Chelsea: Outlining Their Champions League Group H Opponents
The draw has been made, the stage is set.
The groups for the UEFA Champions League have been decided, and the action will commence in just over a fortnight's time.
It is only natural that each group and the teams that have been pitted against one another will go under microscope until the games begin.
Speaking of that, all eyes were on the Group of Death after Thursday night's draw was made. Each match will be a titanic battle, they say; the four sides in Group D are all champions of their respective leagues, one mustn't forget.
Nonetheless, all those who well and truly know a thing about Europe's elite club competition will tell you that there isn't the concept of an easy group in the Champions League anyway.
Defending champions Chelsea can't really complain about their draw. Things could have worked out far worse.
Their task of getting through to the knockout stages seems rather straightforward at the first thought. However, presumption is often the biggest undoing of those who fail.
Here's a close observation of the three clubs that could be a thorn in Chelsea's side as Roberto Di Matteo's boys attempt to secure their passage into the next stage of the tournament.
Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images
The Old Lady of Italy is back. After having to put up with years of relative mediocrity following the Calciopoli Scandal of 2006, Juventus are once again the Scudetto-holders.
Having enjoyed an unbeaten league season, Juve will be backed to progress to the Round of 16, and I expect them to be the primary threat to Chelsea in Group E.
They may be missing the big names, but the Italians do have a cohesive unit. Manager Antonio Conte—a legend from his playing days at the club—did a remarkable job, more so when you consider that very few were backing the club to come out on top domestically. He will a big absence on the bench while he serves his 10 month ban.
It was the genius of Andrea Pirlo that really made them tick last season, and the veteran midfielder will be expected to carry on where he left off.
What Juventus undoubtedly lack is a prolific frontman. Nicklas Bendtner was recruited in the recently concluded transfer window, but a big outlay on a proven goal-poacher like Robin van Persie would have made more sense.
Chelsea's new-look attack against Juve's sturdy defense should be an intriguing battle. The opener between the two at Stamford Bridge Sept. 19 is a must-watch.
Men to Look Out for: Gianluigi Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini, Andrea Barzagli, Andrea Pirlo, Arturo Vidal, Claudio Marchisio, Sebastian Giovinco, Mirko Vucinic
Head-to-Head: Chelsea 1 Juventus 0, Draws 1
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
For those of you who don't know, Shakhtar Donetsk are the reigning champions of Ukraine. In fact, they have bagged the league title six times in the past decade.
They've tasted success on the European front just one time, in 2009. Indeed, it was Shakhtar who were the last winners of the UEFA Cup before it was re-branded the UEFA Europa League.
In 2010-11, the Moles made a march to the quarterfinals of the Champions League, only to be beaten by the eventual winners, Barcelona.
In short, Shakhtar mustn't be taken lightly.
The gaffer, Mircea Lucescu, is one of the most successful coaches to come out of Romania, and his sides are known for having a strong commitment to their style of play.
Skipper Darijo Srna and ex-Arsenal man Eduardo are established players in Europe. But they are hardly the only ones Chelsea followers will have heard of.
Willian, one of the many Brazilians at the club, who almost signed for the Blues under Andre Villas Boas last winter, will be key to Shakhtar's hopes of making it past the group phase.
Men to Look Out for: Darijo Srna, Dmytro Chygrynskiy, Willian, Alex Teixeira, Eduardo da Silva, Luiz Adriano
Here's yet another club that bagged the league crown back home. Nordsjaelland won their maiden Danish Superliga title in 2011-12, pipping domestic powerhouses FC Copenhagen by just two points.
I do understand that most readers will have heard precious little of this side, but trust me on this: It takes more than just sheer determination to finish at the summit of your league. This team is surely good enough to be here in the Champions League.
Kasper Hjulmand is the head coach at Nordsjaelland. Again, you probably haven't heard of him; however he did against all odds, lead his troops to top honors in Denmark.
As of this season, they sit third in the league. Playing with the likes of Chelsea, Juve and Shakhtar will be a matter of pride for them, and while they will be the underdogs, there will be no weight of expectation. It is for this very reason that I believe the Wild Tigers have the potential to spring a surprise or two.
Andreas Laudrup, 21-year-old son of football icon and current Swansea manager Michael, plays for FC Nordsjaelland and has shown a lot of promise.
Men to Look Out for: Jesper Hansen, Michael Parkhurst, Jores Okore, Nicolai Stokholm, Mikkel Beckmann, Andreas Laudrup