Having been handed a place in the Group of Death in last year's group stage, Manchester City will once again face a stern test to reach the knockout stages having been paired with reigning European champions Bayern Munich.
Nonetheless, after coming out of Pot 3, Manuel Pellegrini and his charges will be quietly confident of navigating their way from Group D, having also been tasked with Russian champions CSKA Moscow and Czech side Viktoria Plzen.
A worst possible draw could have seen the the 2011-12 Premier League winners paired with Bayern, Diego Simeone's Atletico Madrid and Napoli, now under the tutelage of European Cup-winning coach Rafa Benitez. Thus, home and away matches against CSKA and the Czech champions will no doubt be appreciated in the corridors at the Etihad Stadium, particularly with the Citizens having failed to reach the last 16 in each of the last two years.
Nevertheless it is the pairing with champions Bayern—the German champions who have reached three of the last four finals—that will catch the imagination of City supporters.
The duo met two years ago in the group stage, when then-City boss Roberto Mancini saw his side lose 2-0 in the Allianz Arena—the night of the Carlos Tevez non-substitution and all that—before beating an already-qualified Bayern 2-0 in Manchester. Of the City starting lineup that 2011 night in Munich, 10 of the 11 players remain with the club, with only Kolo Toure having departed.
Bayern have gone from strength to strength since then, reaching that year's final where they were beaten on penalties by Chelsea and culminating in their unprecedented treble last season. Jupp Heynckes bowed out of management this summer having took the side to Bundesliga success by a record margin, a German Cup triumph and having led the side to a first Champions League success since 2001 with their 2-1 victory over national rivals Borussia Dortmund at Wembley in May.
Taking Heynckes' place in Bavaria this summer came the much-heralded Pep Guardiola, the Spanish manager who led Barcelona to two Champions League titles (2009, 2011) during his four years at Camp Nou.
Additionally, with the summer arrivals of German wunderkind Mario Goetze, defender Jan Kirchoff and Spanish international midfielder Thiago Alcantara, Bayern have strengthened their squad and are justifiably among the favourites to lift Europe's premier club crown once more.
However City, under the management of Manuel Pellegrini—no stranger to the Champions League's latter stages himself, having taken Villarreal to the semi-final stage in 2005-06 and Malaga to within three minutes of the same stage last season—will fancy their chances of finishing in Group D's top two.
City improved their own squad this summer to the tune of some £90 million with the purchases of Fernandinho, Jesus Navas, Stevan Jovetic and Alvaro Negredo. There is a belief that a place in February's knockout round is there for the taking this year, which will only have been strengthened following Thursday's draw.
CSKA Moscow, UEFA Cup winners in 2005, may be the Russian champions, but are a squad lacking in star quality. Igor Akinfeev is a fine goalkeeper and Alan Dzagoev is a creative goalscoring midfielder has suitors across Europe; however the Russian capital club and their Luzhniki Stadium don't hold the same fears for visiting sides that they may have done in past years.
Viktoria Plzen, the fourth seed, arrive at the group stage having seen off Slovenian side NK Maribor 4-1 on aggregate. The Czech side reached the last 16 of the Europa League last season, with Pavel Vrba also guiding them to success in the Gambrinus Liga. However the loss of arguably their best player, midfielder Vladimir Darida, who today joined German club Freiburg for £3.5 million, is a massive blow.
Thus all signs point to a Germany-England one-two, with reigning champions Bayern and English runners-up City taking charge of the group from the outset and securing their respective places in the knockout stages.
Having suffered from unkind draws in each of the past two years, Thursday's offering from Monaco has given City a helping hand, something which the watching European public will expect them to take advantage of.
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