After a long and relatively pointless piece of spectacle in Monaco, the UEFA Champions League groups are set. Some look pretty straightforward... and some -- we're looking at you, Group D -- don't. At all. You've seen what the analysts think of the various groups, but now it's time to get feedback from the fans themselves. We've surveyed the SB Nation blogs involved in the tournament to find out just what they think of their group stage fates. Read on!
Opponents: Schalke 04, Olympiacos, Montpellier.
Ted Harwood: Arsenal's draw is one that looks manageable on paper. Schalke 04 was the Bundesliga team that everyone wanted to draw, hoping to avoid last year's finalist Bayern and league champion BvB Dortmund. Montpellier, while French champions, are probably a weaker side this year than last year, especially since their highest scorer, Olivier Giroud, now plies his trade for Arsenal, strangely enough. Olympiacos are a familiar foe, having been in Arsenal's group for three out of the past four tournaments now, and playing away in Piraeus is never easy, so hopefully that tie won't be a crucial one. Group B is by no means a cakewalk, but one can easily make the case that the draw has been favorable to Arsenal, who managed to avoid the obviously terrifying teams in each pot. The Gunners should have no trouble qualifying out of the group and are probably most people's favorite to take the top spot.
Group C: AC Milan
Opponents: Zenit St. Petersburg, Anderlecht, Malaga.
Gianfranco: My wish was to get PSG in the Group Stages, but UEFA, King of the "random" draw and big ticket matchups, didn’t grant my wish. What better way to show Zlatan who the better team was then by beating him not once, but twice, in the single Club tournament that has eluded him for his entire career! Throw in a little payback for Leo, Silva, and our old friend Carlo Ancellotti and you had an epic story line. Sadly my wish will have to come in the knockout phases, assuming PSG makes it that far! As for Group C, Sacha Klestjian’s Anderlecht and the financially distressed Malaga make for interesting matchups, but this is just the sort of group Milan needed to test their progress and ideally build some confidence. While no games are a foregone conclusion in any tournament, Milan should advance from this group and hopefully get some much needed experience for an evolving roster with little to no Champions League experience.
Group D: Real Madrid
Opponents: Manchester City, Ajax, Borussia Dortmund.
Gabe Lezra: Well, I don't feel like Madrid got screwed with their pants on exactly, but definitely with their pants somewhere in the vicinity. In all seriousness, it's hard to be thrilled with the draw from a Madrid standpoint, as the reigning champions of Spain were drawn with the reigning champions of England, Germany and Holland. And any time you see your team name next to the word "death" you know good things aren't happening. But it's not like Madrid won't be favored to go through--they're still one of the best two or three teams in the world--and the games should be exciting, at the very least. But for the first time in a few years, Madrid's place in the next round isn't assured--and that's a bit unfortunate for madridistas.
Opponents: Real Madrid, Ajax, Borussia Dortmund.
Danny Pugsley: When City were paired with Real Madrid I tweeted that the key to the group would be who came out of pot 3 and 4. Well, if you thought last years group was tough try this one for size.
I'm not disheartened with the group though. Real are a plum draw (and a trip to the Bernebeau has always been high on my list) and whilst Ajax and Dortmund are tough draws, let's not forgot they wont be keen to face City either and this will be a City side improved from last season.
The schedule is also key for me. City get the Real trip out of the way early before entertaining Dortmund. If they start well, they will be well positioned to then face the back to back games against Ajax.
Still positive though and I take City to go through, although likely in second place.
Group E: Chelsea
Opponents: Shakhtar Donetsk, Juventus, Norsejaelland.
Graham MacAree: It's hard to find yourself that worried about the group stage draw when your team is the one defending the trophy, but I have to admit that I was more than a little anxious when first Shakhtar Donetsk and then Juventus were deposited in Group E. With Borussia Dortmund still on the table, it would have been very easy for a Group of Death situation to arise, and it would be entirely fitting for Chelsea to finally win the Champions League and then fail to qualify from the groups the next year.
Fortunately, that seems unlikely to happen. Juventus are tough opposition and the trip to Ukraine is going to be about as much fun as rolling around in a nest of porcupines, but Chelsea are the best team in the group, and you'd have to expect them to top it.
I guess I should say something about Norsejaelland. They're that team you've barely heard of who probably aren't very good and you're pretty sure you'll beat. That wasn't a metaphor, although I did switch into second person for some reason. Sorry Norsejaelland. Thank you in advance for the six points. This paragraph is going to return to haunt me, I swear.
Opponents: Chelsea, Shakhtar Donetsk, Norsejaelland.
djp4cal: While Juventus have a couple of tough teams to face in Group E, it could have ended up a lot worse. I like Juve's chances against all three teams in the group. While the hunt for a top striker is still something all Juventini are watching with all of their concentration — and then some — this is still a much-improved squad from the one that didn't lose a game in Serie A. Of course, not having Il Mister, Antonio Conte, on the sidelines during matches isn't the ideal situation as the Bianconeri return to Europe, but if there's any squad that can overcome things going against them, I am pretty sure Juventus have the kind of grinta that is able to fight through it.
Opponents: Valencia, Lille, BATE Borisov.
Pierson: On the whole, FC Bayern's draw was about average, possibly leaning slightly towards the "easy" side of average. Group F will consist of Bayern, Valencia CF, Lille OSC, and BATE Borisov. Valencia is one of Spain's somewhat static "best of the rest" group - a handful clubs that are below the level of Real Madrid and Barcelona, but that are still solid teams that can beat anyone on any given day. They have Roberto Soldado, who I've seen a few times and who can certainly find the net, and I just saw that they have Joao Pereira, the Portuguese wild-man who can give anyone headaches. So, I don't expect an easy win vs. these guys (especially the away match), but we did alright on our trip to Villarreal last season, so I think we have to be favored.
I know rather little about Lille, other than the fact that they somehow picked up Salomon Kalou and that I absolutely love their mascot. I really, really hope that they have an actual Bordeaux wearing a dog-sized Lille kit on the sidelines. If anyone knows, DON'T tell me - I want to be surprised.
As far as BATE Borisov - I've heard their name before, meaning they must have been in the Champions League a few times, but I'd be really, really disappointed if we drop points to these guys. Their stadium seats under 6,000 people, if I'm reading that correctly. I thought UEFA had rules about that kind of thing, but I guess not.
Overall, I think there's enough talent in the group to keep us awake (especially with Valencia), but we should be able to win 4 of the 6 matches outright and come away with at least 13 points. Last year, FC Bayern was in clearly the toughest group, so we were probably due for a medium-to-easy draw. There is a school of thought that says it's better to get drawn into the toughest possible group, to avoid complacency and "get your confidence up" or whatever, but I'm very satisfied with this draw. Excellent chance to advance, very good chance to win the group (and draw a 2d-place finisher from another group), and we can turn it on in February when it really counts. Good luck to all.
I just thought of one more thing. Wouldn't it be awesome if Lille not only had a real, live Bordeaux mascot, but if it broke free and started running around the pitch during the match? Wouldn't that be just the greatest thing ever? I don't think I'd be willing to give up a finger to witness that, but I'd certainly give up a toe.
Opponents: Benfica, Spartak Moscow, Celtic.
Arron Duckling: At this level of competition there is no such thing as an "easy" group, but in every draw there are one or two groups that look less challenging and Barcelona are in one of them. A trip to Russia wouldn’t have been high on Tito Vilanova’s wish-list, especially given the pace of the Spartak frontline and the synthetic pitch at the Luzhniki Stadium, although even the Russian winter is preferable to facing the Serie A champs, Juventus. On the other hand, Culés will be glad to see Benfica again as matches against the Portuguese side are usually a good omen as the Blaugrana went on to lift the trophy after knocking out SLB the last time these two sides met in 2006. And how’s this for a fact: the last time Benfica were drawn into a group with Barcelona was 1991/92 and the Catalans went onto to lift the famous trophy at Wembley. There’s a long way until history has a chance to repeat itself, but with a group like this, Barcelona should at least reach the knock-out stages.
Group H: Manchester United
Opponents: Braga, Galatasaray, CFR Cluj.
Gene Um: There were five bullets I was hoping to dodge (Valencia, Benfica, Juventus, Paris Saint-Germain, and Borussia Dortmund) and fortunately for Manchester United, they did so in this draw. Despite having tremendous squad depth, this is even more welcoming when considering that the six Premier League fixtures that follow these midweek European nights are difficult weekend ties with Liverpool, Newcastle United, Chelsea, Aston Villa, Queens Park Rangers, and Manchester City -- all of which are away with the exception of QPR. United should be far from complacent though with their draw as they failed to advance last season from a group they were clear favorites to top. If Sir Alex Ferguson's side can earn the maximum points at Old Trafford, they likely will advance as Group H's winners. Away to Galatasaray should be intriguing as many United fans likely remember the 'Welcome to Hell' banners that greeted the club the last time they trekked out there.