‘Muerte’ for Madrid, ‘Suerte’ for Barcelona screamed one headline as the Champions League draw ensured a favourable passage for Barcelona and a nightmare group for their rivals Real Madrid.
The celebrations of winning the Supercopa were short lived when Los Blancos realised the next day that they face the tough ask of qualifying out of a Champions League group that features three other League champions.
Dubbed the Group of Death, el grupo de la muerte, Real Madrid start their journey by hosting English champions, Manchester City. Roberto Mancini’s men may have disappointed on the European stage last season but this year they must make an impression.
Whilst Ajax’s Frank de Boer described City as having ‘incredible quality in defence’ it is precisely that area that should worry Mancini the most. Having already conceded four goals in their first two matches, Jose Mourinho’s men will delight in imposing their sheer opportunistic nature and attacking prowess on a team that continues to seek a defensive midfielder to shield the backline.
In Ajax they face a squad with nothing to lose and a Coach who is rarely satisfied. For De Boer and his men, this is the time to make an impact and rise to the occasion so that they may boldly parade their possession based style of football. They will be more cynical as they work on eliminating the many individual errors that trouble them and concentrate on their collective power.
In Borussia Dortmund they will find a youthful side packed with energy and explosive attacking ability perfectly put together by Coach Jurgen Klopp. Winners of two consecutive Bundesliga titles, Dortmund are yet to make an impression on Europe and are hoping that new addition Marco Reus will add even more attacking intent to an already impressive side. Considered naïve at this level, it remains to be seen whether their defence that struggled to contain Werder Bremen’s direct and fast approach last weekend can cope on an even bigger stage.
For Barcelona, luck or rather suerte, was indeed on their side when they were drawn in a group with Benfica, Spartak Moscow and Celtic. For the first match, Barca will host the Russians who have bolstered their squad in impressive manner over the summer and in Unai Emery have a Coach who is experienced at this level.
In Benfica they will find a side fond of attacking but that are liable to defensive errors that can be easily exploited. Naïve when it comes to defensive positioning and vulnerable from set pieces, the Portuguese may always go for goal but it will be hard to see how they can stifle Lionel Messi and Co. Their last match will see them host the Scottish side Celtic who may have scored four against Helsingborg in two matches but they never quite looked comfortable. Pitted against a side that can convert their chances, the Scots are likely to suffer.
For Valencia, they face a tough challenge in their opening fixture, as they have to travel to Bavaria to take on Bayern Munich. After narrowly missing out on the trophy last season, the Germans and their new recruits will be hoping to control their group and impose their quality on what they perceive to be inferior sides.
The next match will see Los Che face French side Lille who despite deserving to win over Copenhagen still struggled to secure the win. Their open style of play and their new stadium for the second leg will provide a test for the Spaniards but one they should overcome. Their last match sees them face BATE Borisov who qualified to this stage with ease. Adding bite to their attack, they have brought back Alexsander Hleb and signed Belarusian Premier League's all-time top scorer, Roman Vasilyuk.
Malaga welcome Russian Champions Zenit St Petersburg at home for their first match of the Champions League. Domestically, Luciano Spalletti’s men have already outscored all the other teams in the seven League matches they’ve played whilst they have only conceded four. With a healthy combination of veterans and youngsters, the Russians will provide a stern test but luckily for Malaga, Anderlecht come next.
The Belgians will be looking to get at least a point at home as they rarely manage to do well when playing away, but it will be Milan that will provide the toughest test. Despite losing their prized assets this summer, this Italian side has a history of performing well in Europe’s greatest stage and Coach Max Allegri is determined to take his team far. Their attack is still their most dangerous department even if the defence is no longer as solid. Can Malaga overcome their unsteady present to squeeze past?