The Champions League – the most competitive competition known domestically is once again upon us. The most esteemed club trophy, claimed last year by treble winners FC Bayern Munchen, will be fought over by a well deserved thirty-two, of the many leagues throughout Europe. The ceremonial draw which took place August 29, 2013 saw teams divided into 8 groups for the competition which officially gets on way September 17th.
Two time winners, Manchester United, have been paired with Shakhtar Donetsk (UKR), Bayer Leverkusen (GER), and La Liga’s Real Sociedad (ESP) who are making their first Champions League appearance in a decade.
United fans don’t think this is a “walk in the park.”
Yes, it may look as if, but, remember what happened during the 2011-2012 Champions League campaign, when third place and Europa League was Uniteds reward for underestimating a group with the likes of SL Benfica and Basel?
It is quite obvious to distinguish the luxury United has had in drawing into relatively easy groups. That luck has run out, as this group looks to be the most competitive the club has seen in recent times. This is the Champions League. Competition is much fierce. No team is to be taken lightly – not even a team making its first appearance in over a decade. Malaga’s Cinderella run into the semi-finals is a clear example.
Here is a breakdown of the opponents who will be hoping to derail the EPL champions UEFA Champions League campaign.
It isn’t farfetched for some to believe United will top this group, because on paper they look the more superior team. Shakhtar Donetsk will prove a difficult opponent for the David Moyes and his boys. Bayer Leverkusen has previously defeated United, and new boys, Real Sociedad, will aim to replicate a feat similar to their league rivals Malaga last year.
Though, Shakhtar Donetsk have lost their best players in Fernandinho and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, both choosing to play for bigger clubs, they did not waste any time in finding replacements. With the addition of left wing Bernard of Club Atletico Mineiro and attacking midfielder Fred of Intercional, they will fill the void left by the departure of Fernandinho and Henrikh. The speedy Brazilian international winger Bernard, who can also be deployed as a wingback, though young, can help Shakhtar advance to the knockout stages.
Other key acquisitions Shakhtar has made this summer are: striker Facundo Ferreyra of Atletico Velez Sarfield, Wellinton Nem of Fluminense and defensive midfielder Fernando of Gremio. There is a heavy presence of Brazilian young talent in this team, which will make them a formidable opponent.
After a successful 2012-13 campaign, Bayer Leverkusen will be looking to translate their Bundesliga form into Champions League success. Manager Sami Hyypia has kept most of his starting XI together, with the exception of Andre Schurrle. Bayer Leverkusen finished a point behind second place Borrusia Dortmund to secure a place for this competition. Bundesliga top scorer Stefan Kiebling will spearhead Bayer Leverkusen attack. 20 year-old Heung-Min Son, acquired from Hamburg SV for $9 million, has been handed the position left vacant from the departure of Schurrle. The versatile South Korean attacker can play many positions. With his pace, ability to create with both feet and keen finishing will cause problems for any back four.
A great qualification run has guaranteed Real Sociedad a place in the group stages. Being drawn against Manchester United, Shakhtar Donetsk, and Bayer Leverkusen, should be exciting for Jogoba Arrasate and this exciting side. Making a comeback into UCL soccer after a decade, like Malaga, Real Sociedad will be looking to make a Cinderella run. The young, exciting team, led by young stars Carlos Vela, Haris Seferovic and Spain U-21 midfielder Inigo Martinez will be out to prove themselves against these three top teams. With nothing to lose, and everything to gain, teams should fear the quality of soccer this side possesses.
Though losing under-21 Spain star Asier Illarramendi to Real Madrid this summer, it did not hamper La Real chances. Cruising past Olympique Lyonnais should state something about this young side.
Once again, this group is not as straight forward as it may look to you, especially Manchester United supporters. Don’t get your hopes up and proclaim the team as winners of this table. As stated before, this will not be a “walk in the park.” Any intelligent football fan can see the quality of the three teams drawn into this group possesses.