Tough first Champions League test for City

Bayern Munich will be the favourites to clinch the group, but City will also be up against Napoli and Villarreal. Given Bayern’s inconsistent Bundesliga form, this is a group one could imagine anyone winning or losing. Napoli, with the likes of Ezequiel Lavezzi and Edinson Cavani, have the flair to cause City problems defensively, and they strengthened this summer with the capture of Gokhlan Inler from Udinese, so should be a tough challenge. The Italians could sneak into second place if they play to their best, but Villarreal and City will both also be confident of their chances in a very open group. Villarreal’s cohesive passing game will be a difficult one for a more functional City side to break down, though both the Spaniards and the Italians play a narrow game which City could exploit with good use of their full backs. Bayern, too, will be concerned at the group given their inconsistency in Germany. After finishing third last year, they brought in Jupp Heynckes as their new coach, and made some new signings defensively to solidify the squad. But with Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery supplying Mario Gomez, Bayern are clearly the strongest side in the group.

For Arsenal, they probably have the second toughest task of the English sides after being drawn with Borussia Dortmund, the German champions whose ability and attacking prowess is allied to a steely defence. To come away from Dortmund with a point would be a good result for anyone, and the Gunners will have a tough job beating them to top spot in the group. Marseille will also provide stern opposition, with the likes of Loic Remy and Andre Ayew a handful for any defence. Olympiacos are a tricky opponent but should be beatable.

Chelsea, meanwhile, have what looks like a very tough trip to Valencia, a team who could cause Andre Villas Boas all kinds of problems. Allied to them is the challenge of Bayer Leverkusen, but they have a poor defence and lost key man Arturo Vidal this summer, so Chelsea should have too much for them. With Genk making up the group, it looks like a two horse race for first place.

Manchester United on the other hand, have what must be the easiest of the English groups, having picked Benfica, Basel and Otelul Galati. Otelul will be a tricky prospect after their first Romanian title win last season, but Basel should be an easy team to brush aside. Benfica meanwhile, are inconsistent and were poor in the group stage last season, and it would be surprising if they caused United too many problems.

Elsewhere, French champions Lille have a group from which they could progress, having been drawn with Russian league leaders CSKA and Inter Milan. Trabzonspor will be tricky, but Lille will be confident that with their attacking mentality they can cause problems for the Italian champions, though Inter will naturally be group favourites.

Group D looks like another with three teams competing for two places. Real Madrid are natural favourites ahead of nemesis Lyon, who they beat for the first time in several Champions League clashes last season. Lyon’s record against Madrid could give them the edge, with Ajax harbouring ambitions of qualifying for the second round.

Group G should be an intriguing group, with three relatively equally matched sides competing for top spot. Porto will be favourites after their Europa League win last year, but Shakhtar are a tough opponent who will be capable of winning the group if they play at their best. Zenit, too, with the talent at their disposal, can prove a handful for their local neighbours, and it could be any two of three finishing in the top two in this group.

And then there are the European champions, who will face AC Milan, BATE and Victoria Plzen in Group H. A tough group, given that they are up against the Italian champions, but it is hard to see beyond the top two, with the Belarussians and debutants from the Czech Republic unlikely to pose too many problems for either.