Man City get another kick in the teeth in Champions League
Premier League winners face Bayern, CSKA and Roma as other English teams get lucky
The draw for the 2014-15 Champions League was made on Thursday evening and once again the sporting gods have given Manchester City a kick in the teeth, dropping them into a group featuring Bayern Munich, CSKA Moscow and Roma.
The Sky Blues haven't had much luck in Europe's showpiece competition since they qualified for the first time in 2011. They finished third in that campaign unable to get out of a group they comprised Bayern Munich, Villarreal and Napoli and they also fell at the first hurdle the following season in a beast of a group consisting of Real Madrid, Ajax and Borussia Dortmund. Last season they fared no better though they really should have been able to negotiate their way past Czech minnows Viktoria Plzen, CSKA and Bayern.
Things don't look much rosier this year as they face the two toughest teams from last year's group - Moscow and Munich - once again, while fall guys Plzen are replaced by Ashley Cole's Roma in the decidedly dicey group E.
And it's in at the deep end for the English champions with Manuel Pellegrini leading his side to Munich on 17 September for the opening fixture. "I think for all of us it is the aim is to try and improve," admitted City Director of Football Txiki Begiristain. "We have signed some very good players and the aim is to improve in the Champions League, we will try to go further."
In contrast, Chelsea have been handed the easiest group of the four English clubs, the 2012 winners are Group G alongside Schalke, Sporting Lisbon and Maribor, the Slovenian side who defeated Celtic in the play-off to make it through to only their second appearance in the competition.
Getting into the knockout stages should be within Chelsea's abilities and nor should Liverpool have much difficulty qualifying from their group. Admittedly the Reds must play defending champions Real Madrid but neither Swiss side Basel or Ludogorets Razgrad, a Bulgarian side only formed in 2001 whose stadium boasts a modest 8,000 capacity, should pose the Merseyside club much bother.
Not surprisingly Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers knows which match he's looking forward to most: "To be back in it again, no matter who we were going to play, it was always going to be exciting," he said. "But to have Real Madrid in your group, the champions last season, is going to be special. I'm already thinking of Anfield on that night."
Arsenal will also be quietly confident of progressing although the Gunners have been handed another difficult trip to Turkey. Having struggled to see off Besiktas in their play-off tie, Arsenal must return to Turkey to play Galatasaray. Belgian club Anderlecht and Borussia Dortmund complete Group D with the Gunners having drawn the German outfit three times in the last four years at this stage of the competition.
Arsenal travel to Dortmund on September 16 to kick-off their European campaign and club captain Mikel Arteta tweeted his excitement at the prospect: "Dortmund again and two new and tough teams. I love playing Champions League. Come on Gunners." His Dortmund rival, Mats Hummels, struck a more confident note, declaring: "Galatasaray and Anderlecht are new and most of all interesting opponents. We expect to qualify from this group."
The draw in full
Group A: Atletico Madrid, Juventus, Olympiakos, Malmo
Group B: Real Madrid, Basel, Liverpool, Ludogorets Razgrad.
Group C: Benfica, Zenit St Petersburg, Bayer Leverkusen, Monaco.
Group D: Arsenal, Borussia Dortmund, Galatasaray, Anderlecht
Group E: Bayern Munich, Manchester City, CSKA Moscow, Roma.
Group F: Barcelona, Paris St-Germain, Ajax, APOEL Nicosia.
Group G: Chelsea, Schalke, Sporting Lisbon, Maribor
Group H: Porto, Shakhtar Donetsk, Athletic Bilbao, BATE Borisov
The first matches to be played on 16/17 September