Belfast Telegraph

Friday 25 July 2014

Champions League: Villas-Boas can see Blue Moon rising over Europe

Andre Villas-Boas

According to Andre Villas-Boas, Manchester City can become the first club to win the Champions League on their debut in the competition.

First, however, Roberto Mancini's men have to escape from the group stage.

While Manchester United were handed a straightforward group and the capital clubs, Arsenal and Chelsea, got tricky ones, City, almost inevitably given their lower seeding, were paired with Bayern Munich, Villarreal and Napoli in the toughest of the eight groups.

Speaking before the draw Villas-Boas said of City: “They are Champions League contenders. Why not? They have joined together the best talent in the world this year. It's something unbelievable.

“It shows what they want to achieve and they have a winning coach as well, a coach who won three titles in a row at Inter.

“I don't see why they wouldn't have the drive or the qualities to go all the way through.

“Being in pot three (in the draw) makes it difficult, but the guys in pots one and two wanted to avoid Manchester City.”

Bayern are always contenders and look very dangerous in attack with Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery both fit and Thomas Mueller given a free role. They are less sound at the back where former City defenders Jerome Boateng and Daniel van Buyten feature.

Napoli, back in the European Cup for the first time since Diego Maradona's days, will be formidable in the San Paolo and have sharp attackers in Edinson Cavani and Ezequiel Lavezzi. If Villarreal can hold on to much-coveted former Manchester United striker Giuseppe Rossi they could also cause problems.

Nevertheless, given the investment at Eastlands in recent years, Roberto Mancini will be expected to get his team through.

Chelsea themselves have a logistically good group, but will need to remain focused against Valencia and Bayer Leverkusen, if not so much Genk. It will be a quick return to La Mestalla for Juan Mata, Chelsea's new £23m signing, while the Leverkusen ties will involve a reunion with Michael Ballack.

Without sounding arrogant, Villas-Boas is already looking further ahead in the competition, to the challenge of dethroning Barcelona.

“They are the reference point for everyone in terms of quality and football, the amount of titles, but we can challenge them. We have been present in the Champions League throughout recent seasons, in semi-finals and finals. We want to have that breakthrough this year.”

The Chelsea manager said he was pleased Arsenal had qualified, adding he did not feel Arsene Wenger “deserved to be put under so much pressure”. Any release Wenger felt after winning at Udinese may have diminished when, in the final act of the draw in the Grimaldi Forum, Bundesliga champions Borussia Dortmund were dropped into Arsenal's group.

The 1997 winners were in the bottom pot of seeds after several years of limited European involvement, but Jurgen Klopp's bright young team could be a handful. Olympiakos and Didier Deschamps' Marseilles make up the quartet.

Manchester United should cruise through after being placed with Benfica (poignantly drawn by Sir Bobby Charlton, who scored in the 1968 final between the teams), Basel and Otelul Galati of Romania.

United's chief executive David Gill said: “I got a text from Sir Alex Ferguson and he is happy. We are comfortable with the draw we've been given.”

Meanwhile a statement was made by Uefa regarding the withdrawal of Fenerbahce over match-fixing allegations. Low-level Champions League ties have also been suspected of being rigged and Gianni Infantino, Uefa's general secretary, said: “We are united in tackling match-fixing, there is no alternative but a zero-tolerance approach.”

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