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Champions League Draw – Chelsea Draw Barcelona For the Third Season Running
For the third season in a row, Chelsea found themselves up against reigning European champions Barcelona in Group A. Werder Bremen and Levski Sofia make up the quartet and it would be a huge surprise if any of these teams progressed.
Inter Milan, Bayern Munich, Sporting Lisbon and Spartak Moscow will compete in group B. Bayern have been weakened by the loss of Ballack to Chelsea but should still be good enough to get through. Inter Milan have strengthened at the expense of their scandal-hit rivals in Italy and will be hard to beat.
Group C sees Liverpool, winners in 2005, return to the scene of their triumph in Istanbul to take on Galatasaray. Turkish football seems to have come out of the boil and Gala could face PSV Eindhoven and Bordeaux.
Group D fields Valencia, Roma, Olympiakos and the dangerous Shaktar Donetsk, and the top two should make it into the last sixteen.
Group E sees the most successful European team ever, Real Madrid against Lyon, Steau Bucharest and Dynamo Kiev. Real begin the campaign under the returning Fabio Capello and they need to improve on last season’s dismal performance. Lyon under Gerard Houllier is still improving and should qualify.
Group F gets an Anglo-Scottish clash. Manchester United sent a reserve team to Glasgow just before the start of the season and beat the Scottish champions 3-0. Not many give Celtic much of a chance against a United starting XI who have started the season on fire. Benfica looks dangerous again. They knocked out both United and Liverpool last season and will have to be respected. FC Copenhagen make up the quartet and may surprise some people.
Group G features Arsenal, last year’s beaten finalists, and they face Porto, CSKA Moscow and Hamburg, not an easy group on paper for any of them and Arsenal will need to improve on poor early results in their brand new stadium. But wait for them to qualify. No London team has ever won the European Cup/Champions League and Arsenal are desperate to beat rivals Chelsea and Spurs (they are in the UEFA cup this time) for that special honour. But Arsenal have lost some standout players such as Pires, Campbell and Bergkamp and although there are rapidly improving young players such as Van Persie and Walcott, it is hard to foresee them lifting the trophy this time around.
Group H sees AC Milan banned but back, host surprise qualifiers Lille, AEK Athens and Anderlecht. Expect AC to win the group easily and the others to take points off each other.
For those who fancy a bet, the early odds quoted go: Barca 4/1 favourites, Chelsea 5/1, Real 9/1, AC Milan 10/1, Man Utd 11/1, Inter 13/1, Arsenal and Liverpool 18/1 and 20/1 plus on all others. You can still get a $30 free bet at betfair.com by entering the code 6CHE3VPWJ when prompted.
So who will win this year’s Champions League golden pot? Barca have added Thuram and Zambrotta from Italy but were surprisingly beaten 3-0 by compatriots Sevilla in the Super Cup, the match between the Champions League and UEFA winners. Barca showed a surprising weakness in the center of their defense and John Terry and his Stamford Bridge team-mates must have noticed. The best of the outsiders is the fast-improving Lyon.
Chelsea have added Ballack and the wonderful Shevchenko, and it could be Ashley Cole too. As I’ve written elsewhere, I think Chelsea can do it this time. They would certainly swap the Premier League title for the Champions League. But what do I know? I’m still working for a living. Make up your mind. Good view.
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