x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Champions League: Draw throws together some tantalising encounters

Among the most appetising fixtures are the meetings of Juventus with Real Madrid, while Franck Ribery was voted Uefa Player of the Season for 2-12/13..

Franck Ribery was voted Uefa Best Player of the 2012/13 season, edging out Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. The Frenchman helped Bayern Munich win last season's competition. Sebastien Nogier / EPA
Franck Ribery was voted Uefa Best Player of the 2012/13 season, edging out Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. The Frenchman helped Bayern Munich win last season's competition. Sebastien Nogier / EPA

Debates about who has the best national competition in Europe will be reignited early in the 2013/14 Uefa Champions League after the group stage draw threw up no fewer than eight individual duels between clubs from the world's wealthiest domestic association, the English Premier League, and from the most upwardly mobile, the German Bundesliga.

The heavyweight giants of Spain and Italy, meanwhile, can hardly breathe a sigh of relief.

Among the most appetising fixtures are the meetings of Juventus with Real Madrid, and games between AC Milan andBarcelona, who play each other for the third time in three years.

The defending champions, Bayern Munich, who take on England's Chelsea in the European Super Cup tonight, have been grouped with Manchester City, who seek to progress beyond the group phase for the first time in history.

City may not be too hopeful of taking many points off Bayern, but will regard CSKA Moscow as among the more favourable of their possible opponents from among the clubs seeded in the top half of the draw. Viktoria Plzen of the Czech Republic is also in Group D.

The toughest pool could well be Group F, where Borussia Dortmund, whose progress to an all-German final last May helped confirm the Bundesliga as the most progressive of national leagues, have found themselves.

Arsenal, who have had a frustrating summer in terms of reinforcing a squad who finished fourth in the Premier League and were knocked out of Europe by Bayern last season, will regard none of their Group F matches against Dortmund, Italy's Napoli or Marseille, who top France's Ligue 1, as straightforward.

Group H, headed by Barcelona and Milan, is also full of resonant names, and a quartet of clubs who have at least one European Cup in the trophy cabinets. Celtic, who defeated Barca in Glasgow at the group phase in 2012/13, and Ajax will be expected to joust, ultimately for third place, and a passage to the Europa League.

"In terms of glamour, it couldn't have been better," said Celtic manager Neil Lennon. "In terms of football, it could not have been worse."

For Carlo Ancelotti and Antonio Conte, head coaches of Madrid and Juventus, respectively, a fascinating pair of Group B encounters await.

Conte, who spoke gloomily about the prospect of an Italian winner of the Champions League in the imminent future after Bayern knocked out his team at the quarter-final stage last season, was a player for Juventus when Ancelotti coached the club in the late 1990s.

Galatasaray, who reached the last eight in Apriland were eliminated by Madrid, will expect to cause problems to Conte and Ancelotti's sides.

But England versus Germany will be the recurring theme. Group E is headed by Chelsea and Schalke, while Manchester United, in Group A, must play Bayer Leverkusen home and away.

And one trophy in the European season has already gone to a Bundesliga club, with Bayern's Franck Ribery named last night as Uefa's top player of the 2012/13 season.

 

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