UEFA Champions League 2012-13: Group Stage Preview

As the excitement and drama returns with the biggest club tournament in football, Debojyoti Chakraborty goes through the groups to see how the teams are shaping up for the contest this year


The Prelude

Barely had the transfer window closed and we had the group stage draw for the UEFA Champions League 2012-13 in Monaco on August 31. It is typically an event which prompts club representatives to take out a pen and a piece of paper, desperate to keep track of who-is-drawing-whom, quite oblivious of the fact that the internet will be flooded with them very shortly. Such is the adrenaline rush for this mega event – hailed as the greatest honour in world football – permutations and combinations dominate to predict which team will be pitted against whom. Like each year, teams were slotted in four pots according to their UEFA coefficients – a ranking system which takes into account the club’s historical and most recent performances in the tournament – with the top eight teams in Pot One and the bottom eight in Pot Four. The ranking system is somewhat dubious as except for one team, all others in Pot Four are domestic league winners. For the first time a team finishing as low as sixth in its domestic league featured in the draw as it was the automatic choice – reigning champions, Chelsea. It was already known that teams in the same pot or from the same country cannot be drawn against each other. But that did not prevent us from having some great matches in the group stage.

Pot 1

Pot 2

Pot 3

Pot 4

FC Barcelona

Valencia CF

Olympiacos FC

Celtic FC

Manchester United FC

SL Benfica

AFC Ajax

Borussia Dortmund

Chelsea FC

FC Shakhtar Donetsk

RSC Anderlecht

FC BATE Borisov

FC Bayern Munich

FC Zenit St. Petersburg


GNK Dinamo Zagreb

Real Madrid CF

FC Schalke 04

FC Spartak Moscow

CFR 1907 Cluj

Arsenal FC

Manchester City FC

Paris Saint-Germain FC

Montpellier Hérault SC

FC Porto

SC Braga

LOSC Lille

Malaga CF

AC Milan

Dynamo Kyiv

Galatasaray S.K.

FC Nordsjaelland

Group A

FC Porto                 Dynamo Kyiv         Paris Saint-Germain             GNK Dinamo Zagreb

FC Porto:

FC Porto, the Portuguese champions have done remarkably well in the recent editions of this tournament and Vitor Pereira should be happy to be in a group which looks easy on paper. Being in Pot One helped but they have earned it through strong performances in Estádio do Dragão and away. Even after the departure of Hulk, with João Moutinho in form, this side would cause some problems to their more accomplished opponents in the later stages of Champions League.

Dynamo Kyiv:

After the heartbreak in the qualifying rounds last season, Dynamo Kyiv, runners-up in the Ukranian Premier League, are back in the Champions League following two consecutive gruelling qualifying ties. Manager Yuri Semin would be looking at the brighter side thinking his troops are already prepared for the biggest stage of them all. Following the retirement of Ukraine’s greatest ever player Andriy Shevchenko, there is no such ‘star’ in the team and their hopes will rely heavily on their performances at home in Olimpiyskyi National Sports Complex.

Paris Saint-Germain:

The big spending French club failed to win the Ligue 1 last season but still they enter the Champions League stage as one of the hot favourites. Carlo Ancelotti knows he has to bring some honour to Parc des Princes in his second season in charge. And there is no reason why he cannot achieve that with the backing of oil-rich Qatar Sport Investment group. Zlatan Ibrahimović, Thiago Silva, Lucas Moura, Marco Verratti, Ezequiel Lavezzi – there is too much talent everywhere and it only needs to be directed through the right channel.

GNK Dinamo Zagreb:

They are the Croat champions but they bowed out of the Champions League last season finishing bottom of their group. Ante Čačić had a dreadful debut season, but he might just get second-time-lucky as the manager of this hardworking team. Watch out for Duje Čop, who has a thunderbolt but is criticized often for overusing that. He has already showed his knack of goal-scoring in the three qualifying ties. Their other weapon would be Stadion Maksimir which is nothing short of a fortress for them.

Group B

Arsenal FC            FC Schalke 04       Olympiacos FC      Montpellier Hérault SC


Arsenal FC:

Lost 3-4 on aggregate to AC Milan in the ‘Round of 16’ last season. They have qualified for this year’s edition by securing the third and last automatic place from English Premier League. Arsene Wenger, in his 17th season in the club, has a challenge to prove that the Gunners are not a mere feeder club to the best clubs in world football. Any club will find it difficult to cope with the departure of one of the best strikers in the world – Robin van Persie. But with fresh arrivals in the form of Santi Cazorla, Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud, there is new hope in the Emirates Stadium.

FC Schalke 04:

Huub Stevens guided Schalke 04 to third place in the Bundesliga en route to automatic qualification for Champions League after a hiatus of two years. The buoyant supporters from Veltins-Arena will pin their hopes on their star striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar who was prolific last season with a tally of 48 goals in all competitions. Besides, they have some young and home-grown players who are ready to take centre stage.

Olympiacos FC:

Champions of Greek Super League could not progress to the knock-out stages last season and they will have to pull up their socks if they are to do any better this time round. Manager Leonardo Jardim is in his debut season but quite a few in the squad will know a thing or two about the Gunners after hosting them in 2009 and 2011 campaign at Karaiskakis Stadium. Departure of frontman Kevin Mirallas, who netted 20 goals in the league, to Everton will be a major blow and it remains to be seen how well the Greek army cope with this challenge.

Montpellier Hérault SC:

Montpellier won their first ever league title last season and they are now ready to debut in this season’s Champions League. René Girard and his troop have shown a rare consistency to overpower their mighty domestic opponents and the same ruthlessness will be required if they want to progress in this year’s competition. But with the departure of their main goal-scorer, Olivier Giroud and their lack of squad depth likely to be exposed during the course of the campaign, Stade de la Mosson may not get much action in its debut season in Europe.

Group C

AC Milan                FC Zenit St. Petersburg             RSC Anderlecht                 Malaga CF

AC Milan:

Lost 1-3 in aggregate to Barcelona in the quarter-finals last season. Qualified for this season being runners-up in Serie A. Manager Massimiliano Allegri is in his third season at San Siro. It is time to rebuild for the Rossoneri. Their long serving soldiers have either retired (Alessandro Nesta, Clarence Seedorf) or have been shown the door (Andrea Pirlo, Filippo Inzaghi); their talismanic star players (Zlatan Ibrahimović, Thiago Silva) have been lured away from the Red and Black. Milan has a young team and their hopes will rely heavily on the new face, Giampaolo Pazzini. Still, being in a relatively easy group should help them.

FC Zenit St. Petersburg:

The Russian champions reached the knock-out stages of the competition last term and they would like to emulate that feat this year. Manager Luciano Spalletti should fancy his chances from this group especially if his side can take full advantage of the home matches in the Petrovsky Stadium. Andrei Arshavin, who was on loan from Arsenal, will be missed big time. Much of the burden will be on the shoulders of Hulk, the marquee signing of the season who is a proven goal-scorer at the continental stage.

RSC Anderlecht:

The Belgian Champions are coming into the competition through play-off after a year’s absence. It will be an acid test for their new man in charge, John van den Brom. They will play in Constant Vanden Stock Stadium. It is a team full of unknown names and faces. But this is the stage where jewels have been discovered in the past.

Malaga CF:

The great Malaga story reached its pinnacle as it qualified for the Champions’ League by finishing fourth in the La Liga and came through the qualifying rounds. Or is it only the start from La Rosaleda for Manuel Pellegrini and his boys? Only time will tell, but there is no denying that this Spanish side will not let it go so easily. Their financial problem meant a series of summer exits which has created a dearth in squad depth and that might turn out to be a bit of a downer for them.

Group D

Real Madrid CF           Manchester City   FC            AFC Ajax            Borussia Dortmund

Real Madrid CF:

The most successful club in the history of the competition were eliminated from the semi-final last season but they did win the La Liga quite comfortably. José Mourinho has found his feet at the Santiago Bernabéu. Anything less than a trophy is considered a failure and this is one trophy which they have not won since 2002. So teams beware! Watch out for Cristiano Ronaldo, Angel di Maria, Iker Casillas, Sami Khedira, Luka Modric, Karim Benzama, Gonzalo Higuain and Co.

Manchester City FC:

It was nothing short of a horror show for the big spending English champions to finish third in the group stage last season. The City of Manchester faithful will not be as patient as Roberto Mancini if they fail to make much wanted progress this term. This should not be too difficult with the talent and depth Manchester City have, even though they did not bolster their squad in the summer transfer window. Only thing is that they have been drawn against three other major European Champions and this could be another reality check for them.

AFC Ajax:

Bowed out of the competition in the group stages last year but claimed the Dutch Eredivisie. Manager Frank de Boer will expect a better outing in his third season in charge at Amsterdam Arena. It will be interesting to see how much Christian Eriksen can inspire Ajax to progress beyond the Group of Death. He does not seem to have much support apart from an ageing Christian Poulsen and some young lesser known players.

Borussia Dortmund:

Borussia Dortmund had a contrasting season last time – while they won the German Bundesliga they got the wooden spoon in the Champions League. With some of the finest young talents – Marco Reus, Mario Götze and Robert Lewandowski – at his disposal, Jürgen Klopp would be disappointed if he cannot march his team to the knock-out stages. At least the Westfalenstadion faithful will not accept another failure at the world stage.

Group E

Chelsea FC             FC Shakhtar Donetsk           Juventus                FC Nordsjaelland

Chelsea FC:

Current champions. They had to win it to qualify for the Champions League as they failed to finish in the top four in English Premier League. Roberto Di Matteo won it as a care-taker manager and got the job on a permanent basis. That is history now. Following the summer exodus – Didier Drogba, Jose Bosingwa, Solomon Kalou – and induction of fresh blood – Eden Hazard, Victor Moses, Oscar, Marko Marin – Chelsea look a completely new side, and a refreshing one at that.  The trophy has found a home at Stamford Bridge and The Blues will be on a mission to retain it.

FC Shakhtar Donetsk:

The Ukrainian champions did not create much of an impression last season as they finished rock bottom in the group. This was unexpected as they reached the last eight in the 2010-11 season only to be eliminated by the eventual winners, Barcelona. But Mircea Lucescu has been in charge at Donbass Arena for close to a decade and he knows how to plug the holes. The job is not easy though and a progress to the next round may just prove his biggest ever achievement.


Leaving their match-fixing scandals behind, the Turin club was crowned the Serie A champions last season. But their manager, Antonio Conte is still suffering from the scar as he is to sit out of the entire campaign and assistant coach Massimo Carrera will take charge for the Champions League matches. This is not an ideal set up, but like the Azzuri adversity might just prove to be an inspiration for the club from Juventus Stadium. With the experience of Gianluigi Buffon and Andrea Pirlo at hand – especially the latter operating at the fulcrum of an intriguing 3-5-2 system – should see them through to the knock-out stages and beyond.

FC Nordsjaelland:

The Danish champions are making their debut this season. Known as a club dedicated to youth development, 2011-12 was a milestone season for them as they won the domestic title for the first time. Only Andreas Laudrup may draw some attention due to his more illustrious father, the legendary Dane, Michael Laudrup. Kasper Hjulmand has rightly set his sight to embrace the moment and not to overburden his young side with unrealistic expectations. It will be a huge occasion for some 10,000 odd spectators at Farum Park and they should enjoy the moment without thinking too much ahead.

Group F

FC Bayern Munich               Valencia CF            LOSC Lille              FC BATE Borisov

FC Bayern Munich:

Last year’s runners-up (runners-up in the German Bundesliga too) have bolstered their squad with some marquee signings – Xherdan Shaqiri, Mario Mandžukić and Javi Martinez. The latter will be expected to set the stage on fire, with his calibre and more so for his $50 million transfer price tag. Jupp Heynckes is back in charge for his third spell at Allianz Arena and he would have set his sight on making three finals in four years.

Valencia CF:

Valencia qualifies for the tournament finishing third in La Liga. With a new manager, Mauricio Pellegrino at the helm in Mestalla, they will look to do better than last year’s group stage exit. The club have seen a busy summer where star players, like Jordi Alba, have left but they have also ensured that there is no dearth of talent with the inclusion of Sergio Canales, Fernando Gago and Nelson Valdez. Canales, in particular, could be a star in the making if he can shed aside his injury woes and that will do no harm to Valencia’s chances.

LOSC Lille:

Another team to finish rock bottom in the group stages last year, Lille had to see off the rigours of qualifying rounds after finishing third in Ligue 1. With the departure of key player Eden Hazard life will not be easy for Rudi Garcia. Fans in the newly opened Grand Stade Lille Métropole and away will hope this will not deter their hopes. Just for football fans, Lille should progress through to the knock-out stages with their Barcelona-esque style of play where players roam around to create open spaces and finish opposition off with breathtaking passing.

FC BATE Borisov:

They finished fourth in the group last season and their manager Viktor Goncharenko would like to have a better outing this time round. They were crowned with the league title in Belarus and are ready to go with three back-to-back  wins en route to the final stage of Champions League. Their City Stadium faithful will be looking up to their own child, Alexander Hleb for inspiration but progressing to the next stage will be a tough ask.

Group G

FC Barcelona             SL Benfica               FC Spartak Moscow               Celtic FC 


FC Barcelona:

Back in the competition after a disastrous season by their own standards – crashed out of Champions League after losing to Chelsea on 2-3 aggregate and came second best in La Liga. Tito Villanova would like to continue the tradition of tiki-taka with a more or less settled team. If they had any weak points, they have addressed that with the signing of left-back Jordi Alba. Watch out for another great goal feast ahead, at least in Camp Nou.


SL Benfica:

Although they came second in the domestic league, Benfica topped the group last time which had Manchester United. Their progress was stalled by eventual winners Chelsea in the last eight but Jorge Jesus, their manager would be proud of their achievements. Benfica play their home matches in Estádio da Luz and are known to be the club with most number of supporters worldwide. Nicolás Gaitan impressed one and all last season and it would be him and a bunch of young, lesser known but highly skilful players who would like to carry their good form ahead.

FC Spartak Moscow:

Spartak Moscow finished second in the Russian Premier League and were drawn against the Turkey runners-up Fenerbahçe in the qualifying round. They earned a hard-fought 3-2 win on aggregate to announce their return to the biggest club tournament in the world. Home matches in the freezing conditions of Luzhniki Stadium would be a big plus to Unai Emery and his team. They need to take full advantage of that if they wish to have any hopes of progressing through to the next round.

Celtic FC:

The Scottish champions appear in the final stages of Champions League after a gap of four years through qualifying round. Neil Lennon will know his side will fight hard for each and every ball but he must be realistic about his team’s chances of progressing through to the knock-out stages. The Bhoys cannot afford to let their guard down at Celtic Park if they hope to salvage anything out of this campaign.

Group H

Manchester United FC           SC Braga              Galatasaray S.K.          CFR 1907 Cluj

Manchester United FC:

After a disastrous season where the Red Devils failed to progress to the knock-out stages of Champions League and lost the English Premier League to their city rivals, Sir Alex Ferguson looks to reshuffle his squad with the addition of star striker Robin van Persie and playmaker Shinji Kagawa. Old Trafford is buzzing with renewed hopes with the addition of RVP in particular, who netted 37 goals last season in all competitions. This should be a stroll in the park for them but easy groups do not always guarantee result as the gaffer would second.

SC Braga:

Coming to the competition after sealing a third spot in the Portuguese Superliga and then defeating Udinese in the play-offs, manager José Peseiro would like to mark his debut season with a notable performance. They do not have any big names to boast of, but their attacking flair would surely catch the eye. Expect some gripping performances, at least on their home turf in Estádio Municipal.

Galatasaray S.K.:

The Turkish champions are back in contention after last year’s absence. Fatih Terim should be positive about his team’s chances being drawn in an easy group. They have some real good players in Hamit Altintop, Felipe Melo, Emmanuel Eboué and Johan Elmander. It seems their home matches in Turk Telecom Arena will play a big role in their progress to the knock-out stages.

CFR 1907 Cluj:

The Romanian champions made it to the Champions league final stages through two play-off tie wins after a gap of two years. This is a relatively unknown club, who play their home matches in Stadionul Dr. Constantin Rădulescu, are full of young enthusiastic players without any big name and the man in charge, Ioan Andone is also in his first season at the club. But sometimes no expectation serves as a major booster for a team to play to their fullest potential under a relaxed environment.

Parting Shot

The power shift in Europe is quite eminent. While three clubs from EPL – barring Manchester City – featured in Pot One, La Liga’s dominance is largely concentrated in Real Madrid and Barcelona. Italy has only two representatives in the finals which is an indication of their domestic turmoil. Two contrasting features dictate the rise of two other nations – France and Portugal. While the former has spent massively to lure the best talents across the globe, the latter has put together some strong performances over the years to climb the ladder. There are 17 nations participating in this year’s edition – no one knows who will emerge victorious, come May in London. To know about all that and much more: Follow Football, Follow us!