A tough group with defending champions Inter favourite to go through leaving second place up for grabs and, although Spurs fans might disagree, I think Werder will sneak through in second place. Spurs biggest problem will probably be Harry Redknapp, who has a lack of top level European experience and showed this by going to Young Boys and playing a rigged 4-4-2 which he won’t be able to do in these games otherwise Spurs will get over run. Werder have good attackers in Almeida & Arnautović and with Wesley coming in to shore up the midfield as well they look an ominous threat, I don’t expect Spurs to be able to go to the Weserstadion and get a result either. Twente could also provide a threat to 3rd place but in their case a lot depends on whether or not the keep hold of star striker Bryan Ruiz.
Hapoel Tel Aviv
Lyon will be favourites to go through in this group, they have a great keeper in Hugo Lloris and a very strong midfield with Michel Bastos, Jeremy Toulalan (although he’s recently been converted to a centre half), Jean II Makoun and the recently bought Yoann Gourcuff and striker Lisandro Lopez Lyon look a very strong team. The 2nd place will be decided between Benfica & Schalke, the later having recently bought Real Madrid legend Raul to the club and strongly being linked with Rafael van der Vaart as well as bringing in Christoph Metzelder to shore up the defence however they have also lost a lot of key players in Ze Roberto, Kevin Kuranyi & Rafinha and could find themselves struggling if Benfica can get a result against them. Benfica have a strong South American contingent in Luisao, David Luiz, Pablo Aimar, Maxi Pereira, Eduardo Salvio and Javier Saviola as well as Portugese star Fabio Coentrao and Nuno Gomes and the key games in this group will be when Schalke play Benfica. I don’t know a huge amount Hapoel Tel-Aviv other than they have Nigerian goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama who scored one of the goal’s that saw the team through against Red Bull Salzburg in the qualifying stages but I don’t think they have the squad to challenge the other teams.
Manchester United will be favourites in this group and although being drawn alongside Valencia does sound a bit daunting they are severally weakened by the fact they’ve sold David Villa and David Silva in the summer, however they still have players such as Ever Banega, Juan Mata and newly bought Sofiane Feghouli in midfield that can control games if they are allowed. Obviously Rangers will be trying to get 2nd place but 3rd and a place in the Europa League is a more likely target. Again I don’t know a huge amount about Bursaspor but it would take a lot for them to threaten the top 2 although 3rd won’t be ruled out as Rangers do seem to struggle in Europe over recent years. Also look out for the horrible ‘Valencia helps United beat Valencia in Valencia ‘ type puns that the tabloids will doubtlessly already be planning.
Barcelona will be favourites to go through this group, although they probably won’t look forward to playing Rubin Kazan after losing to them at the Nou Camp and drawing away in Russia, however the team will certainly be out for revenge. Rubin Kazan are my tips for 2nd place, they proved last season that they are a well organised team and have a daunting home ground which can prove a problem for some teams – last season they drew at home with Inter Milan & Barcelona, I can’t see either Panathinaikos or F.C. København causing any upsets in this group.
Again the top seeds in this group, Bayern Munich, will be expected to go through with out to much trouble and Roma should comfortably go through in second as well especially with the newly acquired Adriano providing some welcome fire power up front. I can’t see Basel or Cluj providing too much trouble for either of the top 2 teams and this group should be a formality but you never know what could happen especially as Bayern nearly failed to qualify from their group last season before reaching the final.
Didier Drogba’s eye’s must have lit up when he saw this draw, a return to his old club Marseille must be very appealing and I think he can expect a good reception. Likewise Didier Deschamps must have been pleased as well as the ex Chelsea player and current Marseille coach will see it as a chance to test his team against one of the best and enjoy a return to Stanford Bridge. I can’t see Chelsea finishing anywhere other than 1st and with the new striker force of Gignac & Remy Marseille will be expected to finish a comfortable 2nd as well.
The team that all the top seeds would have liked to avoid, Real Madrid where drawn in the most prestigious group with 20 European Cups between them. This group has history and excitement built in to it, last year’s games with Real & Milan were exciting and I think they will be pretty similar this season, and although Milan & Real will be favourites to go through you can’t rule Ajax or Auxerre out of the running and this will be the most exciting group I think out of all the groups this year. Can Jose finally break Real’s European jinx? Klass Jan Huntelaar must be looking forward to a return to his former clubs if he’s still at Milan when the games come around.
Although on paper Arsenal look favourites and should go through they have some very tricky away ties and have never won in the Ukraine, Portugal or Serbia and I’m sure Arsene Wenger won’t be happy with the amount of travelling his team will have to do. Shakhtar have a strong squad with a few Brazilians in there adding them some creative flair. Arsenal should go through but it wouldn’t surprise me if they struggle in some of the away games but there home form should be impeccable and see them through the groups. Braga must also be considered a threat after knocking Sevilla out of the qualifying stages and Partizan have the ‘unknown’ element to them as well, there home games will be a very intimidating atmosphere for any visiting team
So there is my quick round up, I expect most of the big teams to get through although Group’s B, D and H could through up a few surprise’s.