Breaking Down Manchester City's Champions League Group-Stage Opponents
Manchester City have expressed clearly and without reservation their desire to thrive against the best sides in the world in Champions League play.
But it is definitely starting to feel like UEFA does not much want City around. Per Andrew Das of the New York Times:
Real Madrid and Liverpool, which is returning to the Champions League for the first time since 2009-10, will be pleased with a group that includes Switzerland’s F.C. Basel and Ludogorets of Bulgaria...Bayern Munich and Manchester City will be less pleased to find themselves matched not only against each other but also against Roma of Italy and CSKA Moscow.
City have now qualified for Champions League play in four consecutive seasons. In three of them, counting this go-round, City were drawn into what neutral commenters deemed the "Group of Death," per Ty Duffy of USA Today.
As an American, my take on this draw is that it is a stone joke. Arsenal and Chelsea, who finished behind City each of the last three seasons in the Premier League, were placed in Pot 1 "based on previous performances in the elite competition," per Chris Bascombe of The Telegraph.
The only thing Arsenal are really good at is finishing fourth in the league. As for Chelsea's storied history in this competition, well, so what? Rewarding teams for long since past accomplishments in the present day makes little sense in a "what have you done for me lately" world.
At least there is familiarity for City, as they played Bayern and CSKA Moscow in this tournament last season. And certainly neither Bayern nor CSKA Moscow are all that thrilled to be seeing City again.
Still, UEFA can call this draw random all it likes. In the words of the great Jim Croce, "that's not the way it feels."
Pot 1 Side: Bayern Munich
Bayern Munich were the defending holders in the Champions League last season and advanced from Group D along with City.
City's only loss in the group stage came at the Etihad to Bayern. Goalkeeper Joe Hart flubbed an early shot from Bayern's Franck Ribery, and City were never really in the match after that.
Still, City traveled to the Allianz Arena with a chance to snatch first place in the group right out of Bayern's clutches, only to see manager Manuel Pellegrini's arithmetic skills fail them.
All that said, if you guaranteed City another loss at the Etihad and another win at the Allianz again right now, City would have to be pretty happy with that.
Pep Guardiola's side was pretty terrifying even before they added Robert Lewandowski. "They set league records for the most wins in a row (19), the best goal difference (+38) and the longest undefeated streak (53 games going back into the season before). They beat Borussia Dortmund 2-0 to lift the Cup as well," noted Adam Shergold for the Daily Mail.
Pot 3 Side: CSKA Moscow
It all might have been so different, though.
City were more than a little bit fortunate to win in Moscow last October. The Sky Blues gave up the first goal of the match, which is never a good idea in Champions League play on the road.
Then, after scratching out a 2-1 lead, City virtually begged Keisuke Honda to equalize late in second-half stoppage time. City goalkeeper Joe Hart, whose form at that time was abysmal, stood tall and kicked Honda's drive away.
Remember that City had not to that point ever qualified for the knockout stage of the Champions League. How would they have responded if Honda's shot had beaten Hart? Almost certainly, CSKA Moscow would have provided more resistance than they did in the 5-2 City win that put the Sky Blues through.
City will have plenty of film on and familiarity with the Russian side. Then again, the same can be said for CSKA Moscow.
Pot 4 Side: AS Roma
Just for fun, take a quick look at the list of clubs that were in Pot 4 of this year's Champions League draw:
Anderlecht, Roma, Apoel, Bate Borisov, Maribor, Monaco, Malmo, Ludogorets.
Being unfamiliar with your level of sophistication, it would be wrong to say that you have basically never heard of any of those sides except Roma, Monaco and maybe Anderlecht. But if you said that about me, it would be dishonest of me to protest too vociferously.
Speaking bluntly, this is a disastrous Pot 4 draw for Manchester City and Bayern Munich. City and Bayern are early favorites to survive Group E, but Roma are more than capable of beating either of those favored sides and sneaking through to the knockout stage.
Nobody wanted to see Roma come out of Pot 4 and into their group. City and Bayern will have all they can handle against the Giallorossi.