There’s no argument to be had; Chelsea won the Champions’ League group stage draw emphatically. There was none of this Juventus and Shakhtar bollocks from last year as we were drawn up with Schalke, Basel and Steaua Bucharest.
The German side who are the second seeded team are still without a win in the Bundesliga this season. Needless to say on current form they don’t represent any sort of threat to finishing top of the group. But with wonderkind Julian Draxler, the experienced Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and new signing Kevin Prince Boateng in attack, they aren’t to be underestimated. FC Basel have impressively managed to hold on young African talent Mohamed Salah but realistically should be no more of a challenge than they were in the Europa League semi-final last season, where Chelsea won both legs. And finally Steaua Bucharest should also be less of a challenge than they were last season, having sold their best defender (Vlad Chiriches) to Tottenham. Thankfully we’ll also be spared the bigoted diatribes of their fundamentalist owner George Becali this time around, as the former parliamentarian was convicted and imprisoned last May.
Elsewhere, poor old Arsenal definitely drew the short straw and will have to finish above either Rafa Benitez’ impressive Napoli side or last year’s runners-up Borussia Dortmund in order to progress to the knockouts. It’s hard not to sympathise but after three years of easy groups and losing in the round of 16, it’s about time Arsenal got tested earlier on.
Manchester Utd were drawn in group A alongside Shakhtar, Leverkusen and Real Sociedad in a group that whilst not especially tough, has the potential to be tricky should Utd not be on top form. It’ll be interesting to see how good a side Shakhtar are this season having lost Fernandinho, Willian and Henrikh Mkhitaryan since their games with Chelsea last year. Fred, Bernard and Taison are decent replacements but certainly a step down nonetheless. Whilst in group D, Man City have finally been given a group from which it looks like they can qualify, with CSKA Moscow and Victoria Plzen (like the sides in United’s group) likely to provide tricky but winnable matches. The two games against Bayern Munich should also give City a relatively pressure free opportunity to assess themselves against the best in Europe under Manuel Pellegrini.
Meanwhile, Real Madrid vs Juventus, Milan vs Barcelona (AGAIN!!) and Porto vs Atletico are the pick of the other group stage ties. The Real/Juve game in particular should be an interesting one. Alonso, Modric and Ozil v Pirlo, Vidal and Marchisio in midfield is a mouth watering match-up.
The best thing about the comparative easiness of our group is opportunity Mourinho will have to rotate the side with important Premier League matches in mind and also the chances he’ll have to give some of the younger players experience in the competition, should work out perfectly.