Photo: Real Madrid celebrate winning the 2013-2014 Champions League title (Getty Images)
The European Football Season is now fully up and running especially with the Champions League Group Stage Draw taking place in Monte Carlo. The play-off stages have just been completed and the groups were then drafted and fixture list announced as Real Madrid aims to repeat last year's heroics. The Galacticos is aiming to be the first club to successfully defend the Champions League title since its inception in 1992.
After being in the wilderness of European Football since 2009/2010, Liverpool returns to the big time after finishing second in the 2013/2014 Barclays Premier League season. In their first game back, Liverpool will face defending champions Real Madrid in Group B along with Swiss powerhouse FC Basel and Bulgaria's PFC Ludogorets Razgrad. The Scousers will fancy themselves advancing from this group and will use the magical atmosphere at Anfield on European nights to propel them to the last 16.
Real Madrid still remembers the last time they faced the Reds in the Champions League. Liverpool ran out 4-0 winners and UEFA's Best Player in Europe, Cristiano Ronaldo, was quick to point out that Real will be gunning for Liverpool's scalp. The Portuguese was bullish in the way he spoke of the upcoming clash and made it clear that his team will be out for revenge.
Arsene Wenegr's Arsenal, was handed a tough group with familiar foes Borussia Dortmund of Germany, Turkish giants Galatasaray and Belgium's Anderlecht in Group D. Dortmund and Galatasaray on paper, pose a threat to the Gunners as both reached the knock-out stages last summer. Dortmund denied Napoli last season while Galatasaray knocked out Scudetto champions Juventus. The Gunners should however have enough quality in their squad to get them into the Round of 16. They will be pushed to the limit by Dortmund and Galatasaray but they should be able to get over the line.
In Group E, Manchester City will go up against European powerhouse Bayern Munich, CSKA Moscow of Russia and Italy's AS Roma. City faces three clubs that have good European pedigree with Bayern being champions on 5 occasions. CSKA has always been there or thereabout while Roma is back in the big time after a long time in the dark. Manuel Pellegrini's team has been hit by Financial Fair Play restrictions which could stretch their squad in this very tricky group. Visits to Roma's Stadio Olimpico and Bayern's Allianz Arena will be very difficult while a trip to Russia is never a pleasant experience. City should however be strong enough to advance from the group along with Bayern Munich.
Jose Mourinho's Chelsea will line up in Group G against Schalke of Germany, Portugal's Sporting Lisbon and NK Maribor of Slovenia. The Stamford Bridge club are the favourites to finish on top of the group due to their pedigree and the quality in their ranks. Schalke and Sporting should provide good competition for the Blues however Mourinho will ensure that his boys stay fully focused and get the job done to top their group which should be beneficial for the Round of 16 draw.
In other groups, La Liga champions Atletico Madrid will take on Italian champions Juventus, Greece's Olympiakos and Malmo FF of Sweden in Group A. Atleti and Juventus are the teams expected to advance from this group.
Portuguese champions Benfica, Zenit St Petersburg of Russia, Bayer Leverkusen of Germany and France Ligue 1's AS Monaco will compete in Group C. This should be an entertaining group as all four team can progress. Benfica and Leverkusen may be the favourites but this group could provide some surprising results.
In group F, Luis Enrique's Barcelona will face Ligue 1 champions PSG, Dutch champions Ajax and APOEL of Cyprus. The Blaugrana are favourites to win this group and should be followed by PSG into the Round of 16.
Group H is another mouth-watering group with FC Porto of Portugal, Ukraine's Shakhtar Donetsk, Athletic Bilbao of Spain and BATE Borisov of Belarus. Porto, Shakhtar and Bilbao are all capable of getting the results to advance from the group. Bilbao will be very tough to beat especially at the San Mames but the same goes for Porto at the Estadio Do Dragao and Shakhtar has an impressive home record as well. The margin for error will be very small, however Bilbao and Porto are expected to advance from the group. Shakhtar is unsettled due to the violence in the country and their players are looking to leave the club.