25 August 2006

Being serious about the Champions League draw

All right, now that I've cleared that out of the way, let's take a serious look at the draw for group play in this years Champions League.

Group A: Barca, Chelsea, Werder Bremen, Levski
Without a doubt, this year's "group of death." It was already to that point when Chelsea was drawn as the second entrant in this pool. I'm not sure who exactly was representing the Blues at the draw ceremony, but whoever it was had a look of utter disbelief on his face when they were slotted with Barca. Everyone also let out a groan for Champions newcomers Levski Sofia, clearly outmatched by the three other squads in this group. But this may not be such a bad thing for Levski. Barca, Chelsea, and Bremen will be fighting each other so fiercely that if Levski could pull off one or two upsets and the rest of the group sees a lot of draws, they might find themselves advancing or at least slotting themselves nicely into the UEFA Cup bracket.

Group B: Inter, Bayern Munich, Sporting, Spartak Moscow
Group D: Valencia, Roma, Olimpiakos, Shaktar Donetsk

Group H: Milan, Lille, AEK, Anderlecht
I think the graphic from the cover of today's Gazzetta dello Sport sums this one up nicely:
Milan lucked out (bought out? I doubt it but they seem to be buying everything and everyone else these days), Inter is probably in not quite as "frowny" of a position as indicated, and Roma can hopefully be beaten by everybody.

Group C: Liverpool, Eindhoven, Bordeaux, Galatasaray
Group E: Real Madrid, Lyon, Steaua Bucharest, Dynamo Kiev
Group G: Arsenal, Porto, CSKA Moscow, Hamburg
There is really nothing to see here. I have to think that you'll see the pot 1 and pot 2 teams from all of these groups in the knockout round.

Group F: Man U, Celtic, Benfica, Copenhagen
This group could be a real gem. The Man U - Celtic series will be absolutely electric, with the whole of the UK taking sides. Benfica is also likely to seriously contend for advancement because if their run in last year's Champions League was any indication they have the tournament mentality needed to win critical matches. First-timers Copenhagen are only slightly luckier than their counterparts Levski, and will struggle against the competition from much larger leagues.

So what are my predictions for the final 16? As follows: Barca, Bremen, Bayern, Inter, Liverpool, Eindhoven, Valencia, Olimpiakos, Real Madrid, Lyon, Man U, Benfica, Arsenal, Porto, Milan, and Lille.

Not too far out on a limb, I know. But this is home-away group play. Things are supposed to shake down in a pretty even fashion.

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