PARIS, August 29, 2013 (AFP) – Reigning European champions Bayern Munich were paired with Manchester City for this season’s Champions League group stage, while the draw was particularly unkind for Arsenal and Celtic.
The draw, made in Monaco on Thursday evening, threw up several mouthwatering ties as well as bringing together plenty of familiar foes.
Under Pep Guardiola, Bayern are looking to become the first club to retain the European Cup in the Champions League era.
They were drawn in Group D along with Manchester City, the Premier League giants who previously faced the Bavarians in the 2011-12 competition.
On that occasion, City finished bottom of their section while Bayern went all the way to the final, and Roberto Mancini’s side also failed to progress from their group last season.
This time, though, City are expected to pose a greater threat under Chilean coach Manuel Pellegrini, who has taken Villarreal and Malaga to the latter stages in the past and came up against Guardiola’s Barcelona when in charge of Real Madrid in 2009-10.
Those two clubs are likely to fight it out for first place in a group that also contains Russian champions CSKA Moscow and Czech club Viktoria Plzen.
The draw was even kinder to 2012 European champions Chelsea. The Blues will face Bundesliga club Schalke, 1986 European Cup winners Steaua Bucharest and FC Basel, who lost to Chelsea in the Europa League semi-finals last season, in Group E.
David Moyes, though, will not be taking the opposition lightly in what will be his first Champions League campaign at the helm of Manchester United.
The English champions will be favourites to qualify for the last 16 from Group A but they must still face Ukraine’s Shakhtar Donetsk, Spanish outfit Real Sociedad and Bayer Leverkusen.
The German side beat United in the 2002 semi-finals and are now coached by former Liverpool defender Sami Hyypia.
Arsenal came off worst of all, the English contenders in a Group F that contains last season’s runners-up Borussia Dortmund, Marseille and Napoli.
The Gunners faced Dortmund and Marseille in the group stage two seasons ago, but will be especially wary of Napoli, whose coach Rafael Benitez is a specialist at this level and who, in Gonzalo Higuain, boast a striker who might have joined Arsenal earlier this summer.
Group H is bustling with history, as Barcelona, AC Milan, Ajax and Celtic – with 16 European Cups between them – come together.
This will be third consecutive season in which Barca and Milan have met but, remarkably, the Catalans and Ajax – united by their links to Johan Cruyff – have never faced each other in a competitive game.
Celtic beat Barcelona in last season’s competition but their manager Neil Lennon knows the size of task that lies before the Scottish champions.
“I think it’s the best and the worst draw we could’ve got,” Lennon told Sky Sports News.
“In terms of glamour I don’t think it comes any better than Barca, Milan and Ajax, but in terms of football it doesn’t come any harder.”
Elsewhere, Real Madrid face Juventus, Galatasaray and FC Copenhagen in Group B.
As a result, new Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti will come up against the Serie A champions, whom he coached between 1999 and 2001.
“It could have been better, it could have been worse,” said Madrid’s Director of Institutional Relations Emilio Butragueno.
“Games against Juventus are always very passionate and we have faced them many times in the past. With (coach Antonio) Conte in the past few years they have improved a lot, therefore they will be a very tough opponent.”
Paris Saint-Germain will expect to advance from Group C, which also contains Benfica, Olympiakos of Greece and Belgian champions Anderlecht, while Porto, Atletico Madrid, Zenit St Petersburg and Austria Vienna meet in Group G.
The opening round of group games will be played on September 17 and 18.