Rough Guide to Every Team in the Champions League Group Stage

Ed Dove@EddydoveContributor IIIAugust 29, 2013

Rough Guide to Every Team in the Champions League Group Stage

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    This article profiles the 32 teams to have qualified for the Champions League Group Stage.

    The identities of all the sides have now been confirmed and all that remains is for the four pots of clubs to be sorted into eight groups.

    This piece looks at the pedigrees, perceptions and personnel of each club and also posits a prediction of their fortune over the next season of European competition.

Bayern Munich

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    Location: Munich is the largest city in Bavaria, located on the banks of the River Isar, in the shadow of the Bavarian Alps. Excellent Beer.

    Pedigree: Five-times European champions, bettered only by Real Madrid and Milan. They have lost as many finals as they have won.

    Last Season: German and European Champions. Bested Borussia Dortmund to the domestic title and demonstrated their class against the same opposition in the Wembley final to end 12 years of pain.

    The Perception: Favourites for a reason. Last year’s exceptional squad, plus Pep Guardiola and Thiago Alcantara, could, in principle, refine recent achievements.

    Coach: Beginning a new life after a dominant stay in Barcelona, everything is set up for Guardiola to be a success, but he may feel the pressure of Jupp Heynckes’s previous triumphs should the start be slow.

    Star Man: A star performer for club and country, Philipp Lahm has shown himself to be one of—if not the—finest full-back of his generation.

    Ed Dove’s Prediction: Winners


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    Location: The capital of Catalonia and Spain’s second largest city, Barcelona is the sixth largest urban area in Europe.

    Pedigree: Four-times winners, having featured in seven finals. Coming to the end of a glorious era with three triumphs between 2006 and 2011.

    Last Season: Walked La Liga, despite former boss Tito Vilanova’s demoralising battle with cancer. Were humiliated 7-0 by Bayern Munich in a remarkably one-sided semi-final.

    The Perception: Faded greats needing to reassert themselves, potential to be hamstrung by over-dependence on Messi and defensive frailties.

    Coach: Gerardo Martino is a legend in Argentina, with Newell’s Old Boys, but a relative unknown in Europe. The hope is that internal support—specifically from Messi—will help ease his transition to La Liga.

    Star Man: Lionel Messi, who else? The side struggled without him at times in last year’s competition.

    Ed Dove’s Prediction: Runners-up


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    Location: West London, but based in the Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, rather than Kensington and Chelsea.

    Pedigree: Won the Champions League in unlikely circumstances in 2012.

    Last Season: Struggled in a tough group stage and were eliminated after defeats away to Juventus and Shakhtar Donetsk. Went on to win the Europa League, beating Benfica in the Amsterdam ArenA.

    The Perception: Lacking class and history, but possessing impressive talent alongside hard-nosed pragmatism. A striker away from being genuine contenders.

    Coach: Jose Mourinho returns to his beloved club as the Happy One, rather than the Special One. Likely to have a strong influence, but finds his "home" different to the one he left behind in 2008.

    Star Men: Juan Mata’s immediate future remains in doubt. He may stay, but expect Oscar and Eden Hazard to relish their creative responsibility.

    Ed Dove’s Prediction: Round of 16

Real Madrid

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    Location: Spain’s capital—the city is its cultural, economic and political centre.

    Pedigree: The Greatest. Nine-times winners of the European Cup, they arguably gave the tournament its prestige in the late 50s and early 60s.

    Last Season: Beat Manchester United and Galatasaray to advance to the semi-finals, before coming unstuck at the hands of Dortmund.

    The Perception: A majestic force who appear to have lost their touch in Europe. Could Carlo Ancelotti succeed where Mourinho has failed, and bring "La Decima"—The Tenth—to the Bernabeu?

    Coach: Ancelotti is a shrewd operator who won the European Cup twice with Milan as a player and twice again as a manager. An excellent reputation.

    Star Men: Cristiano Ronaldo remains (almost) peerless, but could he be outshone by the imminently arriving Gareth Bale?

    Ed Dove’s Prediction: Semi-finalists

Manchester United

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    Location: The site of the world’s first railway, Manchester was one of the heartlands of the Industrial Revolution. It is England’s second-most-visited city.

    Pedigree: One of only six clubs to have won the European Cup in three different decades.

    Last Season: Won the Premier League but stuttered in the group stage and were eliminated following a pulsating tie with Real Madrid in the first knockout round.

    The Perception: Lack the squad depth of Chelsea and Manchester City and their manager is untested in the rarefied context of the Champions League.

    Coach: David Moyes often worked wonders at Everton but arrives in Manchester without having proven himself tactically in the biggest games, in Europe, or with big-money, high-profile players. Will need to adapt quickly to the demands of Old Trafford.

    Star Man: Robin van Persie—a lethal finisher who has only got better since escaping the stagnation of Arsenal.

    Ed Dove’s Prediction: Quarter-finalists


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    Location: Founded in Woolwich at the end of the 19th Century, Arsenal moved across London to Highbury in 1913. The move was unpopular at the time, but the area begrudgingly accepted its new tenants in subsequent years.

    Pedigree: Made the 2006 Champions League final and looked good for victory until late goals from Samuel Eto’o and Juliano Belletti cancelled out Sol Campbell’s opener.

    Last Season: Outclassed by Bayern Munich in the round of 16, Arsenal’s resurgent performance in the second leg, when the pressure was off, kick-started their league campaign.

    The Perception: A selling club, lacking ambition, and with a manager who has fallen a long way from his imperious prime.

    Coach: Arsene Wenger was once revered for his innovative ideas and commitment to youth development, but the Alsatian manager has landed on hard times. Birmingham, Swansea, Portsmouth and Wigan have all won silverware since Arsenal last achieved anything of note.

    Star Man: If Jack Wilshere can avoid injury for an entire campaign he could finally have the influence over the midfield that has long been expected of him.

    Ed Dove’s Prediction: Group stage

FC Porto

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    Location: Porto is Portugal’s second-largest city—the city gives its name to port wine, one of the nation’s most famous exports.

    Pedigree: Twice winners of Europe’s top competition. They beat Bayern Munich in Vienna in 1987, coming back from behind to win with two late goals. It was far easier for Jose Mourinho in 2004 as his fantastic side smashed Monaco in Gelsenkirchen.

    Last Season: Qualified with ease from Group A along with PSG only to come unstuck against Malaga in the round of 16.

    The Perception: Talent throughout the squad, but lacking the class that made them one of Europe’s most feared sides just under a decade ago.

    Coach: Paulo Fonseca achieved a minor miracle in seeing Pacos Ferreira into the Champions League qualifying rounds. The Portuguese aren’t scared to reward and promote their young managers, but this season will be a major test for the 40-year-old defender.

    Star Men: Lucho Gonzalez remains a class act at 32, but expect a big season from French international defender Eliaquim Mangala. He has the physique and the technical ability to be a major influence in defensive areas.

    Ed Dove’s Prediction: Round of 16


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    Location: The Estadio da Luz is known as The Cathedral among Benfica fans. It is the venue for the 2014 Champions League final.

    Pedigree: Could have emerged as one of Europe’s elite clubs after their dual European Cup victories in the early 60s. Legendary Hungarian manager Bela Guttmann was allowed to leave without recompense and the curse he left has echoed around the club ever since. Five European Cup finals have followed that triumph in 1962. Each one has ended in defeat, while the club also lost their other two European finals.

    Last Season: Bottled it in a grand occasion once again with Europa League final defeat to Chelsea.

    The Perception: Flashes of brilliance, but a fragility that may be revealed in the Champions League.

    Coach: Jorge Jesus could have etched his name into immortality at the end of last season, with only games to play. Was criticised for the team’s crumble at the final hurdle as they won none of their three possible trophies.

    Star Man: Nicolas Gaitan has impressed after adapting to life in Portugal and been linked to greater things, but remains in Lisbon—for now.

    Ed Dove’s Prediction: Group stage

Atletico Madrid

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    Location: Madrid’s second side, the Estadio Vicente Calderon is located in the southern centre of the city.

    Pedigree: Real Madrid’s poor relations, few clubs are as much in the shadow of another as Atleti. A sole final appearance—a losing effort against Bayern in 1974—was their finest European Cup memory.

    Last Season: Managed to end up as the "best of the rest" in La Liga and also picked up the Copa del Rey following an absence of 17 years.

    The Perception: Having twice won the Europa League in the last five years, Atletico might be ready to take the step up and prosper among the big boys. A Super Cup triumph over Chelsea in 2012 was encouraging, but the loss of Falcao may stymie any potential progress.

    Coach: Argentine legend and former Atleti player Diego Simeone has steadied the ship since his arrival in Madrid. Has raised his stock immensely following European triumphs and a third-place La Liga finish last term; it was the club’s highest end position since 1996.

    Star Men: Spurned by Barcelona, David Villa will feel he has a point to prove this term—particularly with a final World Cup swansong on this horizon. Thibaut Courtois, the goalkeeper on loan from Chelsea, is possibly the finest non-Clasico player in the Spanish top flight.

    Ed Dove’s Prediction: Round of 16

Shakhtar Donetsk

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    Location: The Donbass Arena holds a city-centre location in Donetsk, an Eastern Ukrainian city on the banks of the Kalmius River. Believe it or not, the city was founded by a Welshman in 1869.

    Pedigree: Having become the first Ukrainian club to win the UEFA Cup in 2009, Shakhtar’s European success is matched only by rivals Dynamo Kyiv.

    Last Season: Domestic champions for an eighth time, Shakhtar ousted Chelsea to qualify from their Champions League group before coming a cropper against Dortmund in a one-sided second leg.

    The Perception: A strong squad, brimming with talent and an unenviable away trip for any side, but will suffer following the departures of Willian and Fernandinho.

    Coach: Mircea Lucescu has done a wonderful job over nearly a decade at Donetsk. He is an experienced campaigner who deserves great credit for blending oodles of Brazilian talent with the home-grown boys.

    Star Men: Any one of Taison, Wellington Nem, Douglas Costa and Bernard has the potential to be the Champions League’s break-out star. The latter, in particular, is a magical talent and his acquisition, from Atletico Mineiro, represents a coup.

    Ed Dove’s Prediction: Round of 16


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    Location: Once afforded the beautiful nickname, “The City of a Thousand Fires”, Gelsenkirchen can be found in the northern area of the prosperous Ruhr region.

    Pedigree: Seven-times German Champions, Schalke made the Champions League semi-finals in 2011.

    Last Season: Topped their group ahead of Arsenal but succumbed to Galatasaray in the round of 16.

    The Perception: A solid outfit with professional, clinical performers throughout the squad. Light on star-power, but blessed by many competent individuals.

    Coach: A Bundesliga journeyman, Jens Keller has a reputation as a talented coach and an impressive developer of youth prospects. Has the chance to build a reputation for himself at the Veltins-Arena.

    Star Man: Klaas-Jan Huntelaar—"The Hunter"was linked to the Premier League once again, but looks to remain at Schalke, where he has a sublime goals-to-games ratio.

    Ed Dove’s Prediction: Group stage


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    Location: France’s second-largest city, it is the biggest metropolis on the Mediterranean coast and a large, influential port. Natives share a distinct identity.

    Pedigree: Won a final and lost a final in the early 90s, a period which has since been besmirched and shrouded in controversy due to alleged bribery and match-fixing.

    Last Season: Failed to escape from their Europa League group, finishing third behind Fenerbahce and Borussia Monchengladbach.

    The Perception: Glossy and passionate with an air of historicity, but fairly second-rate when the chips are down.

    Coach: Baseball cap-wearing Elie Baup succeeded Didier Deschamps following spells at some of France’s more popular clubs. 2013 is one of the worst times to be a Marseille manager and the former goalkeeper is expected to manage expectations accordingly.

    Star Men: French Internationals Steve Mandanda and Rod Fanni contribute to a resilient backline. Mathieu Valbuena has shown himself to be of international class despite some early scepticism, while Nicolas N’Koulou is blossoming into a defender of genuine class. Ghanaian brothers Andre and Jordan Ayew need to rediscover the form of their early careers, while Dimitri Payet will be called upon to provide goals and creativity following his summer move from Lille.

    Ed Dove’s Prediction: Group stage

CSKA Moscow

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    Location: The third most successful Moscow club in the Russian Premier League based on points, CSKA have to compete with a huge number of local rivals. A quarter of the top flight’s current selection are from the Russian capital.

    Pedigree: Eleven Russian championships, 12 Russian cups but only a solitary European title—the UEFA Cup in 2005.

    Last Season: Qualified for the Europa League playoff round but were beaten by Swedish side AIK.

    The Perception: A strong basin of domestic talent, enhanced in attacking areas by pertinent foreign acquisitions. The cliché rings true: No one will fancy a mid-winter trip to the "cosy" Arena Khimki.

    Coach: Leonid Slutsky has held the hot-seat at CSKA for four years. Before last year’s championship triumph, the highlights have been two progressions from the Champions League group stage.

    Star Men: Ahmed Musa’s goals went a long way to securing the domestic title last term. However, the youngster is at an early stage of his development and his decision-making will be tested in the Champions League. The club have done well—thus far—to hold onto Japanese playmaker Keisuke Honda and he has the potential to be one of the stars of the group stage.

    Ed Dove’s Prediction: Group stage

Paris Saint-Germain

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    Location: The International Capital of Style. Walk down from Montmartre, beneath the awe-inspiring Basilica of the Sacré Coeur and see the Parc des Princes stretching out in wondrous majesty before you.

    Pedigree: Intermittent glory in the 80s and 90s will surely be rendered superfluous in light of the club’s immediate future and the almost inevitable success.

    Last Season: Romped to the Ligue 1 title and impressed in Europe, navigating a tricky group, overcoming Valencia and then losing nobly to Barcelona on away goals.

    The Perception: Frivolous extravagance upon a bed of genuine style and character. They may well have outgrown their "Le Projet" tag and be realistic contenders, primed for an era of serious success.

    Coach: Laurent Blanc may consider himself fortune to receive such an elite job following an indifferent spell as France boss and considering the names that swirled around in contention for the position. Won the French title, impressively, with Bordeaux in 2009 but will need to prove he has the aura and experience to negotiate the egos and politics of Paris.

    Star Men: A squad studded with stars. Thiago Silva, captaining the side from centre-back, is one of the world’s finest in his position. Blaise Matuidi is a crucial cog, while Zlatan Ibrahimovic—now 31—remains a world class striker.

    Ed Dove’s Prediction: Semi-finalists


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    Location: Turin is a cultural centre in northern Italy, nestled beneath the western Alps, bobbing blissfully on the banks of the Po.

    Pedigree: Twice winners, in the mid-80s and mid-90s, but have endured heartbreak on five occasions, losing finals in four different decades.

    Last Season: Broke the hearts of Celtic fans before running up against Bayern Munich and their powerful machine. Will learn from the defeat.

    The Perception: Energetic, versatile and tactically astute team milling around a central pivot almost unrivalled in world football (see Star Man below). This Juventus side may not have the star quality of teams gone by, but are a wonderful outfit who have grown together. The additions of Carlos Tevez and Fernando Llorente could well provide major headaches for opposition defences.

    Coach: Antonio Conte is a legend who played over 400 times for the club. Having managed a series of Italian clubs before returning to his beloved Juve, he hasn’t looked back, securing back-to-back Serie A titles and consecutive Supercoppas.

    Star Man: Former Milan star Andrea Pirlo is the side’s lynchpin, the holder of their philosophical crucible and the key influence in the team’s style and approach.

    Ed Dove’s Prediction: Quarter-finalists

Manchester City

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    Location: Manchester’s second club, City style themselves as being more of a people’s club than their more illustrious rivals.

    Pedigree: Perennial no-hopers before Sheikh Mansour injected the cash that transformed the side from poor relations to noisy neighbours to English champions.

    Last Season: Bombed out of the Champions League group stage following a tough draw and some wretched performances. A lack of progress cost Roberto Mancini his job.

    The Perception: A powerhouse ready to emerge from last season’s underachievement to reclaim their place as the EPL’s dominant force. If they can avoid another tricky draw, anything is possible in Europe.

    Coach: Manuel Pellegrini has earned the chance to manage another major club following his achievements with Malaga. Struggled under the circumstances at Real Madrid, but is a fine manager who should make a positive impact.

    Star Men: Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero struggled to replicate their 2011-12 form last term, but in a squad bolstered by canny recruitments, they should thrive this year.

    Ed Dove’s Prediction: Quarter-finalists


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    Location: Amsterdam is one of the continent’s finest cities. Come for the football, stay for the Van Gogh Museum, Anne Frank’s House and the infamous red-light district.

    Pedigree: Pretty sublime. Europe’s dominant force in the early 70s, one of only two clubs to win the tournament in three consecutive seasons. Demonstrated the fruits of their terrific youth facilities with 1995’s magical triumph.

    Last Season: Impressive performances against Manchester City weren’t enough to see them qualify from a wretched Group D. Eliminated by Steaua Bucharest after dropping into the Europa League.

    The Perception: Not quite what they were. Stylish and principled, but out-paced by the giants of Europe.

    Coach: Dutch legend Frank de Boer was himself an Ajax youth product. He tutored the team’s youth players in the academy before taking over the reigns of the senior squad in 2010. A wonderful defender in his day, De Boer looks primed for one of the world’s top jobs.

    Star Man: Doubts linger over the future of Danish starlet Christian Eriksen. For now he remains an Ajax player, but a move to Spurs or Liverpool could easily come about before September 2nd. Demonstrated his class in the recent 3-3 draw with Heerenveen.

    Ed Dove’s Prediction: Group stage

Borussia Dortmund

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    Location: The largest city in the Ruhr region, Dortmund’s industry and trade has been forged upon the Rhine river and the verdant surroundings. It is nicknamed the "Green Metropolis."

    Pedigree: Defeated Juventus in a memorable final in 1997 to win their first European Cup. Made it all the way to the final last term but came up short against domestic rivals Bayern Munich.

    Last Season: Were again pipped by a resurgent Bayern in the Bundesliga as they failed to complete the consecutive hat-trick of titles. Provided fans with stunning evenings in the Champions League with victories over Real Madrid and Malaga.

    The Perception: A talented assortment of players pulled together and forged into a unit by Jurgen Klopp. A solid defence, mobile and intelligent midfield and fearsome strikeforce herald them as one of Europe’s most potent outfits.

    Coach: The successes of recent seasons have seen Klopp identified as one of Europe’s finest young coaches. He had been expected to depart for a bigger dog this summer, but remains at the Westfalenstadion.

    Star Men: Robert Lewandowski was also expected to depart, but now looks to be sticking around to resume the eternal battle against Bayern, rather than joining the Dark Side. The acquisition of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang means that Dortmund have an embarrassment of riches up front. Midfielder Ilkay Gundogan will be crucial once he overcomes his injury problems while Henrikh Mkhitaryan should fit seamlessly into the club’s philosophy.

    Ed Dove’s Prediction: Quarter-finalists


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    Location: Located on the spot where Switzerland meets Germany and France, Basel is a multicultural venue.

    Pedigree: Hugely successful in a domestic context, Basel have been the nation’s dominant force over the last 10 years. Emerging as a genuine threat in Europe.

    Last Season: Dumped Tottenham out of the Europa League quarter-finals before succumbing to Chelsea in the next round.

    The Perception: Plucky, but perfectly capable, an exciting (and occasionally lethal) combination of home-grown talent and promising imports, particularly from Africa.

    Coach: Experienced Swiss international Murat Yakin was an elegant defender in his day. Struggled to adapt to foreign leagues and has spent his managerial career to date on home soil.

    Star Man: Many to choose from. The Swiss contingent of Yann Sommer, Marco Streller and Valentin Stocker are all excellent, while the “Egyptian Messi” Mohamed Salah is a very exciting talent leading his own nation’s footballing revolution.

    Ed Dove’s Prediction: Group stage


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    Location: One of Attica’s jewels, Piraeus is a port city attached to Athens’s urban sprawl.

    Pedigree: Domestic giants and Greece’s most successful side. A record 40 league titles and 26 Greek cups haven’t translated into continental success.

    Last Season: Finished third behind Arsenal and Schalke in Champions League Group B and were welcomed to the Europa League via a pasting by Levante.

    The Perception: Big club, passionate fans, heated atmosphere, but don’t travel well.

    Coach: A fine goalscoring midfielder and Spanish international in his day, Michel build his career at Real Madrid, where he won La Liga on six occasions. Managed various Spanish outfits, including Sevilla, before making the move to Greece.

    Star Men: Foreign players like Javier Saviola, Paulo Machado, Joel Campbell and Vladimir Weiss may engage the casual observer, but Australian-born defender Avraam Papadopoulos is a sterling captain and a handy defender.

    Ed Dove’s Prediction: Group stage


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    Location: The Turk Telekom Arena can be found in the Sisli district of Istanbul, Turkey’s transcontinental, cultural heartland. The stadium has a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for housing the loudest recorded crowd road at a sports arena.

    Pedigree: Europa League and UEFA Super Cup winners at the turn of the Millennium, Gala have only once made it to the last four of the European Cup, back in 1989.

    Last Season: Scraped through Group H ahead of CFR Cluj and defeated Schalke en route to a quarter-final showdown with Real Madrid. Victory in Istanbul wasn’t enough to seal progress.

    The Perception: A ferocious home crowd, solid home-grown individuals and a smattering of washed-up foreign talent make for a tricky evening.

    Coach: One of Europe’s most underrated managers, "The Emperor" Fatih Terim has overseen approximately nine years of semi-dominance with Galatasaray over three different spells. He is a no-nonsense motivator who consistently blends workmanlike Turks with international superstars and gets the maximum out of limited players.

    Star Men: Wesley Sneijder and Didier Drogba will steal the headlines, but if Burak Yilmaz can continue his goalscoring form of the last few seasons then he will be a difference-maker. Fernando Muslera and Aurelien Chedjou offer genuine class in defence.

    Ed Dove’s Prediction: Round of 16

Bayer Leverkusen

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    Location: On the banks of the Rhine, nestled between Cologne and Dusseldorf, Leverkusen is famous for its pharmaceutical company and club sponsors, Bayer.

    Pedigree: Enjoy the odd pedigree of being UEFA Cup winners and Champions League runners-up, but never having won their own domestic title. On five occasions Leverkusen have been pipped to the Bundesliga crown.

    Last Season: Dumped out of the Europa League by Benfica in the round of 32, Leverkusen finished the Bundesliga season in third place, only one point behind Dortmund.

    The Perception: The last 16 is well within their grasp, but it will take fortune and inspiration to progress much beyond that.

    Coach: Sami Hyypia is a coach of great promise and should enjoy going it alone now that his partnership with Sascha Lewandowski has been curtailed. The prospect of a European run will doubtless be approached with great relish.

    Star Men: Simon Rolfes captains the side and is a driving force from the heart of midfield. Look for Son Heung-Min to have a big season following his capture from HSV.

    Ed Dove’s Prediction: Group stage


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    Location: A Viking fishing village come good, Copenhagen is now one of Europe’s most aesthetically pleasing and architecturally interesting capital cities. Rarely do cities manage to exist so comfortably and beautifully in union with the sea.

    Pedigree: Became the first Danish club to ever reach the knockout stage, in 2010, before bowing out against Chelsea.

    Last Season: An undistinguished display in the Europa League saw Copenhagen eliminated in the group stage.

    The Perception: A soft touch who should, at least, be more competent than Nordsjaelland.

    Coach: He may have stumbled at Wolves, but Stale Solbakken knows his way around the Danish league. He has already won five Superliga titles with Copenhagen and one of his key ambitions will be to make a mark on the Champions League.

    Star Men: Skipper and right-back Lars Jacobsen is a mainstay in the side and is a relic from the side that beat Manchester United in the 2006-07 season. Ahead of him, Christian Bolanos remains an effective and occasionally inspired contributor.

    Ed Dove’s Prediction: Group stage


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    Location: Gritty port on the Italian west coast. Watch your wallets.

    Pedigree: Fallen Giants recently revived, the “Diego Years” cast a long shadow.

    Last Season: A triumphant campaign in which they finished second in Serie A. Escaped a tricky Europa League group before being ousted by Viktoria Plzen.

    The Perception: A team to avoid in the group stage, big things are expected of Napoli in their current guise—even following the departure of Edinson Cavani to Paris.

    Coach: Rafael Benitez managed to revive his own reputation at Chelsea, where the locals only begrudgingly accepted his methods and his presence. Should enjoy the fresh slate and open wallet in Naples.

    Star Man: In Cavani’s absence, much will be expected of Gonzalo Higuain. Overlooked and under-loved in Madrid, he could add his name to the list of Real alumni who have prospered since leaving the club. Others, such as Pepe Reina, Raul Albiol and Jose Callejon, have a lot to prove.

    Ed Dove’s Prediction: Round of 16


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    Location: Anderlecht is one of the 19 municipalities of Brussels, the capital of both Belgium and the European Union.

    Pedigree: The most successful Belgian club domestically and in Europe, Anderlecht have struggled to translate their achievements elsewhere to the continent’s elite competition.

    Last Season: Managed a victory over Zenit St. Petersburg at the Constant Vanden Stock, but ended up bottom of their Champions League group. Belgian champions.

    The Perception: Perennial attendees at the party, but never likely to make an impact.

    Coach: John van den Brom took over in 2012 following an impressive tutelage in Holland.

    Star Men: Lucas Biglia, Dieumerci Mbokani, Milan Jovanovic and Tom De Sutter led the traditional post-season exodus. It was important that Anderlecht managed to keep hold of goalkeeper Silvio Proto and Senegalese defender Cheikhou Kouyate.

    Ed Dove’s Prediction: Group stage

Steaua Bucharest

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    Location: Romania’s capital, a delightful blend of neo-classical, Bauhaus and Art Deco architecture, nicknamed Little Paris.

    Pedigree: Enjoyed a glorious era in the late 80s, winning the European Cup in 1986 and making the final three years later. One of only two Eastern European clubs to achieve such success.

    Last Season: Bossed Group E in the Europa League but were dumped out by Chelsea in the round of 16.

    The Perception: Nice to see their name back among the European heavyweights, few will relish a trip to Romania. Steaua managed to beat Chelsea there last term.

    Coach: Former international Laurentiu Reghecampf enjoyed a career in Germany as a versatile right-sided player and has impressed as a manager at various Romanian sides.

    Star Man: Defender Vlad Chiriches has emerged as a wonderful talent, but Steaua look likely to lose him to Spurs.

    Ed Dove’s Prediction: Group stage

Austria Vienna

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    Location: Based in the south of Vienna, Austria’s capital. Vienna is said to be both the “City of Dreams” and the “City of Music."

    Pedigree: The second-most successful Austrian club, behind Rapid Vienna, they have very rarely threatened to trouble the elite end of European competition. Appeared in the semi-final of the European Cup in 1979.

    Last Season: Austrian champions for a 24th time, winning their first title in seven years.

    The Perception: A middle-class club with a great domestic past, unlikely to trouble the big boys in Europe.

    Coach: Thomas Parits looks after recruitment while former Croatian international Nenad Bjelica is the man on the touchline.

    Star Man: He may have flopped in Trieste, but Marko Stankovic remains a potent forward who is enjoying a rich vein of domestic form.

    Ed Dove’s Prediction: Group stage

Real Sociedad

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    Location: A beautiful corner of the world, snugly tucked in the Bay of Biscay, a stone’s throw from France and in the heart of the Basque region.

    Pedigree: The finest team in Spain in the early 80s, they won back-to-back La Liga titles. Have rarely been seen since, one notable exception being a second-placed finish in 2003. They rose from the Segunda as recently as 2010.

    Last Season: Claimed Spain’s fourth Champions League spot having overcome Malaga and Valencia.

    The Perception: Stylish Basque club who overachieved to qualify for the Champions League last season. Beating Lyon suggests they belong, but can they survive the loss of influential midfielder Asier Illarramendi?

    Coach: Philippe Montanier departed in May, returning to French football with Rennes. Former assistant and youth coach Jagoba Arrasate was promoted from within to lead players he knows well. At 35, he might lack the experience to cope with the Champions League.

    Star Man: French winger Antoine Griezmann has been coveted by some of Europe’s giants and will relish the opportunity of playing in Europe’s primary club competition.

    Ed Dove’s Prediction: Group stage

Zenit St. Petersburg

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    Location: Russia’s second city, often considered to be the nation’s touchstone with Western Europe.

    Pedigree: Won the UEFA Cup and the Super Cup in 2008, with both triumphs the crowning achievement of a generation that secured three league titles in a five-year period.

    Last Season: Beaten to the domestic crown by CSKA, who accrued two more points, Zenit endured a disappointing European campaign. They finished third (behind Malaga and Milan) in Champions League Group C and crashed out of the Europa League following defeat to Basel.

    The Perception: Troubled Russian giants who sold their soul (and their captain Igor Denisov) to acquire Axel Witsel and Hulk—a misguided bid to reach Europe’s highest echelons.

    Coach: Luciano Spalletti is only the third non-Russian coach in Zenit’s history and has overseen a prosperous few years. He has two championships to his name and would love to be the man to establish the club in Europe.

    Star Men: Hulk and Witsel remain the big names, but will need to do a lot to win round a public disappointed with their contributions to date. The homecoming Andrei Arshavin is capable of anything, but his best days left him long ago. Domenico Criscito is a talented defender who had his international career pulled away from beneath his feet ahead of Euro 2012. Will be looking to prove his worth ahead of the World Cup.

    Ed Dove’s Prediction: Group stage


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    Location: The capital of Lombardy and the capital of world fashion. Milan have long had one club, if not two, that reflects the glamour and style of the city.

    Pedigree: Second only to Madrid. Seven European titles, defeated finalists on four occasions, Milan have provided some of Europe’s great teams and have made the last two at regular intervals throughout the tournament’s history.

    Last Season: Struggled through Group C ahead of Zenit before throwing away a two-goal lead to capitulate—horribly—against Barcelona.

    The Perception: European giants struggling to keep pace (and retain an identity) upon shifting sands.

    Coach: Massimiliano Allegri has never quite convinced as Milan boss, despite winning the league in 2011. Looked odds-on to be replaced by Clarence Seedorf this summer, but has received the backing of Silvio Berlusconi.

    Star Men: Mario Balotelli will steal the attention, naturally, but the early signs suggest that he is keen to make the best of the opportunity that has come his way at Milan. Stephan El Shaarawy will need to prove that his goal drought of early 2013 was merely a blip—the young forward can expect high levels of scrutiny should he not come out all guns blazing this term.

    Ed Dove’s Prediction: Round of 16

Viktoria Plzen

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    Location: Located upon the confluence of four rivers, Plzen is famous for its beer and is the Czech Republic’s fourth largest city.

    Pedigree: Have enjoyed time in the spotlight of late, following Czech league triumphs in 2011 and 2013. Little in the way of previous triumphs of note before Pavel Vrba took over in 2008.

    Last Season: Topped Sparta Prague by two points to take the Czech title. Won their Europa League group and beat Napoli home and away before falling short against Fenerbahce after a narrow defeat in Turkey.

    The Perception: A more balanced side than they were when they first won the Czech title in 2011, Plzen should be more mature and measured following the experiences of the last few seasons.

    Coach: Vrba is a talented coach committed to direct, attacking football. The mastermind behind Viktoria Plzen’s rise to the pinnacle of Czech football.

    Star Man: David Limbersky struggled to make a name for himself in England and Italy, but is one of the Czech league’s finest full-backs. A solid defender capable of the occasional attacking flourish.

    Ed Dove’s Prediction: Group stage


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    Location: The green-and-white and unblemished half of Glasgow—Scotland’s largest city.

    Pedigree: The victorious and iconic "Lisbon Lions" of 1967 has lent back story to many an enchanting European evening. Celtic also made the final in 1970 only to fall short against Feyenoord.

    Last Season: Won the Scottish league at a canter and also managed to beat Barcelona in an unforgettable clash at Parkhead. Outclassed by Juventus in the round of 16.

    The Perception: Spirited battlers who, with organisation and inspiration, can give anyone a game and even beat the very best. Worrying, perhaps, that they only managed to sneak through against minnows Shakher Karagandy.

    Coach: Former club captain and Northern Ireland international Neil Lennon has enjoyed three years at the helm in Glasgow. Occasionally, the abuse and backlash associated with his nationality, religious background and profile have been disgusting.

    Star Man: Captain Scott Brown is the team’s emotional heartbeat and is a gnashing, snarling embodiment of the team’s never-say-die attitude.

    Ed Dove’s Prediction: Round of 16