Manchester United 1/5 – I won’t dwell here, I’m sure you’re all well aware of them. United have progressed from every Champions League group stage since 2005-06, when they finished bottom of a group featuring Villareal, Benfica and Lille. Quarters last season, runners-up before that, winners before that. Wouldn’t throw any money on them to win the group around at 1/5.
Key man: Wayne Rooney – Little point saying anything here, really. Needs to get over the World Cup, though.
Valencia 11/2 – Valencia really aren’t the side they once were, and qualified for the tournament by finishing an impressive 3rd in La Liga last season, against all the odds. They boasted a world class side at the turn of the century, featuring the likes of Santiago Cañizares, Gaizka Mendieta and Pablo Aimar, and reached back-to-back Champions League finals in 2000 and 2001. They have fallen into massive debt in recent times, however, and were forced to sell their two best players over the summer, David Silva and David Villa, to Man City and Barcelona respectively. They’ve managed to retain the excellent Juan Manuel Mata, however, and a lot will rest on the youngsters shoulders in the upcoming season.
Key man: Juan Manuel Mata – Tricky creative midfielder, Valencia’s best player following the losses of Silva and Villa. Not goal-shy, either.
Rangers 14/1 – The team who’ll necessitate a lot of overtime for Greater Manchester Police are back in United’s group. Winners of the last two SPL titles, Rangers had a torrid time in last season’s Champions League, taking only two points amidst 4-1 home defeats to Sevilla and Unirea Urziceni. Like Valencia, they’ve lost their main striker, with Kris Boyd moving to Middlesbrough, but have brought in the experienced James Beattie, and highly-rated youngster Vladimir Weiss on loan from Man City. Rangers haven’t progressed from the Champions League group stages since 2005-06 (a feat, as mentioned, United failed to achieve that season) and, with Valencia’s off-field problems, have a decent chance at doing so this season.
Key man: Vladimir Weiss – It’ll be great to see the Slovak getting some regular games after an impressive World Cup. Excellent prospect.
Bursaspor 14/1 – Should come with a ‘Do Not Underestimate’ warning. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t know any more than you of this club, but last season they became only the second club outside of Istanbul’s ‘Big Three’ to win the Turkish Süper Lig, in just their third consecutive season in the top flight. They’ll be competing in their first Champions League, and it’s their first appearance in Europe since 1986. Most people would consider Fenerbache, Galatasaray or Besiktas to be tough sides to meet in the group stage, so as champions, Bursaspor are a side to be wary of. Remember when little-known Rubin Kazan turned up in the Champions League following their first Russian title? Barcelona do.
Key man: Ozan Ipek – 9 goals from midfield last season, Chelsea were supposedly tracking him in April.
Who do you think will qualify from this group? For what it’s worth, I’m going with United and Bursaspor.
Odds taken from William Hill, based on winning the group.
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