UEFA Champions League Preview
The draw for the group stages of this year's UEFA Champions League is out. It's definitely strange to have a Champions League competition that doesn't include AC Milan, but does include a team from Cyprus.
Who has the toughest route to the knockout rounds? Who will coast through? Which teams will surprise us all?
Group A: Chelsea, Roma, Bordeaux, CFR Cluj
Chelsea and Roma figure to easily advance to the knockout rounds from this group, but Bordeaux could make some trouble. They finished runners-up in Ligue 1 last year, and have the young French star Yoann Gourcuff, on loan from AC Milan. CFR Cluj were last season's Romanian league champions, but they will most likely finish bottom of the group.
Knockout rounds: Chelsea, Roma. UEFA Cup: Bordeaux
Group B: Internazionale, Werder Bremen, Panathinaikos, Anorthosis Famagusta
Anorthosis Famagusta is the first club from Cyprus to ever advance to the group stages of the Champions League, beating Greek giants Olympiacos on the way. Panathinaikos comes into the group with several Greek internationals sharing the field with new signing Gilberto Silva. Bremen are coming off a very respectable runner-up finish in the Bundesliga. Internazionale have a loaded roster and are the defending Serie A champions. Look for Panathinaikos to make some noise here.
Knockout rounds: Internazionale, Panathinaikos. UEFA Cup: Werder Bremen
Group C: Barcelona, Sporting Lisbon, Basel, Shakhtar Donetsk
Barcelona is looking to rebound from a disappointing showing in all competitions last year, and they will redeem themselves here. Basel is full of Swiss players from a Euro 2008 squad that was not good. Shakhtar boasts the always dangerous Dario Srna, and he will provide some attacking flair. Sporting Lisbon have the goalscoring talent at their disposal and should make it into the knockout round thanks to Helder Postiga and Joao Moutinho.
Knockout rounds: Barcelona, Sporting Lisbon. UEFA Cup: Shakhtar Donetsk
Group D: Liverpool, PSV Eindhoven, Marseille, Atletico Madrid
Group D is by far the toughest in the entire competition. Liverpool will have hoped to avoid this after their embarrassing showing against Standard Liege, and might not be able to avoid the UEFA Cup. Atletico are a team on the rise in La Liga, and have some real talent on the roster (Simao, Luis Garcia, Gregory Coupet.) PSV will struggle without shotstopper Heurelho Gomes, and probably slip to third or fourth. Bolo Zenden is past his prime for Marseille, but Bakari Kone is good.
Knockout rounds: Atletico Madrid, Marseille. UEFA Cup: Liverpool.
Group E: Manchester United, Villareal, Celtic, Aalborg
Another tough group, though the English squad in this one should find it easier to advance. Manchester United has sufficiently recovered from the Champions League debacle of 2005-2006, and will challenge for a second straight title. Villareal also keep getting better, with the addition of Jozy Altidore, and Marcos Senna was one of the best players at Euro 2008. Celtic has gotten off to a hot start in Scotland, but it won't be enough in this group. Aalborg BK doesn't have the firepower to keep up.
Knockout rounds: Manchester United, Villareal. UEFA Cup: Celtic
Group F: Olympique Lyonnais, Bayern Munich, Steaua Bucharest, Fiorentina
Lyon have won seven straight Ligue 1 titles, yet have never been very succesful in Europe. Will this year be different? Fred and Karim Benzema offer a potent combo up front for the French. Speaking of French, Bayern Munich boasts one of the most talented French stars in Franck Ribery. Lukas Podolski and Luca Toni will be great as well. Bucharest were the Romanian runners-up, but will most likely fare better than the league champs. Fiorentina managed to pip AC Milan for Serie A's last Champions League qualifying spot, but that may have been a fluke.
Knockout rounds: Lyon, Munich. UEFA Cup: Steaua Bucharest.
Group G: Arsenal, FC Porto, Fenerbahce, Dynamo Kiev
Arsenal have the easiest route of all the English clubs to the knockout rounds. They should easily advance as has been the norm for them lately. Porto with Ricardo Quaresma and Fenerbahce with Daniel Guiza will duke it out for second place in the group, with the loser taking the UEFA Cup slot. Dynamo Kiev will not keep up with all the great talent in this group.
Knockout rounds: Arsenal, Fenerbahce. UEFA Cup: FC Porto
Group H: Real Madrid, Juventus, Zenit St. Petersburg, Bate Borisov
Two European heavyweights headline this group in Real Madrid and Juventus. Both are locks to advance, especially considering that Andrei Arshavin still wants to leave Zenit. Zenit, last year's UEFA Cup champions, still have the talent to retain that title, but this is tough group. They'll play for the UEFA Cup once again. Bate Borisov, from Belarus, is an unknown quantity, but it is almost a certainty that they can't match up with the top three in this group.
Knockout rounds: Real Madrid, Juventus. UEFA Cup: Zenit St. Petersburg
Surprise of the group stage
Fenerbahce and Marseille. Both of these teams are talented, but will be flying under the radar because of some of the big names that they'll have to compete against. This will work to their advantage.
Disappointment of the group stage
Liverpool. They looked shaky against Standard Liege, and have looked shaky in the Premier League so far as well. They've got to pull it together quickly or Rafa Benitez could be looking for work.
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