Manchester United are intent on avenging their defeat in last year’s final at Wembley whilst their city neighbours and closest rivals Manchester City will be mixing it with the cream of European football for the very first time. Chelsea are ready for another tilt at the trophy which has so far eluded them on a number of occasions and Arsenal will once again be hoping to propel themselves into the later stages of the competition.
UEFA Champions League: Group A
• FC Bayern Munich; MANCHESTER CITY; Napoli; Villarreal CF
FC Bayern Munich
Four-time winners and current leaders of the Bundesliga, Bayern have a proven pedigree in this competition. Suspect in defence despite the presence of captain Phillip Lahm, their main strengths lie in the final third. Arjen Robben and Bastian Schweinsteiger are key in midfield whilst in form Mario Gomez will be key upfront.
One To Watch: Mario Gomez
Strength in depth and quality in all departments, Roberto Mancini’s men look in excellent shape to challenge Europe’s elite. Question marks persist in defence making Nigel De Jong’s defensive midfield role even more important. David Silva has been a revelation and Sergio Agüero and Edin DÅ¾eko are looking to continue their excellent form.
One To Watch: Sergio Agüero
Under manager Walter Mazzarri, The Azzurri have emerged as genuine title contenders in Serie A. They have re-enforced their midfield this summer with the introduction of Swiss defensive midfielder Gökhan Ä°nler and Macedonia captain Goran Pandev on-loan from Internazionale. Marek Hamšík will be key to Napoli’s creativity alongside Uruguayan striker Edinson Cavani.
One To Watch: Edinson Cavani
El Submarino Amarillo had a memorable debut season in 2006, losing in the semi-finals. The loss of Spanish midfielder Santi Cazorla to Malaga CF this summer is a blow given the small nature of the squad. Midfielder Marcos Senna will provide experience with Nilmar and Giuseppe Rossi undoubtedly a potent strike force.
One To Watch: Giuseppe Rossi
UEFA Champions League: Group C
• FC Basle; S.L. Benfica; MANCHESTER UNITED; FC OÈ›elul GalaÈ›i
Current holders of the Swiss Premier League and with a predominantly Swiss-based squad, Basle are relative newcomers to this competition. Midfielders Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka are vey much the future of Swiss football and will provide the main threat. Leading all-time Swiss National Team scorer Alexander Frei could pose problems upfront.
One To Watch: Xherdan Shaqiri
A club with a proud European football history, the Lisbon-based club look like finishing runners-up in this group. Fabio Coentrão’s departure this summer to Real Madrid for €30,000,000 has allowed the club to strengthen. Ezequiel Garay and Luisão are a strong centre-back parternship and keep an eye on Belgian midfielder Axel Witsel.
One To Watch: Axel Witsel
Runners-up in last season’s competition, Sir Alex Ferguson will be looking to roll over an unstoppable looking FC Barcelona. United have pace and dynamism with Ashley Young and Nani in midfield along with experience in the form of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand in defence. Rooney and Hernandez continue to impress upfront.
One To Watch: Ashley Young
FC OÈ›elul GalaÈ›i
The great unknowns in this year’s competition, the Romanian champions won their first domestic title last season. They have European experience in the form of the UEFA Cup. The team will look to emulate the success of their counterparts CFR Cluj who made a real impact in the competition in 2008.
One To Watch: Marius Pena
UEFA Champions League: Group E
• Bayer 04 Leverkusen; CHELSEA; Racing Club Genk; Valencia CF
Bayer 04 Leverkusen
Runners-up in 2002 to Real Madrid and that Zinedine Zidane wonder goal, Leverkusen are certainly a handy outfit. Defensively weak, Leverkusen’s strength lies in midfield which includes veteran midfielder Michael Ballack, Swiss winger Tranquilo Barnetta and Simon Rolfes. Striker André Scurrile is another German sensation, partnered upfront by the highly rated Eren Derdiyok.
One To Watch: André Scurrile
So near and yet so far has, in recent seasons, been the moral of the story for the Stanford Bridge outfit. André Villas-Boas demonstrated his European pedigree during his only season at FC Porto, winning the UEFA Europa League. Juan Mata will be pivotal in this season’s pursuit of European glory.
One To Watch: Juan Mata
Racing Club Genk
Winners of the Belgian Pro League last season, Genk are one of the main players in Belgian football alongside the likes of RSC Anderlecht and Standard Liège. Their main threat comes in the form of Belgian midfield starlet and Chelsea target Kevin De Bruyne. Thomas Buffel will be familiar to Rangers fans.
One To Watch: Kevin De Bruyne
Financial problems off the pitch in recent seasons have signalled the departure of key players David Villa and Juan Mata. Nonetheless, Los Che remain an exciting team to watch. Manager Unai Emery has carried on regardless and brought in genuine quality in the form of Victor Ruiz and Pablo Piatti.
One To Watch: Pablo Piatti
UEFA Champions League: Group F
• ARSENAL; Borussia Dortmund; Olympique de Marseille; Olympiacos FC
A fourteenth consecutive appearance in the Champions League Group Stages represents a terrific achievement for The Gunners. Despite a number of Deadline Day re-enforcements, Wenger’s team look lightweight. Per Mertesacker will add much needed European experience in defence alongside Thomas Vermaelen however they will once again be over-reliant on Robin Van Persie.
One To Watch: Aaron Ramsey
A revelation last season under Jürgen Klopp, the current Bundesliga Champions make a welcome return to the competition. The highly coveted Serbian defender Neven SubotiÄ‡ will be vital in defence whilst in midfield Jakub BÅ‚aszczykowski will be a threat down the wings with youngster Mario Götze and Shinji Kagawa pulling the creative strings.
One To Watch: Mario Götze
Olympique de Marseille
Manager Didier Deschamps knows all about this competition having won it as the Captain of L’OM in 1993. César Azpilicueta is a talented attacking full-back whilst they are marshalled well in midfield by both Lucho González and Alou Diarra. Their attacking flair comes in the shape of Loïc Rémy and André Ayew.
One To Watch: Mathieu Valbuena
Despite being the most successful club in Greek football history, Thrylos have reached the quarter finals of this competition on just the one occasion. Centre-back Olof Mellberg will be familiar to fans of Aston Villa, however it’s their Spanish contingent of midfielders David Fuster and Francisco Yeste who’ll provide the greatest threat.
One To Watch: Kevin Mirallas