Today’s Champions League group stage draw will pit Bundesliga sides Bayern Munich, Werder Bremen and Schalke against some of Europe’s most successful clubs. Bayern will face Serie A runners-up Roma, as well as FC Basel of Switzerland and CFR Cluj of Romania. Werder Bremen will take on Champions League holders and Italian champions Inter, as well as Tottenham Hotspur and FC Twente of Holland. Schalke will tackle Olympique Lyon, Benfica and Hapoel Tel-Aviv of Israel.
Bayern Munich have been given a clear path into the first knockout round by way of the kind group they’ve been drawn in. While an away game at the Stadio Olimpico in front of 70,000 screaming ultras will be a testing tie, Bayern Munich should dispatch the rest of their opposition quite handily. FC Basel will most likely be the whipping boys of the group and finish bottom, while Cluj and Roma will battle for second place. If Cluj can use their home ground to their advantage, they may pip Roma to a second-placed finish and advance, especially if Roma are more focused on their league season. Bayern Munich’s away games won’t require too much travelling either, which will allow for consistent league results in between Champions League fixtures.
Werder Bremen’s group is an interesting one. Inter are relatively the same side that dominated Serie A and swept the Champions League under Jose Mourinho, with Wesley Sneijder, Maicon, Diego Milito and Julio Cesar being central figures in their incredible season. The team has remained intact for the most part, but Jose Mourinho has moved on. Rafa Benitez, whose last achievement was a seventh placed league finish with Liverpool last season, has taken charge of the side. While Rafa Benitez has lifted the Champions League with Liverpool as well as tasting league success in Spain with Valencia, he has had a really rough patch in the last few years. He will need to turn it around and quick. Expect Inter to top the group, despite the loss of Jose Mourinho. FC Twente should not pose too much of a threat to either Werder Bremen or Tottenham based solely on their lack of defensive stability. While they were a very solid side under now-Wolfsburg manager Steve McClaren, they should not be able to make the same kind of impact on the European stage. So it’s down to Tottenham and Werder Bremen for second spot.
Tottenham have famously broken the ‘Big Four’ of England, who have occupied the top four spots of the Premier League table for at least the last six years now, and will be hoping to make their place at the very top of the table permanent. Tottenham are a side much improved under manager Harry Redknapp, who rescued the side from certain doom after taking only two points from eight matches at the start of the season under then-manager Juande Ramos. Now, Tottenham have ousted Liverpool from the ‘Big Four’ and have improved drastically as a squad. They will definitely be up for it and will press Werder Bremen and Inter for all they have.
Werder Bremen, on the other hand, have lost star midfielder Mesut Ozil to Real Madrid this summer, but don’t look too badly at all with Marko Marin and Aaron Hunt stepping up to fill the void left by the German international. Werder Bremen have recently overcome Sampdoria in their Champions League qualifier after coming from behind to beat the Italian side 5-4 on aggregate. I’ve got to give the edge to Tottenham here, but I’d love to see Werder Bremen nip through.
Schalke’s group is not at all easier. Olympique Lyon have strengthened quite well this summer, with attacking midfielder Yoann Gourcuff being the biggest addition to the squad. He could certainly be the x-factor for the club that lifts them to the top of Ligue 1 again. I can see Lyon topping the group just because of the quality of their squad. Schalke’s toughest battle here will be with Benfica, who I had the priviledge of seeing live this summer against Panathinaikos. While they have lost Argentinian winger Angel di Maria to Real Madrid and Brazilian midfielder Ramires to Chelsea, they still boast a formidable squad. Luisao, Oscar Cardozo, Fabio Coentrao, Javier Saviola, Pablo Aimar, Ruben Amorim… , and that’s just off the top of my head. They’ll be huge favourites to grab three points at home against Lyon and Schalke, such is their emphatic home support. I can’t see Schalke getting themselves out of this one, I fancy Benfica for third and Hapoel Tel-Aviv to be bottom feeders in this group.
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