Champions League preview: Groups A-D
Published: 17.09.12 / Written by: David Gold
You have to feel sorry for Manchester City. Drawn with Bayern Munich, Napoli and Villarreal last year, this time they get Real Madrid, Ajax and Borussia Dortmund.
Or to put it another way, you really don't have to feel sorry for the team with unlimited resources. A side with no European history or pedigree trying to buy their way to success are having their path blocked. Last year by Bayern Munich and Napoli. This year by Real, Dortmund and Ajax - three genuine giants of the game. What is there to feel sorry for? It is poetic justice, some might say.
It should be a thrilling group though. Real will be clear favourites to progress, as they did last year with ease. The big question is over second place in this group. On paper at least, Dortmund are probably favourites, having retained the German title at the expense of Bayern Munich once again last year. With a tight defence, and a quick, effective attack, they are one year more experienced from their elimination at the same stage last year. Jurgen Klopp's side, if they perform at their best and do not make the errors they were culpable of 12 months ago, will have second place in their hands.
City will be determined to reach the knock out phase once again, and with players like David Silva and Sergio Aguero a year older and wiser, with players like Carlos Tevez and Yaya Toure, they will cause all kinds of problems for their group rivals. Ajax though, will be no walkovers, and cannot be discounted out of the race for second. The four time European champions claimed the Dutch title again last year, and with Cristian Eriksen their star man, they have the composure and skill to go anywhere and pick up points, as they proved last year when they won at Old Trafford.
Arsenal could not have been given a luckier draw if they'd picked the teams out themselves. Ok, maybe they could have just about - but there will be few complaints from the Emirates. Like last year, they travel to Germany, France and Greece. Schalke and Montpellier are tricky opponents. Schalke in particular have Klaas Jan Huntelaar, the German league's top scorer, and he will be a threat to anyone they come up against. Montpellier stunned everyone in France to win their title last year and can spring a similar surprise on their European rivals if underestimated. But Arsenal will have rather faced these teams than some of the alternatives on offer. With Olympiakos the other team in the section, Arsenal will be confident after beating them last year. Second place should be a close battle beteween Schalke and Montpellier, whilst Olympiakos' European experience could be invaluable and help them into the knock out stages too.
One of the more evenly matched groups is the one involving Dynamo Kiev, Porto and Paris St Germain. Joined by outsiders Partizan Belgrade, any two from three could conceivably win this group. Dynamo have invested wisely this summer, and looked strong in beating Borussia Moenchengladbach in qualifiers, whilst the Parisians have been Europe's heaviest spenders - again. Back in Europe's elite competition for the first time in over a decade, Carlo Ancelotti's side are hoping to go far with the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva. But it is of course Porto who will start as narrow favourites, despite selling Joao Moutinho, as the experienced Portuguese champions know how to progress from the opening stages of this competition.
An intriguing group is that involving AC Milan, who were drawn with Zenit St Petersburg, Malaga and Anderlecht. Milan have sold so many players this summer, and although they will start as favourites by reputation, Zenit appear the strongest on paper. Back to back Russian champions, the heavily bankrolled club will be an exceptionally tough opponent, especially as the winter bites in the north of Russia. Malaga have been on a fire sale this summer and although they managed to get through qualifiers, the Spaniards will have a tough task getting through. Anderlecht may even fancy their chances of springing a shock.
Predicted group winners: Dynamo Kiev, Arsenal, Zenit St Petersburg, Real Madrid
Predicted runners up: Porto, Schalke, AC Milan, Borussia Dortmund