THE DRAW FOR the Champions League group stages has set up some fascinating ties and a couple of contenders for the unluckiest teams in European football.
Here are some of the main talking points involving the Premier League and Scottish Premiership sides involved.
Arsenal’s need to strengthen is a clearer than ever
The announcement of Marseille as the first side to join Arsenal in Group F would have caused few tremors at the Emirates. Arsene Wenger, their spend-thrift manager, was out of the firing line for all of 24 hours following his side’s comfortable qualification for the group stages. The balls did not twist in Arsenal’s favour and Dortmund were drawn next, with Napoli arriving soon after.
Midfielder Mathieu Flamini has joined the Gunners for his second stint at the club but more signings are needed if Wenger wants to make it to the knock-out stages. High profile targets such as Wayne Rooney and Luis Suarez may not be heading Arsenal’s way but signings in defence and attack are a priority.
Handy draw means Jose Mourinho can focus on league
Jose Mourinho believes many of his Chelsea players are still “kids” so the Champions League trophy may not be top of his wishlist until he regains domestic dominance. The 2012 champions, however, have been drawn into an eminently winnable group. Schalke, FC Basel and Steaua Bucharest may take the occasional point off Mourinho’s men when they are at home but will struggle to put out fires at Stamford Bridge.
Jose Mourinho and Ryan Giggs catch up before the Chelsea v Manchester United league clash. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
A good start to Group E could set Chelsea up for top spot and mean European exposure for their ever-growing collection of players. Mourinho may be able to rest some of his big-name players for testingPremier League encounters.
Glasgow Celtic will not know whether to laugh or cry
Billy McNeill, Johan Cruyff , Michael Owen and Paulo Sousa combined to drop Glasgow Celtic into a dip, dark pit. Group H has a good argument to be labelled the group of death. The four teams involved – Barcelona, AC Milan, Ajax and Celtic – have won 16 European Cups between them.
Neil Lennon described the Scottish side reaching the group stages, from a first-leg deficit, as possibly his greatest achievement. This, coming from a manager that masterminded a 2-1 victory over Barcelona last season. The stage will be set for three huge nights at Celtic Park but the Scottish side’s chances of reaching the Last 16 are extremely slim.
Manchester City in line for overdue escape from group stages
The European failures of Manchester City ultimately cost Roberto Mancini his job. City were unfortunate to be eliminated after finishing on 10 points in 2011/12. Last year they could have no complaints as Ajax, Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid all beat, then drew with, the English champions.
Joe Hart saves from Mesut Ozil of Real Madrid but, ultimately, finished on the losing side. (AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa De Olza)
Manuel Pellegrini has been handed a group containing current European Cup holders, Bayern Munich but escape to the knock-out stages is on the horizon. The Chilean will be confident of his team’s chances against Viktoria Plzen and CSKA Moscow.
Alex Ferguson may be angling for a comeback
Manchester United manager David Moyes may not be having much luck in the transfer market but his first Champions League draw has been kind. Shakhtar Donetsk, Bayer Leverkusen and Real Sociedad may prove to be tricky away days but the Scot will line up with his brightest and best until the 10-point mark is breached.
Following today’s draw, Alex Ferguson, the man he replaced, may have wished he had delayed his retirement by 12 months.