Ottmar Hitzfeld, the man most strongly tipped to succeed Sir Alex Ferguson, has been given another opportunity to state his credentials at first hand.
It would not be the Champions' League were Bayern Munich not drawn to face Manchester United, although this time the outcome should not have the finality of their previous encounters. The manner in which Hitzfeld led Bayern to home and away victories over United in last season's quarter-finals both satisfied German desires for revenge in the wake of the 1999 European Cup final defeat and increased his chances of succeeding a man he regards as a close friend.
The pairing of the European champions with United is bound to be billed as the decider in contests between two of the game's most respected coaches, but, in truth, Hitzfeld already has the edge, having guided Borussia Dortmund to two victories in the 1997 semi-finals en route to lifting the trophy for the first time.
Nevertheless, since they have been paired with Nantes, who, despite their Champions' League successes, are bottom of the French First Division and Boavista, who are in the competition for the first time, it is likely both will progress.
The same, however, cannot be said of the two other English clubs. Liverpool, like United, will be retreading familiar ground, having been drawn with two clubs they encountered on their way to the Uefa Cup final.
Both will be different propositions in the Champions' League. When Liverpool won 2-0 in the Olympic stadium, there were some who wondered just how seriously Roma, then consumed by the pursuit of their first Serie A scudetto since 1983, were taking the competition. For the return at Anfield, which Roma won 1-0, Fabio Capello "rested" Aldair, Cafu, Emerson and Francesco Totti.
Barcelona, too, are a reinvigorated side. Last season, they staggered out of the first group stage of the Champions' League and had no answer to Gérard Houllier's holding tactics that earned Liverpool a goalless draw in the Nou Camp.
Liverpool's chief executive, Rick Parry, said he expected his players to travel to Istanbul for the game with Galatasaray, the first English team to visit Turkey since the death of two Leeds fans last year. "We have a few qualms about Istanbul and travelling to Rome too, because we had some bad experiences there in the Uefa Cup, but opting out of the game is not on the agenda."
Arsenal might very well wish to opt out of Group C, having been drawn alongside Bayer Leverkusen, Juventus and Deportivo La Coruña, a side Ferguson rates as the best in Spain and probably the best in Europe after their twin victories over Manchester United.
Arsène Wenger has long pointed out that, despite their rich domestic tradition, Arsenal have never passed the last eight of the European Cup and, to even make it to the quarter-finals, they will have to show better form than in their past two tilts at the Champions' League.
In 10 games against Europe's élite – Fiorentina, Barcelona, Lazio, Bayern Munich and Valencia – Arsenal have won only once, 2-0 over a faltering Lazio at Highbury last September.
Juventus were beaten by Celtic at Parkhead and were lucky to win in the Stadio delle Alpi, although the Scottish champions' demotion to the Uefa Cup has not brought them any relief in terms of quality of opposition. Valencia, this year's beaten European Cup finalists, are as stern a test as Celtic could have expected. Chernomorets Odessa and Legia Warsaw, the last two foreign teams to play at the Mestalla, were beaten 5-0 and 6-1 respectively.
By contrast, Leeds will face Grasshopper Zurich in the third round of the Uefa Cup. They are not the weakest team left in the competition but Leeds should discover they are not far off.
The same cannot be said of Internazionale, who promise to give Portman Road its most electric evening of European football since 1982 when Roma were beaten 3-1. It was the last time Ipswich played in Europe until this season, as the Italians won 4-3 on aggregate.
After a convincing 7-2 aggregate victory over Moscow Dynamo, Rangers have been rewarded with a third-round tie against Paris St-Germain, who, having qualified via the Intertoto Cup, are unbeaten in foreign or domestic competition at the Parc des Princes. They may, however, be decidedly more vulnerable at Ibrox.
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