KEIR RADNEDGE in MONTE CARLO: European champions Bayern Munich – who pride themselves on their economic common sense – have been drawn against wild-spending Manchester City in the group stage of this season’s Champions League.
Group D was completed by CSKA Moscow and Viktoria Plzen, offering a mixture of tests for the new coaches of the ‘big two’ Pep Guardiola and Manuel Pellegrini.
Bayern have the opportunity to collect their fourth trophy of the year in the European Supercup final against Europa League holders Chelsea in Prague tomorrow/Friday.
This is the first time in recent UEFA history that the Supercup has been separated from the group draws ‘party’ in Monaco. Next year, in Cardiff, the Supercup will take over the mid-august slot formerly reserved for national team friendlies. The 2015 venue is Tbilisi, Georgia.
Former European winners called up by UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino to undertake the draw included Billy McNeill – Celtic’s captain in Lisbon when the Hoops defeated Internazionale in 1967 – Luis Figo (Real Madrid), Johan Cruyff (Ajax and Barcelona as coach) and Michael Owen (Liverpool).
Arsenal, who qualified after completing a comprehensive play-off win over Fenerbahce, face a difficult task after being drawn alongside last season’s runners-up Borussia Dortmund, Rafael Benitez’s Napoli and Marseille.
Celtic, who famously beat Barcelona last season, will face the Catalan giants again along with two other former winners in Group H in Milan and Ajax. Manager Neil Lennon said: “In terms of glamour I don’t think it comes any better but in terms of football it is probably the most difficult group we could have got.”
Chelsea face two of the sides they conquered en route to last year’s Europa League success in Basel and Steaua Bucharest, as well as Schalke, in Group E.
David Moyes’s Champions League bow with Manchester United will come against Shakhtar Donetsk, Bayer Leverkusen and Real Sociedad in Group A.
Real Madrid have been drawn in the same group as Italian champions Juventus as they begin their latest hunt for an elusive 10th European Cup crown having last tasted success back in 2002. Galatasaray and FC Kobenhavn are the other sides in Group B.
Group G consists of three clubs who have lifted the UEFA Cup/Europa League in recent years with Atletico de Madrid (2010 and 2012 winners), Porto (2011) and Zenit St Petersburg (2008) drawn together along with FK Austria.
French champions Paris Saint-Germain are in Group C with Benfica, Olympiacos and Anderlecht.
Group A: Manchester United, Shakhtar Donetsk, Bayer Leverkusen, Real Sociedad
Group B: Real Madrid, Juventus, Galatasaray, FC Kobenhavn
Group C: Benfica, Paris Saint-Germain, Olympiakos, Anderlecht
Group D: Bayern Munich, CSKA Moscow, Manchester City, Viktoria Plzen
Group E: Chelsea, Schalke, Basel, Steaua
Group F: Arsenal, Marseille, Borussia Dortmund, Napoli
Group G: Porto, Atletico de Madrid, Zenit, FK Austria
Group H: Barcelona, Milan, Ajax, Celtic.
The group stage of the inaugural edition of the UEFA Youth League will parallel that of the UEFA Champions League after 32 clubs confirmed their involvement in the U19 competition.
Infantino said he expects the competition to play a player development role, adding: “One of the key objectives, especially for the clubs and for us as competition organisers, is to help players gain additional experience which will help them to bridge the gap to their first team,” he said.
“It is an objective of UEFA and of European football to form and train players, so this competition is also focusing on locally trained players, on club academies, on the development of players.”
The group stage of the UEFA Youth League will parallel that of the UEFA Champions League before a ‘Road to the Final’ concept comes into play for the knockout phase.
The draws for all the knockout rounds – all of which are single matches rather than being played over two legs – will take place on December 13. The system is:
Round of 16
Group winners v group runners-up
Group winners play at home
Open draw, home team determined by draw
Semi-finals and final (Colovray Stadium, Nyon)
The winners of the two semi-finals, to be played on Friday April 11, opposite UEFA’s Swiss headquarters, will meet in the final on Monday April 14. The trophy has been named after former UEFA president Lennart Johansson.