Teams Chelsea Want to Avoid in Champions League Group-Stage Draw
As we return for another season of football, September marks the start of the Champions League campaign as England prepare to bring their four participants into the fold.
And while Manchester United and Manchester City will be strong contenders for the most coveted prize in world football, there are only a handful of clubs who have endured such a close association with the competition as Chelsea.
The Blues had made the Champions League their top priority under Roman Abramovich after losing in the 2008 final to Manchester United, but they secured a stunning triumph four years later against Bayern Munich in the German side's own backyard after a tense penalty shootout.
Recently appointed coach Jose Mourinho, taking over at Stamford Bridge for the second time after leaving Real Madrid, is seeking to become the first manager to win the Champions League with three different clubs. And having only reached the semifinal stage with the Blues, it's fair to say the Portuguese manager is keen to cross it off his list of achievements at the club.
However, the teams entering the competition have arguably never been stronger, and while the draw has been kind to Chelsea in the past, there's only a small chance that the Blues will avoid some strong competition in the group stages. As Chris Bevan from BBC Sport points out, there are some big names in Pots 3 & 4, enabling one of the four English teams to endure the "Group of Death."
Today, we investigate whom Mourinho and company will be praying they avoid when the group stages are announced in Nyon on Thursday.
Atletico Madrid (Pot 2)
La Liga has seen the "other" team in Madrid stay in the shadows for a long time, but it seems that under Diego Simeone, Atletico Madrid are trying to break the mould.
Despite losing star striker Radamel Falcao this summer, the Rojiblancos have spent well, bringing in Spanish scoring legend David Villa from Barcelona, as well as highly rated Brazilian forward Leo Baptistao from Rayo Vallecano. And in Falcao's absence, the improvement shown by Diego Costa has been remarkable, with the 24-year-old bagging thee goals in two starts so far this season.
In addition to that, Chelsea will know not to underestimate their opposition, having been soundly beaten 4-1 in the European Super Cup a year ago. Even without Falcao, the likes of Arda Turan and Oliver Torres have the potential to create havoc for the defence.
If Chelsea do face the La Liga leaders, the slight consolation is that Thibaut Courtois, on loan from the Blues, would be ineligible. Needless to say, Mourinho will want to avoid further humiliation by drawing a different side, after losing the Copa del Rey final back to Atletico in May.
Paris Saint-Germain (Pot 2)
The French side have returned to the top of Ligue 1 after 19 years without a league title. A combination of heavy investment and weakening of their rivals allowed PSG to secure the Ligue 1 title under Carlo Ancelotti, and even though the Italian has left, the threat remains.
Marquee signings such as Edinson Cavani and Marquinhos show that the French giants are aiming to have a lasting effect on the Champions League as well as at domestic level, having lost to Barcelona at the quarterfinal stage last season.
They've endured a slow start to the season, picking up five points from their opening three games, but with world-class forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic leading the line, expect Laurent Blanc's team to cause a few problems in this season's competition.
Juventus (Pot 2/3 - not yet announced)
Chelsea will know all too well about the dangers that Juventus possess as a side after their recent resurgence under Antonio Conte. Winning three Scudettos on the bounce has seen the Italian giants become one of the most consistent sides in Europe, and they've further strengthened their squad ahead of the new campaign.
Summer signing Carlos Tevez, who joined from Chelsea's title rivals Manchester City for £12 million, will be a key figure in the side, and the Blues will be wary of the threat the Argentine poses in attack. As well as Tevez, Italy trio Gianluigi Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini and Andrea Pirlo form the spine of the team and are usually vital parts of any success the Old Lady experience.
Chelsea are still haunted by the two-goal lead they lost against Juventus in last year's group stage, which ultimately cost them a place in the knockout stages. And should they be drawn against the Italian side again, they will want to make amends for their previous mistakes.
Borussia Dortmund (Pot 3)
Last year's Champions League finalists have really grown under Jurgen Klopp, even despite losing star playmaker Mario Gotze to rivals Bayern Munich. Their main source of goals, Robert Lewandowski, has agreed to stay and, along with Marco Reus, forms a deadly attack for the German side.
The addition of electric forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will strengthen their options, as well as the dynamic midfield duo of Ilkay Gundogan and Lars Bender.
To say they will reach the Champions League final again is a little unrealistic, but after usurping Manchester City last season, there is no doubt that Chelsea will be pleading to dodge the 2011-12 Bundesliga champions at the group stage.
Napoli (Pot 4)
Finally, we arrive at Serie A title contenders Napoli, who are managed by former Chelsea interim manager Rafa Benitez. The Italian side finished second in the Serie A—their highest finish in over 15 years—and their summer expenditure has seen them backed to challenge Juventus for the title.
The Spanish coach has had to deal with the departure of star forward Edinson Cavani, who joined PSG in a £55 million deal. But Benitez has spent wisely, bringing in Gonzalo Higuain, Jose Callejon and Raul Albiol from Real Madrid, as well as pacy winger Dries Mertens from PSV Eindhoven.
Napoli have not yet met Chelsea at the group stage, but they provided them with a tough test in the 2011-12 last-16 knockout round, beating the Blues 3-1 at the San Paolo before going down 4-1 at Stamford Bridge.
While Jose Mourinho will be hoping for a weaker side from Pot 4 rather than the Sicilian club, beating his foe Benitez would be an added bonus as he chases his Champions League dream.
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