Champions League Draw 2012: Results, Analysis & Group Stage Predictions
The UEFA Champions League draw took place on Thursday, as the 32 clubs involved in the massive yearly tournament found out the teams they will face in the group stage.
As always, some will be happier with their placement than others.
Chelsea will be looking to defend its title from last season. The Blues went on a miracle run through the knockout stages before eventually knocking off Bayern Munich in the final with penalty kicks. Europe's best clubs hope to enjoy a similar thrill next May.
Let's take a look at the groups, break down how play each of them should pan out and make early predictions for which clubs will advance to the elimination rounds.
Simply put, Group A is balanced. Porto was one of the weaker teams in Pot 1, which should immediately provide the other teams with a sense of relief that they were able to avoid one of the powerhouse squads.
That said, Porto has won the Primeira Liga in Portugal for two straight years and should have enough talent to advance. If Paris Saint-Germain can gel together as a team after some big summer transfers, it's the clear pick to join Porto in the next round.
Should PSG struggle with form, Dynamo Kiev has a better chance of moving on than Dinamo Zagreb. But the group will probably be tight.
Picks to Advance: Porto and Paris Saint-Germain
Since Robin van Persie's departure to Manchester United, Arsenal has struggled to create scoring chances early in the campaign. However, Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud should be more comfortable by the time the Champions League starts.
The Gunners will also benefit from a manageable group. Montpellier doesn't appear to be a threat in its first appearance in the group stage, meaning Arsenal will only have to beat out either Schalke and Olympiacos to move on. It can handle that.
In the race for the second spot, look for Olympiacos to edge out Schalke by a narrow margin.
Picks to Advance: Arsenal and Olympiacos
Zenit St. Petersburg
At first glance, Milan and Zenit St. Petersburg seem to have the edge in the group. And if both of those teams live up to expectations, there's no reason they shouldn't advance based on talent alone.
Don't completely count out Anderlecht, though. The defending Belgian champions have sleeper potential and a good chance of remaining within striking distance of the top two—just in case either Milan or Zenit slips up along the way.
Malaga should benefit from playing against the La Liga powers, but it is still a long shot.
Picks to Advance: AC Milan and Zenit St. Petersburg
Here's the "Group of Death." Not only does it contain the defending La Liga and Premier League champions, but also the underrated Ajax and a dangerous Borussia Dortmund squad. Both of those teams are title winners as well.
Even though that will make the journey to the next round a lot more difficult for Real Madrid and Manchester City, they are still the clear favorites to advance. The biggest advantage those teams will have is their incredible depth.
Borussia Dortmund and Ajax simply didn't have luck on their side on draw day.
Picks to Advance: Real Madrid and Manchester City
Defending champion Chelsea would have liked to avoid Juventus, which was one of the best squads in Pot 3, but overall the Blues got a pretty good draw. Having Nordsjaelland in the group should make things easier.
With Chelsea likely to earn one spot in the next round, the battle between Juventus and Shakhtar Donetsk for the second spot should be a good one. All told, the Vecchia Signora should be able to squeak out a place in the Round of 16.
Nordsjaelland did well to reach the group stage, but it's hard to imagine a scenario where it advances.
Picks to Advance: Chelsea and Juventus
Bayern Munich had a chance to win the Champions League trophy on German soil in May, but it wasn't able to keep Chelsea from finishing off its epic run. Still, it was a great experience for the squad, and they should advance with ease.
Valencia is often the forgotten team in La Liga due to the presence of Real Madrid and Barcelona, but Los Che are a good team in their own right. As long as they get some early-season defensive kinks worked out, they'll move on.
Lille has a better chance of putting up a fight to advance than BATE, but it needs some help along the way.
Picks to Advance: Bayern Munich and Valencia
Barcelona didn't win either La Liga or the Champions League last season, amounting to a disappointment given all the team's recent success. Barca is once again a top contender and craves a chance to get back on top.
Group G also features a chance for a surprise team to advance in Celtic. The Scottish Premier League champions have been widely overlooked, but in a group without a truly dominant second team, they have the potential to become this year's Cinderella team.
If Celtic can't handle the pressure, expect Benfica to advance with Spartak Moscow falling short.
Picks to Advance: Barcelona and Celtic
Manchester United received a dream draw. The Red Devils landed in a group with no teams that should challenge them for the top spot unless something goes drastically wrong. Longtime manager Sir Alex Ferguson won't let that happen.
Braga should have an advantage over Galatasaray and Cluj, but it wouldn't be a shock to see any of those three teams advance. It will all come down to which side is in the best form during the final couple group stage fixtures.
The predicted order of finish behind United is Braga in second, Cluj in third and Galatasaray in fourth.
Picks to Advance: Manchester United and Braga