Thursday, August 28, 2008

The glory of the Champions League draw

Cheer up, John, you just won something, AND it's Champions League time again!

Amid the ridiculous farce that was UEFA Player of the Year presentations (in which Petr Cech, John Terry and Frank Lampard won Goalie, Defender and Midfielder of the year respectively), we had a nice little CL draw. For my lot, we are fortunate to even be in it at all, and now that we've secured ourselves a piece of the money pie, it's only fair that we end up with the roughest draw.

So how did everyone do? Let's handicap a bit, shall we?

Group A
Chelsea, AS Roma, Girondins Bordeaux, CFR Cluj

Unbelievable! Group A is as simple as it gets, and Roman's Roubled Army should have little trouble here. AS Roma are game for a fight but they're not what they used to be, La Ligue isn't producing much of quality these days that isn't named "Lyon", and CFR Cluj are the ceremonial lambs being prepared for slaughter. Their home stadium will perhaps make life a little difficult, but aside from that, there's nothing to fear. A cakewalk to the knockout rounds, barring monumental collapse.

PREDICTION: same order as presented above. Bordeaux and Cluj, adieu and la revedere.

Group B
Inter Milan, Werder Bremen, Panathinaikos, Anorthosis

By far the most interesting aspect to this group is the pairing of Cypriot champions Anorthosis Famagusta and the Greek side Panathanaikos. If nothing else, their meetings both home and away will provide the fireworks that the rest of the group will fail to muster. Werder Bremen is a limp candidate, and Jose Mourinho will be able to crawl through this lot without much difficulty. He will have to face former Chelsea assistant and new Panathinaikos manager Hank Ten Cate, but the two were at Stamford Bridge at different times, thus neutering any potential storyline. Ten Cate's managerial pedigree should help them advance along with Inter, although it won't be simple. Bremen surprised many with their 2nd-placed Bundesliga finish last season, so it's anyone's guess.

PREDICTION: Inter, Panathinaikos, Werder Bremen, Anorthosis Famagusta

Group C
FC Barcelona, Sporting Lisbon, FC Basel, Shakhtar Donetsk

Ugh, another ridiculously simple group. Barca dodge all the major bullets, and get the Swiss champs and Ukrainian champs at the bottom of the draw. Yawn-inducing rubbish.

PREDICTION: Same order as above. Crikey, where are the tough groups?

Group D
Liverpool, PSV Eindhoven, Olympique Marseille, Atletico Madrid

Ah that's right, here's one. PSV are tricky (as Spurs found out last season... ouch), but I don't see them being so threatening. It's a paper group, one that looks good when written down, but is it really so bad? Liverpool dealt with Marseille reasonably well last season (1-0 loss away, 2-0 win at Anfield), and Atletico Madrid are a completely different team now that their best striker is practicing his craft for Rafa Benitez. The real intrigue here, as far as I can tell, is the fight for second. PSV should do it, Marseille haven't got a hope of making it, and the first shake-up of the pot system will come in Atletico getting it over the other two. Sergio Aguero and ex-Man U flop/Villareal savior Diego Forlan will prove too much for an Eredivisie defense and a French team that hasn't been much good since the days of Jean-Pierre Papin.

PREDICTION: Liverpool, Atletico Madrid, PSV Eindhoven, Marseille

Group E
Manchester United, Villarreal CF, Celtic, Aalborg BK

Another one rather devoid of drama. Man U and Villareal have tangoed before in CL groups, with two scoreless draws to show for it in 2005/06, and now they'll resume that "rivalry" around encounters with the Scottish Champions and the Danish champs. Those two will do nothing; it's all England and Spain for this one.

PREDICTION: same as above

Group F
Olympique Lyon, Bayern Munich, Steaua Bucharest, Fiorentina

Some intrigue here, as Fiorentina come in woefully under-ranked, although will it be enough to trouble Lyon, a team who's won La Ligue every year since 2002, or the mighty Bayern? Ze Germans are simply too strong for most thanks to their deep squad, although we've seen in recent months just how problematic it can be to have Luca Toni in front of goal. Fiorentina might have a shout, but there's a reason the teams rank out this way, and this one will probably go the same way.

PREDICTION: Bayern Munich, OM Lyon, Fiorentina, Steaua Bucharest

Group G
Arsenal, FC Porto, Fenerbahce, Dinamo Kiev

Plenty of teams for Arsenal to beat 1-0! Actually, a group that's a lot tougher than it looks. Fenerbahce play a stifling, scrappy brand of football that can provide an upset, and Porto (if they're allowed to participate, which is still up in the air apparently) can beat anyone on their day. Still, expect a lot of goalless draws from this, the cagiest group. I reckon the Turkish side has it in 'em for the long haul.

PREDICTION: Arsenal, Fenerbahce, FC Porto, Dinamo Kiev

Group H
Real Madrid, Juventus, Zenit St. Petersburg, Bate

Expect 0-0s from the two matches between Real and Juve as neither will want to give an inch. The rest of the group is sad and lifeless, and I feel bad. Zenit will roll over, despite their UEFA Cup successes last season, mainly because they're going to give up their two flagship players to Spurs soon, if we believe all the rubbish in the press about it. FC BATE Borisov is a fun one, the team where Alexander Hleb's career began. According to some research, BATE in their name stands for Borisov Automobile and Tractor Electrical. Fun stuff!

PREDICTION: as above. Christ, I'm not very bold, am I? Must be because it's not happy hour yet.


Eladio said...

As a gooner, I'm a bit worried about that Group G draw. Thankfully we have the Kiev game in September and not Nov/Dec when the pitch will be a freakin' rink. And as a friend said to me last year -- "you never want to play a meaningful game in Turkey". I hope Arsene doesn't start playing Wilshire and Ramsey during those away games in the Ukraine and Turkey.

The NY Kid said...

Bordeux will beat Roma like a rented mule.

And L'OM last in Group D?

Why do you hate the French? Oh, that's right, you're English.

Ian said...

I think Fiorentina will surprise, which is bad for either Lyon or Bayern.

CJ said...

I'm not sure which L'OM v. Liverpool matches you are talking about. The ones from last year that I remember were 0-1 at Anfield and 0-4 and the Velodrome. The away leg being the last match of the group that Pool had to win to qualify, after having 1 pt. from the first 3 matches. Also, how predictable were the results of this draw?

Andrew said...

Lyon always under-performs in CL, ergo Fiorentina may be able to sneak in.Same with Celtic, perhaps. As for the rest, it's purely academic.

Anonymous said...

it really is a little worrisome, the Arsenal draw....esp. compared to that of Chelsea and ManU which are joke and jjokier

jjf3 said...

just a WAG - Atletico and Fiorentina make it out of groups and then create real problems for some unlucky two...

Lingering Bursitis said...

you are so right, my apologies. I misread the scores grid.

It could be worse, but it's not that good for Arse. They should cruise though...

NY Kid:
yep, you got it. No respect for those frenchies.

you're so right! When I was going through this, I was getting kinda frustrated at how obvious some of these groups looked. Not much room for surprise, especially when you consider there's 6 group games to play. Shockers can happen over 90 or 180 minutes (just ask LFC, almost), but to play spoiler 6 times? Nigh-on impossible. Thus, the fairytale stories disappear quickly and we get the same olds at the end. A bit like the way the Electoral College weeds out all the outliers.

I agree... at least with Atletico. Fio have their work cut out for them...

it's absurd how lucky Fergie and Roman get with the draw each year