James Pickwick

The Champions League is back and promises to deliver another campaign full of thrills and spills. German giants Bayern Munich hope to head to another final, while Real Madrid desperately want Jose Mourinho to lead them past the Round of 16 for the first time in six years. Before the business end though, the group phase must be played out and there is sure to be a shock or two along the way. We’ve previewed all the teams involved. Here is the team-by-team guide for Groups E to H:

Group E

Bayern Munich

Last season’s beaten finalists have managed to keep hold of the stars of a the side which took them so close to the title. Privately coach Louis van Gaal was surprised to see his side in the Madrid showpiece, but having hit those heights once Bayern’s fans are sure they can be hit again. Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben missed chunks of last season and should the Bundesliga giants keep the duo fit – Robben is currently on the treatment table – in the latter stages then they could go far again.

The World Cup helped the development of many of Bayern’s young guns and striker Thomas Muller is expected to be amongst the goals in this season’s Champions League. With Bastian Schweinsteiger firing and Ivica Olic raring to pick off where he left off last term, Bayern should have few problems negotiating the group stage. As ever though, the Allianz Arena fixtures will be key.


Roma could well be a dark horse in this season’s tournament. Claudio Ranieri has simply been a revelation since he took charge at the Stadio Olimpico and the squad has been strengthened over the summer months. As always Francesco Totti has the ability to inspire Roma and surely time is running out for the 33-year-old to pick up the major silverware on offer in the club game. Interesting too will be the return of Brazilian striker Adriano to Europe’s elite competition and he has the ability to either delight or frustrate. Roma will hope it is the former.

Another interesting addition is that of Marco Borriello, who arrived on loan from AC Milan. The striker could find his scoring boots in the capital and really impress. Roma have a strong group and a coach that seems to be getting most things right at the moment. It would be a surprise if they missed out on the group stage.


The Swiss giants are worthy competitors at this stage of the competition and have earned the right to take their place in Group G. Led by the young German coach Thorsten Fink, Basel will aim to ensure they do not finish in bottom spot in the group, while trying their hardest to shock either Roma or Bayern Munich. For Fink, a former Bayern Munich player, the trip to the Allianz Arena will be extra special.

To give a good account of themselves Basel need to eliminate defensive blunders. Already the side have conceded 10 goals in their seven Super League games this season. Few would deny that the RotBlau had an easier time making the group stage, having only had to dispose of Moldovan side Sheriff Tiraspol and Hungarians Debrecen in the playoff rounds, than many of their opponents. Always strong and solid at home, FCB will be a tough test, but ultimately may find quality a little lacking against the very best.

CFR Cluj

It has been all change for Cluj even before a ball has been kicked in 2010/11’s Champions League. A poor start to the new domestic season, which sees the club in the lower half of the table, was the signal for coach Andrea Mandorlini to be relieved of his duties and Sorin Cartu to be brought in. In truth Cluj, who recently sold six of their better players to Steaua Bucharest, are underdogs in this group, despite any miracles Cartu can work.

The Romanian side are used to being written off though and pulled off a shock in 2008/09’s Champions League by beating Roma – again group opponents – and holding Chelsea to a 0-0 draw. It may be more realistic for Cluj to simply bank the Champions League money and rebuild under Cartu, but packed with Argentines and Brazilians, the Romanians should be be underestimated.

Group F


The English champions are desperate to win the Champions League as it is the main missing piece of silverware at the club since Roman Abramovich began his blue revolution. Supremely dominant in the Premier League at the time of writing, Chelsea appear a little closer to the finished European product with every season that passes. And in Champions League winning coach Carlo Ancelotti, they surely have the right man to lead them on their journey.

Arrivals at the Stamford Bridge club have been few and far between this summer, but the addition of Brazilian midfielder Ramires, a real live-wire, will help to keep the tempo high against opposing teams. However, it is the return from injury of Michael Essien, in many ways like giving Ancelotti a new player, that could prove the difference between success and failure. Few can match the Ghana star and he can be the driving force behind a blue success story.


Coach Didier Deschamps will fancy his chances of guiding Marseille through this group and despite losing Mamadou Niang to Fenerbahce and Hatem Ben Arfa to Newcastle United respectively, has a strong group with which to achieve this feat. Marseille strengthened over the summer by bringing in Loic Remy from Nice and Andre-Pierre Gignac from Toulouse. Both had been coveted by clubs from outside France and both are tipped to play a big part in the future of the French national team. Overall, snapping up both was something of a coup.

Marseille will be keen to try and match the heroics of Lyon and Bordeaux in last season’s Champions League and, if they can crack Spartak Moscow, will be confident of progressing from the group. Something of a sea-change will need to come about soon though, as Deschamps’ side have not begun the new Ligue 1 season in impressive form. Their defence looks vulnerable and Marseille have always suffered their fair share of surprises in the Stade Velodrome. To make an impact, Deschamps needs his side playing at their peak, and quickly.

Spartak Moscow

Spartak Moscow pipped Zenit St. Petersburg to second spot in the Russian league last year, thus ensuring their participation in this season’s Champions League group stage. And the signs are that they had better make the most of it. Currently a long way from challenging the top two of Zenit and Rubin Kazan, Spartak look set to miss out on Europe’s top tournament next season. Luckily for them, Group F is not insurmountable.

The Russians may well have a secret weapon to deploy in this year’s Champions League in the shape of Brazilian striker Welliton. While the 23-year-old made Moscow his home in 2007, it took until last season for the Red-Whites to see his best. Indeed, the forward missed 10 months of 2008 due to injury. Led by the prolific Wellinton and with a squad packed with experience, Spartak cannot be written off. Summer arrival Aiden McGeady from Celtic may also be able to conjure some magic.

MSK Zilina

The Slovak champions earned their right to participate in the group stage by shooting down Sparta Prague. Given the nature of the relationship between the Czech Republic and Slovakia, Zilina could be forgiven for thinking their work is done. However, while the Slovaks are expected to be group whipping boys, it would be unwise for any opponent to underestimate them.

Zilina were impressive in disposing of Sparta Prague and, in a side with so few foreign stars, those that there are stand out. Up front, young 21-year-old striker Momodou Ceesay has been something of a revelation – he scored twice in the playoff win over Sparta – and is a tall striker whose speed belies his height. Another young performer is Babatounde Bello, a 20-year-old midfielder who is in a state of constant improvement. A respectable Champions League campaign for Zilina – and it should at least be that – will see Ceesay and Bello no doubt targeted by bigger clubs.

Group G

AC Milan

AC Milan announced their intention to return to the very summit of European football this summer by snapping up Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Robinho in a frantic last spell in the transfer window. Until then things had been somewhat quiet at the San Siro, with fans bemoaning the fact that owner Silvio Berlusconi was keeping his wallet in his pocket. Now the Rossoneri faithful are dreaming and speculating over just what an attacking unit containing Ronaldinho, Alexandre Pato, Robinho and Ibrahimovic can do in the Champions League.

Last season brought disappointment for Milan as Manchester United saw them off with relative ease in the last 16. New coach Massimilano Allegri will be aiming for a better showing this time around. Ironically, the Rossoneri find themselves paired with Real Madrid yet again in this new campaign and the Italians will have good memories of having taken three points from the Bernabeu.

Real Madrid

Real Madrid have undergone yet another transformation. While the new galacticos of Kaka and Cristiano Ronaldo, budget-busting purchases last summer, remain, a new more balanced approach has been adopted by Los Blancos. In comes Champions League winning coach Jose Mourinho, desperate to pick up the trophy with his third club, and he is joined by arrivals bought not by name, but whether they can fit into the new scheme of things – a rare sight indeed in the Spanish capital.

Los Blancos are cursed with not progressing past the last 16. Indeed, Real Madrid have been eliminated at the Round of 16 stage for the last six years. In a group which has been dubbed that of "no minnows", Mourinho will want to make sure of qualification as quickly as possible. Should he do that, and there is little reason to suppose he won’t, the Portuguese boss may have a better chance of leading a new-look Madrid to Champions League glory than La Liga success, where Barcelona still reign supreme.


The Dutch masters came through a tough playoff round duel with Dynamo Kyiv to book their spot in Group G. Perhaps their biggest success this summer was keeping hold of coach Martin Jol after he was courted by English Premier League side Fulham. Jol is known to be concerned about budget cutbacks at the Amsterdam club, but Ajax have retained enough quality to be a real threat even amongst the heavyweights of AC Milan and Real Madrid.

The promising duo of Gregory van der Wiel and Siem de Jong have been kept, as has captain and Uruguay World Cup hotshot Luis Suarez. Suarez’s young countryman Nicolas Lodeiro could enjoy a breakthrough season and the little wizard is well capable of splitting even the strongest defence. Ajax will be up against it, but are capable of punching above their weight.


Auxerre deserve their spot in the group phase as knocking out Zenit St. Petersburg was no mean feat. The French will however begin as clear underdogs in this group. In Ligue 1, Jean Fernandez’s team are always a stern test for any side on home turf, and they will have to make the Stade de l’Abbe-Deschamps a fortress if they are to have any chance of progressing.

Apart from their heroics over Zenit, the start of this season has been one to forget for Auxerre. A case of too many chances not taken, resulting in a series of draws, has ensured a spot in the bottom half of Ligue 1. The French will need Polish striker Ireneusz Jelen to be in top form up front, while Benoit Pedretti, an experienced 29-year-old defensive midfielder who has spent time with both Marseille and Lyon, must screen the back four effectively. Auxerre do though look up against it.

Group H


Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal always give a good account of themselves in the Champions League and there is little reason to believe this year will be any different. Having added extra firepower in the form of Marouane Chamakh from Bordeaux, Wenger may actually feel he has the resources to go all the way. Yet while the Frenchman’s midfield and attack look as strong as ever – particularly in light of Arsenal seeing off Barcelona’s interest in Cesc Fabregas – the defence is another matter. The loss of experienced campaigner William Gallas will hurt, and there are continued concerns over goalkeeper Manuel Almunia and new centre back Laurent Koscielny.

At the Emirates, Arsenal should overwhelm their group opposition, and will also pick up points on the road. The technical nature of the Champions League means Wenger’s side will be allowed to play and that usually results in goals galore. A trickier time will be had in the knockout phase, where just one defensive slip could see elimination from the competition.

Shakhtar Donetsk

The Ukrainian champions have set the quarter-final as their minimum target in this season’s Champions League and they are anything if not ambitious. Bringing back Dymtry Chygrynskiy to Donetsk after just one season in Barcelona was a coup and strengthens them defensively. Croatian striker Eduardo was also brought in from group opponents Arsenal and is already finding the back of the net on a regular basis in the Ukraine.

This will be the first Champions League campaign Shakhtar have played at their new impressive Donbass Arena, a five-star UEFA rated 51,000 bowl-like structure. Coach Mircea Lucescu will again trust in Brazilian talent throughout his side and this adds an extra element of flair to Shakhtar’s play. In a group which could be unpredictable as far as second spot goes however, the Romanian must ensure the Ukrainian giants win their home games and do not suffer late lapses in concentration which have marked their Champions League experience thus far.

Sporting Braga

Braga were impressive in their dumping out of Celtic and then Sevilla to reach the Champions League group phase and must not be underestimated. Hard-working, Braga also have a dash of swagger about their play and in new striker Lima may have also found a joker to play. The summer arrival scored three times in Braga’s 4-3 win in Spain to put Sevilla out and will be aiming to follow that up in the group stage proper.

Led by 41-year-old Domingos Paciencia, Braga have more Brazilians in their squad than Portuguese. Firmly established as a side to rank alongside Benfica, FC Porto and Sporting Lisbon in the Liga Sagres, Braga must adapt to the Champions League quickly if they are to continue to be a surprise package.

Partizan Belgrade

Returning to the Champions League after a six-year hiatus, Partizan should aim to make the most of what may well be a brief stay amongst Europe’s elite. While a side that saw off Anderlecht on penalties to reach the group stage should not be underestimated, they clearly appear to be the group underdogs. In their last appearance in 2003/04, the Serbians finished bottom of their group without recording a single win.

Partizan will lean heavily on two veterans packed with experience in order to come through Group H. Defender and captain Mladen Krstajic is 36 now, but can recall spells with Werder Bremen and Schalke as part of a nine-year career at the top of the Bundesliga. Joining Krstajic is 32-year-old attacking midfielder Sasa Ilic, well known for his trickery, and a former Galatasaray and Salzburg schemer. Having also brought in former striker Pierre Boyo from Grenoble, Partizan at least have some steady heads to call upon.