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 knockout 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 four floater Roma, along with 2013 winners Bayern Munich, and Russian champions CSKA Moscow.
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 the holders Real Madrid, novelty, with Bulgarian debutants Ludogorets Razgrad, and, with Basel 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’s 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 04.
Manchester City’s director of football, Txiki Begiristain, said: “It is, a very, very tough group.” After they 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”. He added, “We have signed some very good players to try and improve and we will try 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, are set for a swift reunion. It is also 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’ve spoken to [manager] Brendan [Rodgers], who watched it in his office at the training ground. We’ll feel we can have a go in that group. It is special to have Real. This is our competition, we’re five-times winners, and playing someone who has just won it for a 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. Assuming Madrid go through it is Basel who could prove problematic for Liverpool, having troubled Chelsea and Tottenham. They knocked Liverpool out in the group stage in 2002, so are unlikely to be taken lightly.
Arsenal were beaten by Galatasaray in the 2000 Uefa Cup final in Denmark, amid fighting between fans. Gala no longer play at the intimidating Ali Sami Yen stadium, but are still a handful at home and they have retained Wesley Sneijder. Likewise, Dortmund have held on to Marco Reus, but have lost Robert Lewandowski to Bayern, the Pole following the exit route taken by Mario Götze. The teams were drawn together last year, each winning at the other’s ground.
The value of Arsenal’s narrow and fortuitous victory over Besiktas on Wednesday night is clear from last year’s earnings. Winners Real Madrid made the most, €57.4m, (£45.6m) but Manchester United (quarter-finalists, €44.7m), Chelsea (semi-finalists, €43.4m), Manchester City (round of 16, €35.4m) and Arsenal (round of 16, €29.3m) all did rather better than Seville, whose reward for winning the Europa League was €14.6m. Even Anderlecht, who lost five and drew one of their six Champions League ties last season, took home €12.2m.
Group dynamics: Who will the English teams face?
Arsenal; Group D
Manager: Jürgen Klopp
Key man: Marco Reus
Last season’s German runners-up face Arsenal for a third time in four group stages. Weakened by loss of Robert Lewandowski.
Manager: Cesare Prandelli
Key man: Wesley Sneijder
Turkish runners-up went out to Chelsea last season and have lost Didier Drogba. Emmanuel Eboué will be a popular returnee to London.
Manager: Besnik Hasi
Key man: Aleksandar Mitrovic
Belgians last visited England in 2007, drawing with Spurs. Have gone out at the group stage in the last two seasons.
Chelsea; Group G
Manager: Jens Keller
Key man: Julian Draxler
Will not be underestimated and boast good attacking threat from Draxler, Kevin-Prince Boateng and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.
Manager: Marco Silva
Key man: Fredy Montero
Battling to hold on to William Carvalho amid interest from Arsenal and Manchester United, the Portuguese make their first appearance since 2009-10.
Manager: Ante Simundza
Key man: Marcos Tavares
Succeeded where many have failed in eliminating Celtic. Last competed at this stage in 1999-2000, when they achieved just one win.
Liverpool; Group B
Manager: Carlo Ancelotti
Key man: Cristiano Ronaldo
The holders return to Anfield still smarting from a 4-0 loss five years ago. Gareth Bale will be keenly watched.
Manager: Paulo Sousa
Key man: Marco Streller
Swiss champions will need no introduction, having faced Chelsea and Spurs recently. Former Red Philipp Degen provides the Anfield link.
Manager: Aleksandar Aleksandrov
Key man: Cosmin Moti
Bulgarian minnows provided a fairy tale as defender Moti donned the gloves to help beat Steaua Bucharest on penalties.
Manchester City; Group E
Manager: Pep Guardiola
Key man: Arjen Robben
Champions in 2013 before being embarrassed by Real Madrid in last season’s semi-finals. Traded away wins with City last season.
Manager: Yevgeni Giner
Key man: Alan Dzagoev
City will not relish travelling to Russia to play another side they took on last season. Yaya Touré was racially abused, a fact that will further crank up this tie.
Manager: Rudi Garcia
Key man: Francesco Totti
The Italians complete a tough draw for City as Ashley Cole gets his return after leaving Chelsea this summer. Totti and Gervinho are familiar foes.