switch to Chelsea, the Spanish inquisition will still be a force to be reckoned with. If former German international Michael Ballack is healthy, Leverkeusen could be competitive as well. And Belgian champions Genk will also prove resilient. Either way, Chelsea will have to seriously screw up not to move on, and I believe they will be accompanied by Valencia.
Borussia Dortmund (Germany)
With the recent departure of superstar duo Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri to Barcelona and Man City respectively, Arsene Wenger and the Gunners are seemingly looking a little shaky at the moment. The loss of three crucial players, paired with injuries to regulars such as Jack Wilshere, makes for a difficult run both domestically and internationally. But if anyone is going to pull it off, it is the managerial mastermind that is Wenger. In Croup F, they will face off against Marseille, and Olimpiacos will battle against newly crowned Bundesliga champions Borussia Dortmund. Who, despite the loss of their playmaker Nuri Sahin by way of Madrid, will look to take advantage of Arsenal’s depleted ranks. Unless they make a substantial move within the remaining days of the transfer window, do not look for Arsenal to be too threatening. However I think they will escape the group stages, in second place, with the German conglomerate, Borussia Dortmund taking first place. Arsenal will consider themselves lucky to get second in this uber-competitive group.
Shakhtar Donetsk (Ukraine)
Zenit St. Petersburg (Russia)
Portuguese title winners and UEFA Super Cup finalists FC Porto headline the second to last group. Rounded out by last years semi-finalist Shakhtar Donetsk, Zenit St. Petersburg of Russia, and APOEL. With Andre Villas-Boas now heading up Chelsea, they will have to go about their endeavors under a new boss. Porto should go on to triumph in this group, and it will be a toss-up between Shakhtar and Zenit for second.
AC Milan (Italy)
Viktoria Pizen (Czech Republic)
Group H provides us with the most intriguing opening round match-up, pinning two of Europe’s elite against each other. AC Milan and Barcelona are two of the greatest clubs the world over, and history has provided us with some stellar moments between the two. The reigning champions, Barcelona will be favorites to come into the tournament and repeat under Pep Guardiola, who has already found immense success with the club. I think AC Milan will shock them, and the rest of the world by finishing first, but Barcelona will be a close second.
This years Champions League will without a doubt be exciting and fun to watch, as it is every year. Cheers.