|Football Bettor's Survey|
"And the winner is..."
With four teams from England, Spain and Italy all involved, there is definitely an air of familiarity about this year’s competition. Still, there will always be some new teams ready to make their big league bow.
Chelsea and Roma - Big 2 in Group A
The big two clubs in Group A are Chelsea and Roma but Bordeaux have a strong chance of causing an upset and splitting the two top seeds.
There will be pressure and expectancy on Roma given that the final is being held in their stadium but the same pressure will be placed on Chelsea. The London club will be keen to avenge last season’s final defeat and both sides will be looking to secure qualification as quickly as possible.
CFR Cluj from Romania may be the makeweight within the group but they could play a part in the final shake up. If Cluj can take anything from any of their games it could go a long way to deciding the final shake-up of the group.
Group B may also have a bit of interest for Chelsea fans as former boss Jose Mourinho re-enters the European arena with Inter Milan. A former Champions League winner with Porto and twice semi-finalist with Chelsea, Mourinho will be expected to push Inter Milan to at least within touching distance of the big cup.
Standing in the Italian champions way are Werder Bremen, Panathinaikos and Anorthosis Famagusta. This group should not pose too many problems for Inter Milan but there appears to be genuine competition for second place.
Werder Bremen may be second seeds but they were unimpressive in last seasons UEFA Cup whereas Panathinaikos are a decent side with some European pedigree. There may not be much expectations of the Cypriot side Anorthosis Famagusta to do much but they will be keen to get one over their Greek rivals.
Barca and a Close 3 in Group C
Group C contains Barcelona, Sporting Lisbon, FC Basle and Shakhtar Donetsk and it’s hard not to feel a bit of sympathy for FC Basle. Donetsk were one of the fourth seeds that no one wanted.
Travelling to the Ukraine is tricky and the club have spent a lot of money in recent years. That said, they finished in last place in their group last season after picking up 6 points from their opening two games so they can still be overcome.
Barcelona are the clear favourites but the race for second place in Group C looks to be wide open at the moment. All of the three teams outside of the Catalan giants are capable of blowing hot and cold in the Champions League.
Anyone who watched the qualifying matches between Liverpool and Standard Liege may be scratching their head at how the English side managed to make it into the Champions League group stages. The Belgian side were by far the more impressive and in the end it took extremely good fortune to see the Merseyside club through.
Rafa Benitez may be viewed as a European expert but his reputation nearly crumbled in these matches. Luckily for him, Dirk Kuyt popped up late on to save his team from the lottery of penalties.
Much of the focus in this group will be given to Fernando Torres coming up against former club Athletico Madrid but this group may well be wide open, particularly if Liverpool maintains the same form they showed in the qualifiers.
Liverpool and Marseille faced each other in last years Champions League and both teams recorded away victories. With Athletico Madrid being an extremely tricky fourth seed, Group D is extremely hard to predict and any team could literally finish up anywhere.
Battle of Britain - Group E
Next up are the reigning champions and Manchester United face some former foes in their battle to retain the competition they won last May in Moscow. As of yet, United have yet to seriously add to their squad from last season although there is a lot of speculation that Berbatov from Tottenham will appear before the window closes.
La Liga runners-up Villarreal join United and these teams shared two draws the last time they were paired together in the Champions League. United also faced Celtic a few years back with both sides winning their home match.
United will be firm favourites to defeat Celtic in the Battle of Britain matches but they struggled the last time around. It took an extremely dubious penalty and some Thomas Gravesen mistakes to allow United to win their home game and although United were dominant at Celtic Park, a Shunsuke Nakamura free-kick gave Celtic all three points.
Celtic and Villarreal have also met in European action in recent years with the Spanish side claiming a 3-1 aggregate victory in the 2003/04 UEFA Cup. With Aalborg being a fairly decent outfit, there are unlikely to be any easy points up for grabs in Group E. Manchester United are definitely clear favourites but Villarreal and Celtic will definitely fancy their chances of joining the champions in making the knock out stages.
Bayern Back in Champions League
Group F should see Lyon and Bayern Munich get through but Steau Bucharest and Fiorentina will prove stubborn opposition. Lyon have vast Champions League experience in recent years and last season saw Bayern Munich and Fiorentina both compete in the UEFA Cup semi final. Both sides were defeated but getting to that stage will have offered a lot of European experience for both squads.
Arsenal are the top seeds in Group G but the group may decided with tricky trips to Turkey and Russia. No team will relish away games against Fenerbahce or Dynamo Kiev and Porto could well be a second seed who falls from their expected second place. Any team who can perform well on the road in this group will go a long way to securing their knock out participation.
Bate Borisov – Who?
Bate Borisov may be entering the Champions League for the first time and they will be quickly introduced to how tough the competition can be.
Real Madrid, Juventus and European Super Cup winners Zenit St Petersburg are their opposition and if the Belarusian club can take anything from their games they will have done extremely well.
Real have vastly underperformed in the Champions League in recent years and will be hoping to change that this year. Juventus return to the group stages after a few years due to their difficulties and most of Europe has witnessed how strong a side Zenit St Petersburg are. Any of these three teams could consider themselves strongly placed to make the knock out stages and this should be a rather competitive group.
There are still a few weeks until the first group matches but the excitement is already starting to build for the 2008/09 Champions League.
for The Silver Circle at www.footballtip.co.uk
I've been a member since July 2003, maybe one of the first to join the Silver Circle. 2004 was a good year but I really enjoyed the long run we had in, I think, July 2005. It was exhilarating! 2006-2007 was not as exciting although still quite profitable and so far 2007-2008 looks quite good. I'm wondering if we're going to hit a long one again soon. Anyway, it's been a pleasure as always with your service, Greg. Armstrong and you are one of the few people I trust on the internet. You have made my retirement so much more fun and financially happy!
Best Wishes, Trent Wrayford, Sidney