Champions League Draw Promises Intrigue: Preview The Excitement To Come
The results of Thursday's Champions League group stage draw promise to exude all the drama. As we all have time to absorb the matchups and predict which two teams will advance from their respective groups, lets dissect a little further.
Bayern Munich and Juventus should emerge victorious in Group A ahead of Bordeaux and Maccabi Haifa. The Israelis played with imagination and a lock-down defense against FC Salzburg in qualifying, but will struggle against their more illustrious opponents. Even though they won handily against the Austrians, Salzburg still controlled most of the possession and if they could finish, probably would be here instead of the Israelis. Against elite clubs, Haifa's rearguard will most likely breakdown.
Bordeaux will be the dark horse in the group and should they be able to steal points on the road against one of the favorites and get the job done at home, the defending French champions, led by Chamakh and Gourcouff, could continue their fine run of play and find their way into the knockout stages.
This group could go in any direction. Manchester United are the favorites, but there form has been questionable so far this season without Ronaldo and Tevez. Lets be cautious-and a little practical-and assume they move through. There will be a battle for the second spot and all three clubs—Besiktas, CSKA Moscow, and Wolfsburg—could claim the place.
Without their midfield maestro Yuri Zhirkov, who moved to Chelsea in the offseason, Moscow will most likely be over-matched. My money is on the German champions, even if they haven't been in the Champions League before.
I can't wait to see Kaka back in Milan. In one of the two match-ups featuring a big name player moving from one Italian club to a Spanish side during this most recent transfer window, Kaka's reintroduction to the Rossonerri faithful promises to be the most exciting fixture of the group. Both teams should advance, but if Milan continue their poor preseason form, Marseilles might make a backdoor run for the second spot.
One of the two most difficult groups in the stage, no question about it. Chelsea, Porto, and Atletico Madrid are all in good form in the early stages this season. Chelsea, the odds-on favorite to dethrone United for the Premiership crown, should find their way to the top of the group.
It's a coin toss between Porto and Atletico for second in a rematch of last year's group stage draw. But I see the Spanish side taking the necessary away points, guaranteeing their progression in the tournament. The key may be to not lose points to the Cypriot side APOEL, who overcame a 1-0 away deficit after the first leg of the final round of qualifiers to beat Copenhagen and become the second club from Cyprus in as many years to reach the groups stages.
Another of the more difficult groups this year, featuring Liverpool, Lyon, Fiorentina, and Hungarian side Debreceni. Liverpool is struggling in the Premiership and may lose out on one of the four Champions League spots for next season. I can see them struggling in the group stages as well.
Lyon will win the group, as the side looked unstoppable after dismantling Anderlecht 8-2 aggregate in the final qualifying round. Even though they were dethroned in Ligue 1 last year, they look to have turned it around. Look for Lisandro Lopez to continue his fine play and make a name for himself in his first season with Lyon after moving from Porto in the summer. Before the season is over, the 26-year-old Argentine will be on the radar of many of Europe's top clubs.
If Fiorentina can play the way they look on paper and get goals from Gilardino and Mutu, they may be able to oust Liverpool from second place and really cause the northern England outfit some concern about their future.
More of the summer's biggest transfers head home to their old stomping grounds as Ibrahimovic and Eto'o face their old clubs, Inter and Barcelona. Both teams should advance fairly easily past Dynamo Kiev and Rubin Kazan. Kiev have an illustrious history in the competition and may make waves, but if all goes according to plan for the big boys, won't have enough firepower to steal a spot in the top half of the group.
Group G could go any way. Stuttgart, Rangers, and Sevilla all have legitimate chances of advancing, its just a matter of who will be on top after the dust clears. It may come down to who gets the most points from underdog Unirea Urziceni. My gut tells me that Rangers don't have enough depth to get through and will find themselves joining Celtic in the inaugural run of the Europa League. Sevilla should win the group on the back of Luis Fabiano and Frederic Kanoute.
Arsenal will laugh all the way home from the drawing in Monaco. They have far and away the easiest route to the knockout stages to go along with their explosive start to the Premiership season. I wouldn't be surprised if Arsenal have suburb results in both campaigns.
The only question is who will join them. Dutch champions AZ Alkmaar, Belgian champion Standard Liege, and Greek giants Olympiakos all have a chance to advance, depending on their form. Whoever wins the fixtures between Alkmaar and Olympiakos will most likely advance, as Liege most likely will have difficulty securing points away from home.
After the group stages it will all be luck of the draw, but look for Chelsea, Real Madrid, and Arsenal to make deep runs in the springtime finale in late May, at the Santiago Bernabeu, in Madrid, Spain.
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