Belfast Telegraph

Deja vu as Manchester City face old foe in another group of death

By Glenn Moore

If it were not for the obvious transparency of the Champions League draw, with its glass balls and participating legends, Manchester City might begin to suspect Uefa had it in for them.

City's lawyers ameliorated the damage that might have been inflicted when City fell foul of Uefa's Financial Fair Play regulations, to the extent they are hardly handicapped at all for this season's competition, but they will nevertheless find progress to the knock-out stages, never mind the Berlin final, far from assured.

Since being transformed by petrodollars, the Premier League champions have had a series of tough draws as they climbed the Uefa rankings, but having reached the second seeding pot, must have felt a relatively easy hand was due. Instead they were dealt the pot 4 floater, Roma, along with 2013 winners Bayern Munich, and Russian champions CSKA Moscow – with the latter two clubs also being in City's group last season.

The draw – which was co-presented by Peter Schmeichel, representing the ghost at the feast for Manchester United fans – is not just tricky for City's players. Given the distance and visa difficulties involved in the latter trip, and the recent history of hooligan attacks when English teams travel to Rome, it is a daunting draw for their fans.

Liverpool, who might have expected the worst on their return to Europe's elite competition, having dropped into the third rank of seeds in their absence, were more fortunate. They were given glamour, in the form of holders Real Madrid, novelty, with Bulgarian debutants Ludogorets and with Basle making up the quartet, a real chance of progress.

Arsenal's newly discovered resilience will be required as they go to two tough venues, Galatasaray and Borussia Dortmund. However, neither team are as strong as a year or two ago, and their third opponents, Anderlecht, are a shadow of their 1970s heyday.

For Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho, seeking to become the first man to win the trophy with three clubs, the draw threw up a trip home, to play Sporting Lisbon, moderate opposition in Maribor, and an unremarkable Schalke.

Manchester City's director of football, Txiki Begiristain, said: "It is, a very, very tough group."

Having won their second Premier League title in three years the belief is that City will make Europe the priority this season, but Begiristain insisted the expectation was simply "to improve" as he added: "We signed some very good players to try and improve and go further in Champions League. There is no more pressure this season, just the same pressure to go for a long run."

The draw means two former Chelsea players, Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole, now at City and Roma respectively, will have a swift reunion. It is the third time in four years City have been paired with Bayern. Last season they were dismantled at home, but then won in Munich.

Ian Ayre, Liverpool's chief executive, admitted the club were "pleased" with their draw. He added: "I spoke to Brendan Rodgers, who watched it at the training ground. I think we'll feel we can have a go in that group. It is special to have Real Madrid. We're five-times winners, and playing someone who has just won it for 10th time makes it a special group."

Ludogorets are the team who came to prominence on Wednesday night when their centre-half, Cosmin Moti, went in goal and saved two penalties in their shoot-out victory over Steaua Bucharest. A young club, they can scarcely have believed their luck in drawing Liverpool and Real.

The value of Arsenal's narrow over Besiktas is clear from last year's earnings. Winners Real Madrid made the most, (£45.6m) but Manchester United (quarter-finalists, £35.5m), Chelsea (semi-finalists, £34.6m), Manchester City (round of 16, £28.1m) and Arsenal (round of 16, £23.1m) all did rather better than Sevilla, whose reward for winning the Europa League was £11.6m.

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