Thursday, 16 September 2010

UEFA Champions League 10/11 Preview - Group's A-D

Group A

Inter Milan

Last Season: Champions League Winners, Serie A Winners

Manager: Rafael Benitez

Key Man: Wesley Sneijder

Stadium: Stadio Guiseppe Meazza, Milan, Italy

Last year’s winners have had a slow start to their season this year, but with a new man in charge, its no real surprise. Inter have the same squad which won the trophy last season, the only change being Jose Mourinho’s departure to Real Madrid, with Rafael Benitez taking over at the helm. Benitez of course won the Champions League with Liverpool in his first season in charge.

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Werder Bremen

Last Season: Europa League Last 16, 3rd in the German Bundesliga

Manager: Thomas Schaaf

Key Man: Marko Marin

Stadium: Weserstadion, Bremen, Germany

The very fluid and impressive German side have been a mainstay in the Champions League group stages for the past few seasons. Blessed with an array of technically gifted yet gritty players, they surpassed Sampdoria in the qualification round. Look out for talented 21 year old Marko Marin, as well as fellow German’s Tim Borowski, Aaron Hunt and the tricky Zlatan Ibrahimovic style Austrian Marko Anautovic.

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Tottenham Hotspur

Last Season: 4th in the Premiership

Manager: Harry Redknapp

Key Man: Gareth Bale

Stadium: White Hart Lane, London, England

The North London club compete in their first ever Champions League campaign, and deservedly so after beat Manchester City to 4th spot in the Premiership. A solid yet attacking side, have the man motivator Harry Redknapp in charge, while the inform and highly talented Gareth Bale paired with Luka Modric will cause any teams in Europe problems. Most impressively for Spurs would be their array of forwards including Jermaine Defoe, Peter Crouch, Roman Pavlyuchenko and Robbie Keane.

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FC Twente

Last Season: Eredivisie Winners

Manager: Michel Preudhomme

Key Man: Bryan Ruiz

Stadium: AFAS Stadion, Alkmaar, Netherlands

This free flowing attacking Dutch side will not be a easy to beat as people may think. Formidable at home, boss Michel Preudhomme took over from the departed Steve McClaren this summer and has the talented Bryan Ruiz attacking from the left to get the goals, while 29 year old free kick specialist Theo Janssen and the experienced Denny Landzaat form the engine room in midfield.

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Group B

Olympique Lyonnais

Last Season: Champions League Semi-finals, Ligue 1 2nd Place

Manager: Claude Puel

Key Man: Yoann Gourcuff

Stadium: Stade de Gerland, Lyon, France

The French superpower were beaten semi-finalists last season, and its widely believed that if any French side is too collect the Champions League title, Lyon are the best equipped side. A squad boasting a strong and healthy French influence including the likes of star goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, left back Aly Cissokho and the inspirational Yoann Gourcuff who made the switch from Bordeaux last season, combined with talented players such as Lisandro Lopez, Miralem Pjanic and Kim Kallstrom, mean Lyon could be the dark horses this year.

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Last Season: Portugeuse Liga 1st, Europa League Quarter-finals

Manager: Jorge Jesus

Key Man: Pablo Aimar

Stadium: Estadio da Luz, Lisbon, Portugal

The best way to describe the Portuguese champions would be some-timish. They have undoubted quality, but do not seem to make it far in major competitions. This year around they will look to get out of the group and ruffle a few feathers. Oscar Cardozo and Javier Saviola up front have more than enough European pedigree, while 30 year old iconic playmaker Pablo Aimar will pull the strings. Benfica’s two centre backs; David Luiz and Luisao are fundamental to the Portuguese sides’ challenge.

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4-4-2 Diamond

FC Schalke 04

Last Season: 2nd Bundesliga

Manager: Felix Magath

Key Man: Manuel Neuer

Stadium: Veltnis-Arena, Gelsenkirchen, Germany

The Bundesliga runners up last season have a very different array of talents in their side, with over 18 different nationalities in their squad! Some of the most impressive names on that list include German goalkeeper, and club captain; Manuel Neuer. He had a great World Cup and is expected to be vital if Schalke are to make it from the group. Many continental football fans remember Schalke relying on striker Ebbe Sand to get their goals, now they have the legendary Raul to call upon, paired with deadly Dutch finisher Klaas-Jan Huntelaar who looks to get his stuttering career back on track.

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Hapoel Tel Aviv

Last Season: Israeli Premier League 1st, Europa League last 32

Manager: Eli Guttman

Key Man: Vincent Enyeama

Stadium: Bloomfield Stadium, Jaffa, Israel

An unknown quantity at this level, as they make the Champions’ League group stages for the first time, after knocking out Salzburg in the previous round. Nigerian goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama had an impressive World Cup and is the clubs penalty takers, (scoring 8 times in 84 matches) so keep an eye for him. Hapoel will rely on Israeli striker Itay Shechter to get the goals, having scored 22 goals in 34 appearances last season.

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Group C

Manchester United

Last Season: Premiership 2nd, Champions League quarter-finals

Manager: Sir Alex Ferguson

Key Man: Paul Scholes

Stadium: Old Trafford, Manchester, England

It’s a wonder how Sir Alex Ferguson has only guided Manchester United to two Champions League titles in 18 seasons. However Manchester United is one of the best teams in Europe and are certainly capable of challenging this time round. Star striker Wayne Rooney will be leading the line once again, while Dimitar Berbatov is returning to form and the side are backed by the evergreen Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs.

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Last Season: 3rd La Liga

Manager: Unai Emery

Key Man: Juan Mata

Stadium: Mestalla, Valencia, Spain

Valencia lost both David Villa to Barcelona and David Silva to Man City, while Carlos Marchena joined Villarreal. With this calibre of players leaving, it would seem fair to believe that Valencia’s challenge would be dismissed. However boss Unai Emery signed Roberto Saldado from Getafe, Albert Costa from Montpellier and Ricardo Costa from Lille to add experience and quality to the squad. Second place is up for grabs in this group, while Valencia are undoubted favourites.

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Last Season: 1st Scottish Premier League, Champions League Group Stage

Manager: Walter Smith

Key Man: Madjid Bougherra

Stadium: Ibrox, Glasgow, Scotland

Scottish champions Rangers have had financial troubles over the last few years, not allowing them to strengthen their squad for Champions League campaign. However sometimes this isn’t such a bad thing, as the squad grows a stronger nucleus and players achieve a greater understanding of each other. It’s this team work and work ethic that Rangers will need if they are to make it out of the group, or into the EUROPA League.

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Last Season: Winners of Turkish SuperLig

Manager: Ertigal Saglam

Key Man: Ozan Ipek

Stadium: Bursa Ataturk Stadium, Bursa, Turkey

A somewhat surprise title winner last season, they compete in their first ever Champions League. An unknown quantity at this level, they will have to continue their great form in order to cause a few upsets in this campaign, although EUROPA League qualification would be more of a realistic option.

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Group D

FC Barcelona

Last Season: La Liga Winners, Champions League Semi-Final

Manager: Pep Guardiola

Key Man: Lionel Messi

Stadium: Camp Nou, Barcelona, Spain

A semi final defeat last season, was somewhat seen as a failure for the Catalan club. Now; Barca left licking their wounds, will be looking to win back the Champions League trophy. Yaya Toure left for Man City, Zlatan Ibrahimovic went to AC Milan, Henry and Marquez both went the MSL, and Chygrnskiy returned to Shaktar Donetsk, while Spanish striker David Villa joined from Valencia, Javier Mascherano joined from Liverpool and Adriano joined from Sevilla. Barcelona are still as strong as ever and are the favourites this time round.

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Last Season: Greek Super League Winners, Europa League last 16

Manager: Nikos Niaplias

Key Man: Djibril Cisse

Stadium: Athens Olympic Stadium, Athens, Greece

The Greek champions have made a few interesting signings this season in order to compete in this year’s competition. In comes Sidney Govou, Jean Alain Boumsong and former Liverpool attacker Luis Garcia to add Champions League experience to the likes of Djibril Cisse and Gilberto Silva.

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Last Season: Danish Superliga Winners, Europa League last 32

Manager: Stale Solbakkan

Key Man: Jesper Gronkjaer

Stadium: Parken, Copenhagen, Denmark

The Danish champions are another team returning to the Champions’ League group stage. The highly organised side will look to compete with Panathinaikos directly for second spot. They will rely on former Chelsea winger Jesper Gronkjaer for creativity, while Dame N’Doye is the man who will look to get the goals.

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Rubin Kazan

Last Season: Russian Premier League Winners, Champions League Group Stage, Europa League last 16

Manager: Gurban Berdyev

Key Man: Carlos Eduardo

Stadium: Tsentralnyi Stadium, Kazan, Russia

Rubin Kazan will be the least fancied team in the group; however they have it in their make up to surprise and upset the big boys. Their home form will be vital if the to cause these upsets. Look out for gifted winger Carlos Eduardo who made his name at Hoffenheim in Germany, made the big money move to Russian giants, while former Newcastle and Inter Milan striker Obafemi Martins leads the line.

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