Friday, 29 August 2014

Best of both worlds or boring deja vu? Champions League draw keeps big guns safe

Best of both worlds or boring deja vu? Champions League draw keeps big guns safe
Very few European giants are likely to suffer shock elimination as the selection had a very familiar feel, with regular foes meeting once again in the group stage
By Sam Praise | International Football Correspondent
It takes a lot for seeded teams to be significantly concerned about Champions League group stage draws these days, but Arsenal have the most reason to worry after Thursday’s ceremony pitted them against Borussia Dortmund and Galatasaray.
While they should overcome outsiders Anderlecht, the double-headers against the Turkish Super Lig runners-up and Germany’s vice-champions, against whom they were beaten at home in last season’s group stage, will leave Arsene Wenger under no illusions as to the tough task ahead.
The over familiarity involved in Champions League draws is stifling to say the least. While Arsenal meet Dortmund for the third pair of fixtures in four seasons, Chelsea and Schalke are also well acquainted already following last season’s duo of Blues victories. Bayern, Manchester City and CSKA Moscow, meanwhile, have all been pooled together for consecutive group campaigns.
At least the presence of Roma – returning to the competition for the first time since a round of 16 exit to Shakhtar Donetsk in 2010-11 – gives Group E a fresh dimension. It also means a speedy return to his old stomping ground for Mehdi Benatia after he this week completed a €30 million move from the Giallorossi to the 2013 European champions.
Rudi Garcia’s men were earmarked by many as the team to avoid in Pot 4, but they will be wary of the challenges they now face, with visits to the Bundesliga and Premier League champions plus a difficult trip to Moscow to negotiate.
Pep Guardiola’s side have many questions to answer at the moment given their initial difficulties adapting to the Catalan coach’s 3-4-3 formation and a glut of injuries to defenders, and they will have hoped for a kinder schedule than the one with which Roma and City in particular present them.
Paris Saint-Germain provide the biggest name opposition for Barcelona, with the Blaugrana having failed to beat the French champions in their quarter-final tie of 2012-13. For PSG’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic, meanwhile, Group F throws up another former club, with Ajax being drawn from Pot 3.
As they begin their quest for their 11th European title, Real Madrid will be fairly happy with their lot. They will face Liverpool, arguably the toughest tie to come from Pot 3, but Basel and Bulgarian newcomers Ludogorets should not prove to be too taxing for Carlo Ancelotti’s side.
Their city rivals Atletico Madrid would not have been entirely happy to have been drawn with Juventus, although Diego Simeone will rightly back his side to get positive results in both fixtures after last season’s run to the final in Lisbon. In any case, the inclusion of Olympiakos and Malmo in Group A also provides a fairly comfortable route should things become sticky against the Serie A champions.
So for many, this is a Champions League draw that gives us the best of both worlds. We’ll see Barcelona face PSG, Real Madrid versus Liverpool, Bayern against Manchester City, Arsenal taking on Dortmund and Atletico and Juventus going head-to-head. But there are very few genuine giants in serious danger of elimination on the face of it either, given Uefa’s insistence on seeding so heavily on reputation.
It may be rocky along the way, but the big guns should still be firing come knockout time.
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