Today’s UEFA Champions League draw was one that should prove that Serie A is still one of the premier leagues in the world, and that Inter is arguably the world’s best club. The Nerazzurri swept the UEFA individual awards: Goalkeeper of the Year (Julio Cesar), Defender of the Year (Maicon), Midfielder of the Year (Wesley Sneijder), Striker of the Year (Diego Milito), and Footballer of the Year (Milito again). Milito scored both goals in Inter’s defeat of Bayern Munich in last season’s Champions League final.
But of course the big news is the draw, and with Sampdoria’s loss this week Serie A has three teams represented in the Champions League – defending champion Inter Milan, AS Roma, and AC Milan. The draw was a mixed bag for all three, but all have a good chance of advancing.
Inter was placed in Group A along with Werder Bremen, Tottenham Hotspur, and FC Twente. Bremen is of course the club that eliminated Sampdoria, and so it has a second chance to knock off a Serie A team. Tottenham is playing in its first Champions League since 1963, and has a potent attack led by Peter Crouch and Jermain Defoe. FC Twente are the reigning Dutch champions but are making their first Champions League group stage appearance ever.
This is a tough draw for Rafa Benitez’s club, but they will not have to travel far for away matches, two of which (White Hart Lane and De Grolsch Veste) hold fewer than 40,000 spectators. They won’t go through the group stage undefeated, but it’s hard to see how Inter doesn’t advance from this group probably at the top. My instinct is a loss either at Tottenham or Twente, but they finish first in their group.
Their rivals AC Milan also face a group of quality opponents rich in history, possibly making them part of this year’s “Group of Death”. Milan (a Pot 1 club) is in Group G with Real Madrid, Ajax, and Auxerre. Last year Milan went to Madrid and escaped with a upset 3-2 victory, helping them advance from the group. This year, they will face the defending Champions League winning manager Jose Mourinho who is looking for a third title with his third team. Ajax is one of Europe’s most famous clubs, but does not have the level of talent it has had in past years. Auxerre is the French club that has a knack for upsets – it qualified for the group stage by knocking off Zenit St. Petersburg.
Jose Mourinho is likely salivating to play in Milan again and knock off the Rossoneri. I have my doubts that AC Milan can go into Madrid and beat Real Madrid again, but they can advance from this group. The key is not to lose focus when playing Ajax or Auxerre, because both are more than capable of advancing themselves. This group will also have a ton of attention paid to it simply because of the names involved. As such, Allegri will have a tough tightrope between preparing for his group and the domestic league. Still I expect AC Milan to finish second and advance.
The third Champions League team Roma will be expected to finish second in their group, but because of the balance in this group all four have the possibility of advancing. The Pot 2 team drew Group E headlined by Champions League runner-ups Bayern Munich, which will be a tough test for the Giallorossi. The upset pick from this group will be FC Basel, Switzerland’s most successful club who have played in European competition since 1999. While Roma has more talent and big names, Basel will not be an easy victory. The fourth club, CFR Cluj, is a Romanian club that under new ownership in the 2000s has found success after being a second division team most of their history. Roma fans will remember this club as the one in 2008 that came to Rome and won 2-1 in the Champions League. I expect Roma to advance, but to have to battle the entire way.
My prediction is that all three Serie A clubs will advance, one in first and two in second. But what do you think? Tell us in the comments section, in the poll below, and on Twitter @roberthayjr