Sunday, August 30, 2009

Real Madrid : Champions League draw examined

Kaka presented at Real Madrid

UEFA came out with the draw for the group stages on Thursday in Monaco. This time around there was a different pattern of qualifications thus enabling many lesser known clubs to also get the opportunity to play in the most illustrious club competition in Europe.

Getting straight to the draw and specifically to Group C featuring Real Madrid (Spain), AC Milan (Italy), Marseille (France) and FC Zurich (Switzerland).

Without a shadow of a doubt the Real Madrid vs. AC Milan tie is the biggest game of the group and it looks tantalisingly delicious. It brings together two powerhouses of European football and not to forget two clubs that lead the number of Champions League titles won. Real Madrid leads with nine followed by AC Milan with seven.

It would also mark the debut of two managers who are new at the clubs. Manuel Pellegrini has taken charge of Real Madrid after the exit of Juande Ramos and Leonardo has taken over the reigns of the Rossoneri from Carlo Ancelotti.

On a personal level, it will mark the return to San Siro for Kaka who made a £56million transfer during the summer away from AC Milan. The Brazilian has publicly claimed he's a Milan supporter through and through and his reason for moving to Bernabeu was to help the financially troubled Italian giant. However, no one can question his professionalism be it for club or for country.

On the other side, it would be tables reversed as Dutchman Huntelaar would form the forward line against Real Madrid. Real have (at the time of writing) offloaded many of their attacking options possibly to pave way for a possible Ribery move.

The latest to join the list have been Sneijder (to Inter Milan) and Robben (to Bayern Munich) . Huntelaar was only purchased last season from Ajax, but was found to be surplus by the manager/board during the recent summer.

Real Madrid have enhanced their attacking options by acquiring the services of World Player of the Year (2008) Cristiano Ronaldo for whom they paid staggering £90million, Kaka, and Karim Benzema from French club, Lyon. Aside from these, Raul Albiol has been added into the defence from Valencia to bolster the weak side of Real's game. Alongside they have acquired Xabi Alonso from Liverpool to become a mixture of attacking option as well as defensive to protect the back four.

AC Milan, on the other side, have added Thiago Silva and American Oguchi Onyewu to their squad to fill up the void created by the retirement of Maldini and release of experienced players like Emerson.

Despite a disappointing summer for the club in terms of inward transfers they have managed to maintain their other strong men, Alexando Pato and Andrea Pirlo who were heavily linked to Chelsea.

If one goes by the statistics, it would be very hard to pick between the two as they have faced each other on eleven occasions and both clubs have won five teams and one game ended in a draw.

An interesting and notable stat is that Milan have won all their home games against Los Blancos. The last meeting came in 2002/03 which Real Madrid won 3-1 in the second group stage. AC Milan won the title that year.

It would be highly interesting to see if AC Milan's defensive wall will be able to withstand the might and force of Real Madrid's attack.

Real Madrid v Marseille would also see former Madrid players representing the other side in the form of Gabriel Heinze and Fernando Morientes. Heinze was offloaded during the summer for an undisclosed fee whereas Morientes reconciled with his former Monaco manager, Didier Deschamps from Valencia. French youngster Hatem Ben Arfa is also highly rated and has the ability to trouble Casillas' goal.

The last tie (Real Madrid v FC Zurich) does not seem likely to bring out a surprise for the 31-time La Liga Champions. However, Swiss sides are known for their resilience and never say die attitude which might make it an interesting battle. You know what they say, Football is unpredictable.

Matchday 1: 15th/16th September
Matchday 2: 29th/30th September
Matchday 3: 20th/21st October
Matchday 4: 3rd/4th November
Matchday 5: 24th/25th November
Matchday 6: 8th/9th December

What are your predictions for the group? Are Marseille capable of bothering Milan or Madrid? Can FC Zurich pull out a surprise somewhere?

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