Manchester City may have won last season’s Premier League, but the gained respect did not carry into the pots Thursday as City drew three major champions in the group stage of the UEFA Champions League. Sir Alex Ferguson, however, may be laughing as crosstown rival and EPL runner-up Manchester United may have received the easiest draw.
City landed in Group D among the eight four-team groups, along with other champions Real Madrid (Spain), Ajax (Netherlands) and Dortmund (Germany). The group includes a rematch between Real and Ajax, which Real won with two 3-0 decisions during last season’s group stage.
In Group H, Manchester United will have its toughest opponent in Turkish champion Galatasaray. United received some breaks when it received playoff qualifiers Braga (Portugal) and Cluj (Romania).
Chelsea needed penalty kicks over Bayern Munich to return to the tournament as defenders of the crown after a sixth-place finish in the Premier League, but received a mild Group E draw in getting Nordsjelland (Denmark) and qualifier Spartak Donetsk (Ukraine). The Blues’ toughest matches should come against Juventus, which went unbeaten in winning Italy’s Serie A last season.
Arsenal, which finished third in the Premier League, will face Schalke (Germany) and debutante Montpellier (France) and have a rematch with Olympiakos in Group B. The Gunners split the group-stage pair with the Greek side last season.
The remaining groups:
Group A: Porto (Portugal), Dynamo Kiev (Ukraine), Paris Saint-Germain (France), Dinamo Zagreb (Croatia).
Group C: Bayern Munich (Germany), Valencia (Spain), Lille (France), BATE Borisov (Belarus).
Group F: Milan (Italy), Zenit St. Petersburg (Russia), Anderlecht (Belgium), Malaga (Spain).
Group G: Barcelona (Spain), Benfica (Portugal), Spartak Moscow (Russia), Celtic (Scotland).
The opening group-stage matches are scheduled for September 18-19. The top two teams from each group advance to the knockout round of 16 in the spring. Third-placed clubs move into the Europa League’s knockout round of 32.