Champions' League: Draw fails to threaten English domination

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The Independent Online

Whether or not Michel Platini's campaign against debt is primarily aimed at Premier League clubs, the Champions' League draw has failed to threaten England's recent domination of the competition. For all the wise words warning against complacency, not one of the regular quartet can complain about their fate. Instead, it is Italy and Spain whose representatives have been thrown into the more testing sections.

Each of those countries, like England, has four clubs through as usual, Fiorentina and Atletico Madrid joining Arsenal in coming through a supposedly tougher qualifying round. But their leading teams have been thrown together in the most glamorous pairings of the group section, as Milan take on Real Madrid and Kaka; Jose Mourinho's Internazionale line up with the holders Barcelona; Juventus are only second seeds to Bayern Munich. With Fiorentina up against Liverpool and Lyon, it is Italy who can feel hardest done by. Having studied the opposition, experienced European campaigners next look at dates and how their domestic fixtures will be affected, which has caused Manchester United concern. Their two long trips, to Besiktas on 15 September and Moscow on 21 October, are followed by two of the biggest Premier League fixtures of the season, at home to Manchester City and away to Liverpool respectively; the latter after Liverpool have played at home and enjoyed an extra day's rest. We will doubtless hear more of that later.

Chelsea's Carlo Ancelotti, who has a better record in the Champions' League than Serie A, can hardly complain about facing Porto, Atletico and Apoel of Cyprus. Liverpool are satisfied with short trips to France and Italy, and have the advantage of a home game with Fiorentina, possibly their biggest rivals, to end their campaign.

Arsenal have come out of it all particularly well as a reward for their comprehensive demolition of Celtic. The nature of their first goal last Wednesday, following Eduardo's disgraceful dive, did leave a sour taste but one that should be replaced by something sweeter as Group H progresses. What was noticeable during the two games was how several of their younger players seem to be maturing, among them the right-back Bacary Sagna, who said after the Celtic game: "We are all old enough to realise something was missing last year and everyone is more focused." His team remain the outsiders of the English contenders but Sagna insisted of their previous failures in the competition: "It is a great incentive. Two years ago we reached the quarter-finals and last season the semis. If we keep working then it will come."

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