LONDON ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 17: A detailed view of the UEFA Champions League Trophy during the UEFA Champions League Final 2011 Ticket Launch at City Hall on February 17 2011 in London England. (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

UEFA Champions League Group Stage Draw: Groups Set, Most Finely Balanced

Europe's top teams have learned their opponents for the group stage of the world's preeminent club competition. Some of them won't be very happy about it.

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UEFA Champions League Draw, Group H Analysis: FC Barcelona, AC Milan Heavy Favorites

After the first two pots were figured out in the UEFA Champions League group stage draw, it looked like a group of death was forming in Group H. Almost certainly the strongest two teams in Pot 1 and Pot 2, FC Barcelona and AC Milan, were drawn together. 

Unfortunately for neutrals who don't necessarily care whether the two win or lose and just want to see good football, things did not pan out after that. Arguably the weakest team in Pot 3, BATE Borisov, and an average Pot 4 team, Viktoria Plzen, ended up getting drawn into the group. What looked like it was shaping up to be a group of death is now the most uneven and predictable group in the entire competition by quite some distance.

All of the other groups who are on the same matchday schedule as Milan and Barcelona are immensely more interesting from top to bottom, so unless you're a super robot who has time to watch every group stage match in its entirety, it's probably safe to ignore this group unless Milan and Barca are playing each other. No disrespect intended to Plzen and BATE, who are watchable teams. The other groups are just too good. 

Out before it starts

BATE Borisov are veterans of this competition, unlike Viktoria Plzen, but Plzen's romp over FC Copenhagen proves their quality. BATE struggled immensely to advance over an SK Sturm Graz team that doesn't have nearly the quality of Copenhagen, so the edge goes to Plzen.

Sorry, Europa League for you

Oh, poor Plzen. In some groups, they might have a chance.

Advancing to the Knockout Stage are...

FC Barcelona and AC Milan, but you knew that. Far and away the two best teams in the group, both should advance with minimal difficulty.

Player to watch

Alexandre Pato - Come on, I'm not picking a Barca player. We already know that Xavi Hernandez and Lionel Messi are the two best players in the world. One of the reasons Milan will have a chance to pull an upset is the undeniable quality of Pato. He's very skilled, extremely fast, and a clinical finisher. Let's just hope the young man can stay healthy. By the way: He's only 21. How is this possible?!?

Must-watch fixture

AC Milan vs. FC Barcelona at the San Siro - I don't really have to explain this, do I? Of course it's the must-watch fixture of the group.

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UEFA Champions League Draw, Group D Analysis: Real Madrid, Olympique Lyonnais Meet Again

Group D of the 2011-12 UEFA Champions League group stages doesn't necessarily constitute a 'group of death,' but it's an extremely competitive one in which all four teams will have a chance to advance. The favorites are clearly outlined, but none of the teams is a slouch and all have some fantastic talent. Real Madrid, the top seed, will be the clear favorites but all of the other teams are strong.

Olympique Lyonnais have met Real Madrid on multiple occasions and made a number of trips to the knockout round of the competition in recent years, but they're a club in transition. They were not up to their normal standards last year in Ligue 1 as they struggled to qualify for the league, and Rubin Kazan gave them problems in the playoff round.

Ajax Amsterdam are experiencing a bit of a resurgence under new manager Frank de Boer, and they should be much more competitive than they were last year when they were also in a group with Real Madrid. Dinamo Zagreb are definitely fourth favorites in this group, but young stars like Sammir and Milan Badelj, both of whom are reportedly coveted by the biggest teams in Europe, will give them a fighting chance to make an impact in the group.

Out before it starts

No one, but Dinamo Zagreb come closest. They are definitely the favorites to finish bottom. Their star players can play at this level, but their depth in talent doesn't quite stack up to the other teams in the group.

Sorry, Europa League for you

This is a tough call, but based on the way Ajax finished the last Eredivisie season and their summer buys, Lyon are looking good for third place and a place in the UEFA Europa League knockout stages. They have looked average to start the Ligue 1 season and still haven't quite gotten the most out of Yoann Gourcuff.

Advancing to the Knockout Stage are...

Real Madrid and Ajax. Real Madrid are the clear favorites and undoubtedly one of the teams with a chance to win the entire competition. Ajax don't have that pedigree, but it's reasonable to call them slight favorites over Lyon. It's more or less a toss-up between the two teams, but the signing of Theo Janssen could push Ajax over the top.

Player to watch

Mesut Özil - Cristiano Ronaldo is the biggest star of the Galacticos, but Özil has become just as integral a part of the team as his more famous and more expensive teammate. His creative passing and off the ball movement has added a new dimension to Los Merengues' attack.

Must-watch fixture

Lyon vs. Ajax at Stade de Gerland - If Ajax wants to get out of the group, a point (or win) in Lyon would be massive. This could be the key to deciding who gets out of the group stages and into the knockout stages.

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UEFA Champions League Draw: Groups Set For 2011-12 Competition

The UEFA Champions League group stage for the 2011-12 season is looking incredibly fun, as the groups appear to have been drawn in a pretty even manner. No group has two clear cut favorite, while a couple of groups are strong enough that all four teams have a very good chance of advancing. As expected, Borussia Dortmund and Napoli provide massive shake-ups as Pot 4 teams, while some might argue that Pot 3 team Manchester City is the strongest team in Group A. Here are the complete groups for the group stages.

Group A

Bayern Munich

Villarreal CF

Manchester City

Napoli

Group B

Inter Milan

CSKA Moscow

LOSC Lille

Trabzonspor

Group C

Manchester United

Benfica

FC Basel

FC Otelul Galati

Group D

Real Madrid

Olympique Lyonnais

Ajax Amsterdam

Dinamo Zagreb

Group E

Chelsea FC

Valencia CF

Bayer Leverkusen

Racing Genk

Group F

Arsenal FC

Olympique Marseille

Olympiakos FC

Borussia Dortmund

Group G

FC Porto

Shakhtar Donetsk

Zenit St. Petersburg

APOEL Nicosia

Group H

FC Barcelona

AC Milan

BATE Borisov

Viktoria Plzen

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The UEFA Champions League Draw: A Cabal Enshrined Cartel

Borussia Dortmund's prize for winning the Bundesliga is a chance at breaking the cartel established by UEFA's 'coefficient rankings' and soon to be ratified by Financial Fair Play.

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