So, here’s yesterday’s draw:
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 FC
Group E: Liverpool, Lyon, Fiorentina, Debreceni
Group F: Barcelona, Internazionale, Dynamo Kiev, FC Rubin Kazan
Group G: Sevilla, Rangers, VfB Stuttgart, Unirea Uriziceni
Group H: Arsenal, AZ Alkmaar, Olympiakos, Standard Liege
It was certainly good to see some new (and unusual) names make it into the Champions League draw, but beyond that, at first glance, I’m not sure there is that much to get overly excited about. A common criticism of the Champions League group stage is that it reduces the chance of an upset, as over the course of six games the bigger teams will generally prevail, unlike in a straight knockout tournament. While arguably this ensures the best teams go through, it does make things rather predictable. What’s a cup tournament without a few underdogs making progress?
This draw looks even more predictable than in previous years (although I may well be proved wrong in time!). The British teams in particular seem to have got off lightly, and over the course of six games should progress, or will need to have some very good excuses up their sleeve if they don’t.
The non-British groups probably throw up the most interesting ties, Bayern Munich/Juventus, Milan/Madrid and Inter/Barca, and so perhaps offer the best chance for a third or fourth seed to sneak through if one of the big guns lose twice to a top seed and then drop points elsewhere. However, the top two seeds in each group do look very strong favourites to go through.
However, despite this negativity, I’m still quite looking forward to the group stages. In some ways it works to have a more low-key opening to a tournament, before the heat and action of the later stages. Plus, seeing what some of the new faces can do will be fun, and European football on telly is always a good thing. Even with Sky’s ridiculous hype.