Manchester City’s first taste of the Champions League has thrown up some fascinating ties with Roberto Mancini’s men set to face the German giants Bayern Munich, Spain’s Villarreal and the Italian side Napoli.
Brian Marwood, The Abu Dhabi-owned club’s football administrator, expects his club to hold their own among Europe’s elite.
“It’s a fantastic group with four fantastic sides,” Marwood said. “It’s going to be extremely competitive. I genuinely believe there’s four teams who can compete for the two places on an even keel.
“It’s a fantastic part of Manchester City’s history to be here for the first time in Europe’s premier club competition.
“We really believe we can go into this competition and do well with the spirit that we have.”
Jupp Heynckes, the Bayern coach, feels his side face a difficult task to qualify: “This is the toughest group of the whole draw,” he told his club’s website. “I know Villarreal and Napoli, and they are absolute top teams.
“As for Manchester City … they have boosted their squad and are desperate for European success. We will be challenged in every game and have to be fully focused.”
Barcelona will launch the defence of their Champions League title in a group which contains the Italian giants AC Milan.
Milan, who beat the Spanish side in the 1994 European final, finished runners-up in Serie A last season and were in pot two for yesterday’s draw in Monaco.
Meanwhile, David Gill, the Manchester United chief executive, believes Sir Alex Ferguson will be delighted after his side were handed a relatively easy draw for the group stages.
United’s bid to make amends for last season’s final defeat against Barcelona is unlikely to end at the first hurdle after they were pitted against Portugal’s Benfica, Swiss team Basel and the Romanian newcomers Otelul Galati.
“I’m sure [the United manager] Sir Alex Ferguson’s happy with that. We’ve had great success in the last few years in the competition and we’re looking forward to it,” Gill said.
United’s two matches against Benfica will evoke memories of the club’s 4-1 victory over the Lisbon club in the 1968 European Cup final at Wembley. “We have had great matches against them [Benfica] and Sir Bobby Charlton was reminiscing before the draw about that great match back in 1968,” Gill said.
Chelsea’s draw was a case of friends reunited as Andre Villas-Boas’s side were placed with Spain’s Valencia, German club Bayer Leverkusen and Belgium’s Genk.
For new signing Juan Mata, it means a return to his old club, Valencia, on September 28, just one month after his move from the Mestalla Stadium to Stamford Bridge.
Michael Ballack, the former Chelsea midfielder, will come face to face with his old teammates when his current club, Bayer Leverkusen, take on the last season’s quarter-finalists.
Steve Atkins, the Chelsea communications director, said: “Every draw throws up challenges and this is no different, and I have spoken to Andre Villas-Boas and he certainly feels that too.
“Valencia is a formidable team and a very difficult place to go with their support. Juan Mata will be returning there a little bit more quickly than he thought!”
Arsenal, who edged into the group stages after beating Udinese in a play-off, have been drawn with French club Marseille,
Greece’s Olympiakos and Germany’s Borussia Dortmund.
David Miles, the club’s secretary, said: “The first priority was to get there but I think we are quietly pleased with dra
Bayern Munich (Germany)
Manchester City (England)
Inter Milan (Italy)
CSKA Moscow (Russia)
Man United (England)
Otelul Galati (Romania)
Real Madrid (Spain)
Dinamo Zagreb (Croatia)
B Leverkusen (Germany)
B Dortmund (Germany)
FC Porto (Portugal)
Shakthar Donetsk (Ukraine)
Zenit St Petersburg (Russia)
APOEL Nicosia (Cyprus)
AC Milan (Italy)
BATE Borisov (Belarus)
Viktoria Plzen (Czech Rep)
Game 1 13-14 September
Game 2 27-28 September
Game 3 18-19 October
Game 4 1-2 November
Game 5 22-23 November
Game 6 6-7 December
First legs start on 14 February
First legs on 27 March
First legs on 17 April
19 May, Allianz Arena, Munich