Champions League: Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United, Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Real Madrid, PSG - magnificent seven rely on new leaders

All the leading contenders to win this season - ahead of Juventus, Arsenal and Borussia Dortmund - are under fresh management. What difference will it make?

It may not be the sort of catchphrase Uefa’s marketing men have in mind but “under new management” sums up as well as anything the Champions’ League campaign beginning in earnest this week. Remarkably, all seven clubs topping most bookmakers’ lists for possible success in it – Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain and three English teams – start off under a new coach.

The fact that they remain the favoured teams, just ahead of three, in Juventus, Arsenal and Borussia Dortmund, who have kept the same man at the helm, suggests a change need not be a handicap. Indeed, in the case of Chelsea in particular, bringing back an older, wiser and even more experienced Jose Mourinho has persuaded the odds-layers to make the London side England’s best bet this time. It is a testimony to his magnetism that had he joined Manchester United this summer and Chelsea gone for David Moyes, the two clubs’ odds could well have been reversed.

After winning the Uefa Cup against Celtic in 2003, the Champions’ League was the competition in which Mourinho first came to real international prominence, starting with his dash down the line at Old Trafford to celebrate Porto’s last-minute goal that knocked out United. His one failure at Chelsea was not winning the trophy that Roman Abramovich came to prize above all others, but by doing so later with Internazionale, he joined a select band of only two others (Jupp Heynckes and Ernst Happel) to have won it in two different countries. To add England to that list this season would make him unique, and equal Bob Paisley’s record three wins.

But the next final at the Stadium of Light, Lisbon – an old sparring ground of Mourinho’s from Porto days – is many months away. For all those clubs starting out this week, great and smaller, the initial aim is to finish in the top two of their group and thereby make the knockout stage in the new year. Chelsea could be said to have had the most comfortable draw of the Premier League quartet, followed by United, for whom Moyes starts at home to Bayer Leverkusen on Tuesday.

He should have been involved before, when Everton claimed fourth place in 2005, only to be sunk in the qualifying round by the yellow submarines of Villarreal, who went all the way to the semi-final before narrowly losing to Arsenal. The Spanish side’s coach was a certain Manuel Pellegrini, one of whose tasks this season is to get the better of Moyes again. 

City can surely do no worse than last season’s Champions’ League effort under Roberto Mancini, who paid a heavy price for it. Pellegrini says: “I don’t like to compare myself with Roberto Mancini. In the last two Champions’ League competitions City have had tough draws. However, I expect this season will also be difficult. I think that we are playing against very difficult teams. Maybe nobody here understands the real power of CSKA Moscow but it’s a strong team. We are going to have to play very well to get into the knockout stages.”

For Moyes, meanwhile, there are lingering regrets. “I think the Villarreal tie was the biggest turning point in my history with Everton,” he says. “If we’d made the group stages, that pot of money might have helped me maintain it a little bit longer.”

One of the fascinations of this season’s competition will be to see how other new coaches fare. It might have been thought that Bayern would need neither improvement nor amendment after becoming Champions’ of Europe last May but Pep Guardiola has brought in Thiago Alcantara and Mario Göetze as well as tweaking the system slightly in playing with only one defensive midfielder.

His successor at Barcelona, the Argentinian Gerardo Martino, would be foolish to tinker with Barcelona’s system – as leading Levante 6-0 by half-time in the opening home game proved. And he still has Neymar to come.

Carlo Ancelotti is worldly enough to deal with the pressures at Madrid. Gareth Bale, however, will have to be introduced carefully after his long lay-off and may or may not be ready for 90 minutes in Tuesday’s opening game at Galatasaray. Ancelotti’s successor in Paris is the French hero Laurent Blanc, who should steer his expensive squad past Benfica, Olympiakos and Anderlecht.

Odds: 4-1 Bayern, 9-2 Barcelona,  11-2 Real Madrid, 10-1 Chelsea, 14-1 Manchester United, 16-1 Manchester City, 18-1 PSG, 20-1 Juventus, 22-1 Dortmund, 33-1 Arsenal.

Arsenal: Group F

Who are they up against?

Marseille, Borussia Dortmund and Napoli were the respective runners-up in France, Germany and Italy last season, which makes for a daunting campaign. It begins in France at the atmospheric Velodrome on Tuesday before a home game with Napoli.

Who should they watch out for?

Two strikers, above all. Dortmund lost Mario Götze to Bayern but successfully fought to prevent Poland’s Robert Lewandowski following him. Napoli beat Arsenal to sign Gonzalo Higuain from Real Madrid and he could make them pay.  

What is the pedigree?

Outstanding, this being their 16th successive tournament since 1998-9 under Arsène Wenger, albeit six times via the qualifying round. But they have reached only one final (2006, losing to Barcelona) and one other semi-final (2009, lost to Manchester United).

What have they got to offer?

Experience of the players and staff gleaned from previous competitions, having reached the second stage in the past 13 seasons. Creativity from Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere and now Mesut Ozil. But they will lack striking power if Olivier Giroud is injured or misfiring at any stage.

What are they saying?

Laurent Koscielny: “It will be a difficult group. We know Marseille and Dortmund, as we’ve played them in the last two years and we played against Napoli in the Emirates Cup and they have bought a lot of players.”

A memory to stir them

Beating Barcelona, Milan and Bayern Munich in one leg during the past three seasons – as long, that is, as they forget having heavily lost the other leg of the knockout round ties and going out of the competition on each occasion.

Chelsea: Group E

Who are they up against?

Germany’s Schalke came out of the second pot, Basle from pot three and then Steaua Bucharest. Which should be straightforward, not least because Chelsea beat Steaua and Basle in the Europa League last season.

Who should they watch out for?

Schalke’s gifted teenage midfielder Julian Draxler was rumoured to be an Arsenal target last month — even though he had just signed a new contract — before they went for his more experienced compatriot Mesut Ozil. Basle have a wise old bird in striker Marco Streller.

What is the pedigree?

“Got no history” according to Liverpool fans. Winners of the Champions League and Europa League in the past two years to add to European Cup-Winners Cups in 1971 and 1998. Only third in their group last season, however.

What have they got to offer?

A manager who has won the competition twice, plus the bulk of a squad that did so two years ago and followed up with the Europa League triumph last season. Good options in defence and midfield, and Fernando Torres seems more fired up and productive in European games than amid the domestic chores.

What are they saying?

Jose Mourinho: “We want to go for the Champions League, go step by step, and first step try and qualify from the group phase. When we do that, we go into the last 16 and let’s see what we can do after that.”

A memory to stir them

Lifting the Champions League trophy in Munich 15 months ago after somehow beating Bayern should do the trick – both for those who were there and those who weren’t.

Manchester City: Group D

Who are they up against?

Holders Bayern Munich are the obvious Group D favourites, but it could have been a lot worse than CSKA Moscow and Viktoria Plzen, the Czech champions who always seem to have a vowel missing. City visit them first, before receiving Bayern on 2 October.

Who should they watch out for?

Just about everyone that Bayern can field, from Manuel Neuer in goal through Philipp Lahm and Thiago Alcantara to Thomas Muller, Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben. CSKA rely on Alan Dzagoev and have a redoubtable goalkeeper-captain in fellow Russian international Igor Akinfeev.

What is the pedigree?

The sheikh-come-latelys had only played two European Cup matches before, in 1968, until finishing third in their group with 10 points two years ago, then bottom without a win last time. Won the Cup-Winners Cup in 1970.

What have they got to offer?

Abundant talent, especially in attacking areas, further boosted by good recruitment this summer. European knowledge of players and coach, the latter brought in because his successor failed in this competition last season. Confidence would be boosted by a winning start at group minnows Viktoria Plzen on Tuesday.

What are they saying?

Manuel Pellegrini: “I saw the game last year against Dortmund because I faced them with Malaga. But that was last season. It is important for us to start well against Viktoria Plzen and get three points. We know the German teams are strong.

A memory to stir them

Nothing from last season’s European campaign (three draws, three defeats), so perhaps the 2-0 at home to a weakened Bayern (already qualified) the year before will suffice.

Manchester United: Group A

Who are they up against?

Shakhtar Donetsk are old hands, still with a Brazilian influence despite losing Fernandinho to City; Real Sociedad have not qualified since 2004; Bayer Leverkusen’s trip to Old Trafford on Tuesday will revive bad memories of a semi-final United should have won in 2002. 

Who should they watch out for?

Fred is one of Shakhtar’s 10 Brazilians, while Ukrainians Kucher, Stepanenko and Shevchuk played against England. Lars Bender is the highly rated playmaker for Leverkusen.

What is the pedigree?

England’s original European Cup competitors (and winners) added two further triumphs under Sir Alex Ferguson (1999 and 2008) and have missed only one season in the last 20 (1995, when Blackburn pipped them to the Premier League).

What have they got to offer?

The positive way of looking at a disappointing summer of recruitment is that they have fewer new players to integrate than City. Should be solid enough in defence and dangerous in attack for the group stages while the new manager grows accustomed to the challenges. But he has had four seasons of Uefa Cup/Europa League.

What are they saying?

David Moyes: “After the draw I phoned Sir Alex to talk about it and he said he thinks it’s one of the hardest draws United have ever had in the Champions League. If that’s coming from him it must be tough. We’ve got a German team and a Spanish team.”

A memory to stir them

Wembley 1968 against Benfica and Barcelona 1999 against Bayern are the stand-outs, though beating Chelsea in 2008 may be more relevant for the current squad.

Celtic: Group G

Who are they up against?

As a team ranked in the fourth pot, it was never going to be easy for the Scots, who face three of the great names of world football, with 15 European Cups between them: Barcelona (four), Milan (seven) and Ajax (four). The double-header with Ajax offers most hope.

Who should they watch out for?

Parkhead will see some talent and characters, from Barcelona’s Lionel Messi and Neymar to Milan’s Mario Balotelli. And Ajax always have youngsters worth watching.

What is the pedigree?

Becoming Britain’s first winners in 1967 can never be taken away from them. It is more easily forgotten that they should not have lost the final three years later and were semi-finalists in 1974. Have played more than 150 games in the competition.

What have they got to offer?

Lower expectations than any of the English teams but the sort of passionate home support that none of the Premier League quartet can match these days; witness the atmosphere as a two-goal deficit was overturned in the qualifying round against Shakhter Karagandy and when Barcelona were beaten last year.

What are they saying?

Neil Lennon: “In terms of glamour I don’t think it comes any better than Barcelona, Ajax and AC Milan and we can really enjoy this tournament now. But from a footballing point of view, it is going to be hugely difficult.”

A memory to stir them

In Milan on Wednesday old men in green will raise their glasses to the Lisbon Lions of ’67. Today’s rather more cosmopolitan side, manager Lennon and younger supporters can look back on the defeat of Barcelona at Parkhead last November with great pride.

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