The draw for the group stage of the 2009-10 UEFA Champions League was held Thursday in Monaco. Last season’s finalists face some tough going but they are not alone in that regard. FC Barcelona will begin their trophy defence in Group F with games against FC Internazionale Milano, FC Dynamo Kyiv and FC Rubin Kazan while some long away trips are looming for Manchester United FC who were drawn in a group with CSKA Moscow and Besiktas.

The Inter – Barca matchup is intriguing as the two clubs conducted a massive swap of star strikers over the summer. Heading to Italy was Samuel Eto’o (plus a massive amount of cash to Inter) while Zlatan Ibrahimovic joined Barcelona. Another player who was the centre of a big money transfer will also be given an immediate return to his old stomping grounds. Brazilian playmaker Kaka and his Real Madrid galactico pals will face AC Milan. Marseille and FC Zurich round out Group C but have to be hoping for some major upsets if they have any chance of advancing. Real Madrid will have all the motivation they need with this season’s final being hosted at their home stadium.

Bayern Munich, who have struggled out of the gate this season, are up against Juventus, French champions Bordeaux and Maccabi Haifa in Group A. Based on their current form, I just cannot see Bayern progressing. It’s much too early for predictions but the German-based side has much work to do under new manager Louis Van Gaal if they are to improve results.

The groups are as follows:
Group A: Bayern Munich, Juventus, Bordeaux, Maccabi Haifa.
Group B: Manchester United, CSKA Moscow, Besiktas, Wolfsburg.
Group C: AC Milan, Real Madrid, Marseille, FC Zurich
Group D: Chelsea, Porto, Atletico Madrid, APOEL Nicosia
Group E: Liverpool, Lyon, Fiorentina, Debreceni
Group F: Barcelona, Inter Milan, Dynamo Kiev, Rubin Kazan
Group G: Sevilla, Rangers, Stuttgart, Unirea Urziceni
Group H: Arsenal, AZ Alkmaar, Olympiakos, Standard Liege

Prior to the draw, UEFA awarded Barca forward Lionel Messi the 2009 European Footballer of the Year and Best Forward, while his teammate Xavi Hernández was not surprisingly named last season’s Top Midfielder. Manchester United’s Edwin Van der Sar was named Top Goalkeeper and Chelsea captain John Terry picked up his second consecutive Top Defender award.