Champions League: 'Manchester City can overcome tough draw'

By Phil McNultyChief football writer
Diego Costa, Mario Balotelli, Fernando and Alexis Sanchez
Diego Costa, Mario Balotelli, Fernando and Alexis Sanchez will all play their part in the Champions League

The Champions League draw was made amid the glitz and glamour of The Grimaldi Forum in Monaco - and as usual threw up games to match the occasion.

Europe's elite gathered in the principality as the Premier League's four qualifiers mixed with the likes of holders Real Madrid, a Barcelona side now boasting former Liverpool striker Luis Suarez, and Pep Guardiola's Bayern Munich as the great Catalan coach tries to win his third Champions League.

And as ever the draw delivered plenty of talking points and areas of debate - especially for the English challengers.

Luckless Manchester City

Manchester City must wonder when they will ever catch an even break in what has been a tough reintroduction to Europe's premier competition since the Abu Dhabi rebuilding of the club.

The champions, in the competition for the fourth straight year, have never been blessed with easy draws and Thursday was no different as they came out alongside Bayern Munich - as they were last season - as well as another former opponent CSKA Moscow. The fourth pot offered little comfort either as Italians AS Roma came out.

Manchester City's 2013-2014 campaign
Last season saw Manchester City compete in the Champions League for only the fourth time in their history, qualifying automatically by finishing second in the league. They progressed through the group stage fairly comfortably despite a 3-1 defeat by Bayern Munich. But facing Barcelona in the round of 16 proved too much for City who lost 4-1 over two legs and exited the competition.

City can at least draw upon the confidence brought by winning their second Premier League title and the knowledge that they won 3-2 in the Allianz Arena against the then holders Munich last season. Manuel Pellegrini's apparent miscalculation in that game did not see them press for the extra goal that would have put them at the top of their group.

The return to Moscow against CSKA will provoke unhappy memories for City's Yaya Toure. Uefa ordered a partial closure of their stadium after racist chanting was directed at Toure during City's 2-1 win in October 2013.

While the draw is daunting, there should be no fears for this powerful City squad - packed with experience and quality - who must now surely be getting accustomed to the unique demands and pressures of the Champions League with each passing year.

A tough group and one they can certainly negotiate but no-one can suggest the draw has been kind to them.

Many happy returns for Liverpool

Liverpool are back in the Champions League after a four-year absence despite faltering in the final furlong of the title race last season to finish second - and the draw offered them a nice welcome back to a competition they have had such an influence over, winning the European Cup five times.

Cristiano Ronaldo on Liverpool, Wayne Rooney & Angel Di Maria

And the glamour of this tournament will come to Anfield in the shape of holders Real Madrid - and Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo, James Rodriguez and company.

Liverpool fans still recall the 5-0 aggregate win over Real Madrid - 4-0 at Anfield - in 2009 but that was against a fading side under former Spurs coach Juande Ramos while Rafa Benitez's Reds boasted a wealth of European experience.

And, of course, any meeting with Real will bring back memories of Alan Kennedy's goal that gave Liverpool a 1-0 win in the 1981 European Cup Final in Paris.

Basel will not hold any terrors but have troubled Liverpool in Europe in the past, contributing to their demise in this tournament in 2002-2003, while there will be interest too in Ludogorets Razgrad from Bulgaria.

Liverpool champions league trophy
Liverpool, winners in 2005, return to the Champions League for the first time in five years.

They were only formed in 2001 and qualified after their dramatic penalty shoot-out win against Steua Bucharest. Defender Cosmin Moti saved two penalties after taking over in goal after Vladislav Stoyanov had been sent off and all substitutes used.

It may be a stretch to see Brendan Rodgers' side topping the group ahead of the holders but there is every reason for optimism that they can progress to the knockout phase.

Busy summer for Liverpool
Liverpool focused on strengthening their squad this summer for their much-anticipated return to the competition. Mario Balotelli (16m), Adam Lallana (25m), Dejan Lovren (20m) and Lazar Markovic (20m) are just some of Brendan Rodgers' new signings hoping to bring the Champions League trophy back to Anfield for the sixth time.

Good draw for Chelsea, tough for Arsenal

The usual noises about respecting every opponent will be made but you can imagine Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho is secretly satisfied at a draw with Schalke, Sporting Lisbon and Celtic's conquerors Maribor.

Mourinho begins his quest to make history by winning the Champions League with a third club after victories with Porto and Inter Milan. Chelsea lost to Atletico Madrid in the semi-final last season, but with additions such as Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas he will feel they can make another challenge.

Chelsea will surely get out of this group - and crucially get out as winners.

Alexis Sanchez celebrates with team mate Santi Cazorla of Arsenal after scoring during the UEFA Champions League Qualifier 2nd leg match between Arsenal and Besiktas
Alexis Sanchez scored on his debut for Arsenal against Besiktas

Arsenal went to the wire with a 1-0 win in the qualifier against Besiktas and have now been dealt a tough hand against another opponent from last season's competition, Borussia Dortmund, along with Galatasaray and Anderlecht.

Will manager Arsene Wenger feel he now has to draft in another striker to take on the task in the Champions League and Premier League with Olivier Giroud out for three months, or will he trust his current squad?

Arsenal have great Champions League pedigree though and this is a group they can negotiate. But can they top it because finishing second has cost them dearly in the past? For now the aim is to advance and there is every reason to believe they will.

Arsenal's 2013-2014 campaign
Arsenal qualified for the Champions League via the play-off round with a 5-0 thrashing over Turkish side Fenerbahce. They progressed through the group stages with victories over Marseille, Napoli and Dortmund. However the round of 16 proved too strong for Wenger's team and they were knocked out by German giants Bayern Munich.
Chelsea's 2013-2014 campaign
After a disappointing campaign in the 2012-13 season, Chelsea were looking to reinforce their European presence last season. With convincing victories over Steaua and Schalke in their group they looked set to reach the latter stages. However after a challenging quarter-final against Paris which ended with Chelsea winning on away goals (3-3), they were knocked out in the final four by Atletico who were then beaten by Real Madrid 4-1 in the final.

Familiar foes for Zlatan

Zlatan Ibrahimovic's nomadic career has taken him around Europe and he will see some familiar faces after a draw that put Paris St-Germain in with Barcelona and Ajax, two clubs he has figured for in the past.

It remains to be seen what sort of reception he receives - but one thing is certain - this larger than life personality and wonderfully-gifted striker has the sort of belief and confidence to feel he has merely been offered the chance to show his former clubs what they are missing.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic during the UEFA Champions League quarter final second-leg between Barcelona and PSG
Zlatan Ibrahimovic during the UEFA Champions League quarter final second-leg between Barcelona and PSG

Ajax will be seen as outsiders in that group but what an opportunity for this great old Netherlands club to show they can still be a force at this level. A group of glamour.

The usual suspects to triumph again?

Atletico Madrid came out of the pack, as did Borussia Dortmund in 2013, to challenge the supremacy of the old order such as Barcelona and Bayern, and reach the final last year. Real were finally able to roll back the years and claim "La Decima" with a 10th tournament win against their city rivals in Lisbon.

Since then Barcelona have strengthened with the addition of £75m Luis Suarez from Liverpool, as well as Thomas Vermaelen from Arsenal. Ivan Rakitic from Sevilla is another impressive addition to the likes of Lionel Messi and Neymar.

Real, as is their habit, went Galactico after the World Cup in Brazil and signed Colombia's poster boy James Rodriguez from Monaco for £64m and Germany's World Cup winner Toni Kroos. They may have lost Angel Di Maria but what a line-up when Bale and Ronaldo are factored in.

Bayern will want to respond after their embarrassing semi-final loss to Real last season - so expect Pep Guardiola's side to be a threat.

They will be at the forefront while Manchester City and Chelsea may emerge as the most serious Premier League threat as the road to Berlin's Olympic Stadium begins.

European Cup/ Champions League records since 1955
LiverpoolArsenalChelseaManchester City
No participated in2018124
Games played17517513622
Winning %56.6%50.3%50.8%36.4%
All time ranking8th12th15th119th
Source: Uefa