Monday 22 December 2014

Man City hope to make it third time lucky as Bayern loom large again

Glenn Moore

Published 29/08/2014 | 02:30

Arjen Robben of Bayern Muenchen celebrates scoring the second goal during the Bundesliga match between FC Bayern Muenchen and VfL Wolfsburg
Arjen Robben of Bayern Muenchen celebrates scoring the second goal during the Bundesliga match between FC Bayern Muenchen and VfL Wolfsburg
Manchester City's Stevan Jovetic

If it were not for the obvious transparency of the Champions League draw, with its glass balls and participating legends, Manchester City might begin to suspect Uefa had it in for them.

City’s lawyers ameliorated the damage that might have been inflicted when City fell foul of UEFA’S Financial Fair Play regulations, to the extent they are hardly handicapped at all for this season’s competition, but they will nevertheless find progress to the knock-out stages, never mind the Berlin final, far from assured.

Since being transformed by petrodollars the Premier League champions have had a series of tough draws as they climbed the UEFA rankings but, having reached the second seeding pot, must have felt a relatively easy hand was due. Instead they were dealt the pot 4 floater, Roma, along with 2013 winners Bayern Munich, and Russian champions CSKA Moscow.

Tricky

It is the third time City have faced Bayern in the group stages of the competition, and the draw is not just tricky for their players. Given the distance and visa difficulties involved in the latter trip, and the history of hooligan attacks when English teams travel to Rome, it is a daunting draw for their fans.

Liverpool, who might have expected the worst on their return to Europe’s elite competition, having dropped into the third rank of seeds in their absence, were more fortunate. They were given glamour, in the form of holders Real Madrid, novelty, with Bulgarian debutants Ludogorets Razdan, and, with Basle making up the quartet, a real chance of progress.

Arsenal’s newly discovered resilience will be required as they go to two tough venues, Galatasaray and Dortmund. However, neither team are a strong as a year or two ago, and their third opponents, Anderlecht, are a shadow of their 1970s heyday.

For Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho, seeking to become the first man to win the trophy with three clubs, the draw threw up a trip back home, to play Sporting Lisbon, moderate opposition in Maribor, and an unremarkable Schalke 04.

Manchester City’s director of football, Txiki Begiristain, said: “It is, a very, very tough group.” Having won their second title in three years the belief is that City will prioritise Europe this season but Begiristain insisted the expectation was simply “to improve”. He added, “We have signed some very good players to try and improve and we will try and go further in Champions League. There is no more pressure this season, just the same pressure to go for a long run.”

The draw means two former Chelsea players, Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole, now at City and Roma respectively, will have a swift reunion. It is also the third time in four years City have been paired with Bayern. Last season they were dismantled at home, but then won in Munich.

Ian Ayre, Liverpool’s chief executive, admitted the club were ‘pleased’ with their draw. He added: “I’ve spoken to Brendan (Rodgers) who watched it in his office at the training ground. I think we’ll feel we can have a go in that group. It is special to have Real Madrid. This is our competition, we’re five times winners, and playing someone who have just won it for tenth time makes it a special group.”

Ludogorets are the team who came to prominence on Wednesday night when their centre-half, Cosmin Moti, went in goal and saved two penalties in their shoot-out victory over Steaua Bucharest.

A young club they can scarcely have believed their luck in drawing Liverpool and Real. Assuming Madrid go through it is Basle who could prove problematic for Liverpool having troubled Chelsea and Tottenham. They also knocked Liverpool out in the group stage in 2002.

Arsenal were beaten by Galatasaray in the 2000 Europa League final in Denmark, amid fighting between fans. Gala no longer play at the intimidating Ali Sami Yen stadium, but are still a handful at home. They have also retained Wesley Sneijder. Likewise Dortmund have held on to Marco Reus, but have lost Robert Lewandowski to Bayern, the Pole following the exit route taken by Mario Gotze. The teams were drawn together last year, each winning at the other’s ground.

The value of Arsenal’s narrow victory over Besiktas is clear from last year’s earnings. Winners Real Madrid made the most, €57.4m, but Manchester United (quarter-finalists, €44.7m), Chelsea (semi-finalists, 43.4m), Manchester City (round of 16, €35.4m) and Arsenal (round of 16, €29.3m) all did better than Sevilla whose reward for winning the Europa League was €14.6m. Even Anderlecht, who lost five and drew one of their six Champions League ties, took home €12.2m. In that respect all the entrants are winners already. (© Independent News Service)

Group dynamics

Arsenal

Group D

Borussia Dortmund

Manager: Jürgen Klopp

Key man: Marco Reus

Last season's German runners-up face Arsenal for a third time in four group stages. Weakened by loss of Robert Lewandowski.

Galatasaray

Manager: Cesare Prandelli

Key man: Wesley Sneijder

Turkish runners-up went out to Chelsea last season and have lost Didier Drogba. Emmanuel Eboué will be a popular returnee to London.

Anderlecht

Manager: Besnik Hasi

Key man: Aleksandar Mitrovic

Belgians last visited England in 2007, drawing with Spurs. Have gone out at the group stage in the last two seasons.

Chelsea

Group G

Schalke

Manager: Jens Keller

Key man: Julian Draxler

Will not be underestimated and boast good attacking threat from Draxler, Kevin-Prince Boateng and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.

Sporting Lisbon

Manager: Marco Silva

Key man: Fredy Montero

Battling to hold on to William Carvalho amid interest from Arsenal and Manchester United, the Portuguese make their first appearance since 2009-10.

Maribor

Manager: Ante Simundza

Key man: Marcos Tavares

Succeeded where many have failed in eliminating Celtic. Last competed at this stage in 1999-2000, when they achieved just one win.

Liverpool

Group B

Real Madrid

Manager: Carlo Ancelotti

Key man: Cristiano Ronaldo

The holders return to Anfield still smarting from a 4-0 loss five years ago. Gareth Bale will be keenly watched.

Basel

Manager: Paulo Sousa

Key man: Marco Streller

Swiss champions will need no introduction, having faced Chelsea and Spurs recently. Former Red Philipp Degen provides the Anfield link.

Ludogorets

Manager: Aleksandar

Aleksandrov

Key man: Cosmin Moti

Bulgarian minnows provided a fairy tale as defender Moti donned the gloves to help beat Steaua Bucharest on penalties.

Manchester City

Group E

Bayern Munich

Manager: Pep Guardiola

Key man: Arjen Robben (below)

Champions in 2013 before being embarrassed by Real Madrid in last season's semi-finals. Traded away wins with City last season.

CSKA Moscow

Manager: Yevgeni Giner

Key man: Alan Dzagoev

City will not relish travelling to Russia to play another side they took on last season. Yaya Touré was racially abused, a fact that will further crank up this tie.

Roma

Manager: Rudi Garcia

Key man: Francesco Totti

The Italians complete a tough draw for City as Ashley Cole gets his return after leaving Chelsea this summer. Totti and Gervinho are familiar foes.

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