Arsenal handed easy Champions League draw; Man City get Group of Death

Aug 31, 2012
Bill Mann

Man City have to come through a group containing the champions of Spain, Holland and Germany

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THEY SAY if you want to be the best you have to beat the best, and that’s certainly what will be required of Manchester City in this season’s Champions League.

The Sky Blues were given a seriously tricky draw last night in Monaco. The English champions have been put in Group D alongside three other clubs who won their respective domestic titles last season: Spain’s Real Madrid, Germany’s Borussia Dortmund and Ajax of Holland. For once, the moniker 'Group of Death' isn't a journalistic commonplace.  

City’s players immediately did what all professional sportsmen do when faced with bad news – they tried to take positives. “What a group - Real Madrid, Ajax and Dortmund. So excited to play those big games,” tweeted Samir Nasri, presumably with a rictus grin on his face as he tapped out the message.

His club captain, Vincent Kompany, also took to Twitter: "Looks like we're not going to get any easy games again this year but it is certainly a good group for the fans. I'm looking forward already!"

Mind you, Madrid weren’t exactly over the moon with the draw. Director of football Emilio Butragueno said with a heavy sigh: “We've had no luck, really, but the opponents will think the same. We could have got Juventus. We’re ready.”

In fact, Chelsea got Juventus in Group E, along with Shakhtar Donetsk of the Ukraine and Nordsjaelland of Denmark. It looks like being a straight shootout to see who tops the group between the defending European champions and Juventus, who last season won the Italian title and reached the final of their domestic cup.

"We're happy to be back on this stage," said Juventus general director Giuseppe Marotta, adding: "All in all we're satisfied with this group, although we're full of humility and we've got total respect for our opponents."

Presumably he then went off to find out who the hell Nordsjaelland are. In fact, they are a small Danish club making their Champions League debut and not expected to stand in the way of either Juve or the Blues.

Manchester United were handed an easier draw than either City or Chelsea as they look to put last season’s disappointing campaign behind them. United were dumped out of the competition at the group stages in 2011-12, in a pool they should have breezed through, and Alex Ferguson has vowed there’ll be no repetition this time around.

Paired with Turkish club Galatasaray, Braga of Portugal and Romanian minnows CFR Cluj in Group H, United couldn’t have asked for a better draw. Only the trip to Istanbul should prove daunting for United as Ferguson acknowledged: “We have the experience of playing against Galatasaray in the past and will always remember the ‘Welcome to Hell’ banners. It’s always a difficult type of match,” said the Scot, who then declared his determination to atone for last season.

“That won’t happen again, we’ll qualify from the group stage... we don’t want to make any stupid errors this time. We will play our strongest team to make sure we get through.”

Reaction from Arsenal to their draw was slow in coming, perhaps because Arsene Wenger couldn’t believe his luck in landing the easiest draw of the lot. Drawn in Group B with FC Schalke, who finished third in the German Bundesliga last season, Greece's no. 1 side Olympiakos and Montpellier, reigning French champions who this season have collected one point from their first three games, the Gunners should qualify with ease.

Arsenal begin their Champions League campaign on 18 September with a trip to Montpellier, the club Olivier Giroud left in the summer for the Gunners.

“There’ll be some banter without doubt,” said Montpellier goalkeeper Geoffrey Jourdren when asked about seeing his former teammate. “But out on the pitch we won’t be friends.”

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