Which team would go on to lift this famous trophy at Wembley?
The UEFA Champions league draw for the new season saw several interesting fixtures for all the European big guns, with a host of new clubs thrown in the mix to add spice and congestion to their fixtures. Inter Milan’s dream run in the last season saw them complete a clean sweep in the Champion League awards, with Diego Militio bagging two awards for his match-winning contributions to Inter Milan’s treble.
Champions League 2009/10 Winners
Club Goalkeeper of the Year – Julio Cesar (Inter Milan)
Club Defender of the Year – Maicon (Inter Milan)
Club Midfielder of the Year – Wesley Sneijder (Inter Milan)
Club Forward of the Year – Diego Militio (Inter Milan)
Club Footballer of the Year – Diego Militio (Inter Milan)
The UCL groups
Peter Crouch’s wish to face either Real Madrid or Inter Milan came true, but what he did not take into account were the other teams that would fill up the group. This is truly a mouth-watering group, and Tottenham’s first taste of Champions League football in nearly five decades could prove difficult to relish. Even with the departure of the Special One, Inter remains a force to reckon with, while Werder Bremen are in good form in the Bundesliga, and Twente FC are the defending Dutch champions.
FC Schalke 04
Regular Champion League participants Lyon have every reason to be pleased with this draw, but they need to be cautious about the away games. Israeli champions Hapoel Tel-Aviv are playing in the Champions League group stages for the first time, but they will certainly be no pushovers. FC Schalke have the experienced European campaigner Raul and German national custodian Manuel Neuer in their ranks, and can fancy themselves to proceed to the round of 16. Benfica, like Lyon, are also a regular competitor at the European level.
The only complaints in an otherwise decent draw for the English giants is the amount of midweek travel that they will have to cram into an always-tight Premier League schedule; they are known to falter in the subsequent league games following such tiring trips. It also marks Sir Alex’s return to Ibrox, the place where he scored a hat-trick against Rangers to make his entry into first division football. The loss of David Villa and David Silva has robbed Valencia of some pedigree, and they could struggle to claim the second spot from Rangers. Turkish club Bursaspor make their debut on the European stage, and their home ground could be a nightmare for the visitors.
The Catalans will be raring to settle scores with the Russian side which handed them a shocking loss at the Nou Camp last season. The addition of David Villa has bolstered an already impressive Barcelona forward line, and they will be the team to watch out this season as well. Greek champions Panathinaikos have plenty of European experience, but lack the winning acumen to progress to the next round. Danish side Kǿbenhavn are an unknown quantity, and to underestimate them would be a huge folly.
CFR 1907 Cluj
Last season’s runners-up Bayern Munchen have arguably one of the easiest draws of the lot, as they have avoided potential tripwires to Russia, Turkey or other far-off destinations. Roma and Basel squared off in the UEFA cup last season, with Roma edging them out in the table. Romanian outfit CFR Cluj debuted in the Champions’ League group stage last season against AS Roma, defeating the Italians 2-1 at home; however, they ended up at the bottom of the table. Unless Basel or CFR Cluj do the unthinkable, we can expect the German giant and the Serie A contender to progress to round of 16.
Olympique de Marseille
Chelsea have a relatively easy group to compete in, with only the trip to Russia being a tricky fixture. Didier Drogba will return to the club where he plied his trade once before joining the English giants, and will be looking forward to scoring against Marseille. Spartak Moscow have regularly represented Russia in the Champions League in recent seasons, while Slovakian based club MŠK Žilina will have their first taste of top flight football. It should be an interesting tussle between the French and Russian clubs for the second spot in the table.
This is truly the Group of Death. Between AC Milan, Real Madrid and Ajax, they have won twenty European titles, which merely illustrate the specialty of this group. Real Madrid will be a different proposition altogether with Jose Mourinho currently at the helm, and they will be expected to last beyond the round of 16 this time, in contrast to their previous seasons. AC Milan are still in the rebuilding phase, but they still have experienced stalwarts and young talents who are capable of setting the European stage alight. Ajax managed to pip Dynamo Kiev to the group stages, and their brand of attacking football, with Uruguayan international Luiz Suarez at the fore, will provide a visual treat for football fans. French club Auxerre will be the underdogs in the group, and they will be viewed as the team to grab all points from.
Croatian striker Eduardo will return to the Emirates for one more time, but he will no longer be donning the red and white jersey. Arsenal can be reasonably pleased with the teams pitted against them, but a travel itinerary that involves Ukraine, Serbia and Portugal will add pressure to a side which has never seen a fully fit first choice XI starting together season after season. If Eduardo manages to retain his goal poaching form before that horrendous injury against Birmingham, Shakhtar can aim to progress to the next round. Serbian side Partizan make their Champions League debut, and could provide stiff resistance at their hostile home environment. Braga finished second in the Portuguese League in the 2009-10 season, and will also look to capitalize on their home ground advantage for a berth in the round of 16.
The draw throws up a lot of interesting questions. Will Inter be the same rampant force under Rafael Benitez? Will Tottenham excel in their debut Champions League stint? Will Jose finally take Real Madrid to the Promised Land? Will an English team arrive at Wembley for the final? It promises to be yet another exciting season of European football, and TheHardTackle would like to see the knockout stages feature an array of fixtures like this.