Yesterday in Monaco the three Ligue 1 representatives discovered who they would face in this season’s Champions League Group Stage. And the one phrase that seems to come out for all three teams “It could have been much, much worse!”. After Lille’s 2-0 win over FC Copenhagen on Wednesday night, the northern side joined PSG in Pot 3 and Montpellier in Pot 4 for Thursday’s draw.
Paris Saint-Germain were drawn in Group A: In Pot 1 they drew FC Porto, Pot 2 – Dynamo Kyiv and in Pot 4 – Dinamo Zagreb. Two difficult away trips to Croatian and Urkraine, but overall a positive draw for Carlo Ancelotti’s men.
In Group B Montpellier were drawn out against Arsenal from Pot 1, German side Schalke 04 from Pot 2 and Olympiacos in Pot 3. Again they could have faced much stronger opposition so I would think owner Louis Nicollin would have been relatively happy with the draw. Coach Rene Girard shared his thoughts with UEFA.com ”Obviously, we’ll give our best. We haven’t come all this way for nothing. Arsenal are a big club in Europe, Olympiacos’s stadium has a hot atmosphere and Schalke are all about German riguour.”
Lille have the added pleasure of welcoming all opponents to the new Grand Stade Lille Metropole, on their way this year are German Champions Bayern Munich from Pot 1, from Pot 2 Valencia and from Pot 4 the ever dangerous BATE Borisov. A decent draw for the northern side. A tough challenge, but Rudi Garcia was confident when speaking to UEFA.com: ”One of the groups, Group D, is very difficult and those who attended might have been relived not to be drawn in it. We got Belarusian side Borisov we know little about, the great Bayern, fantastic to welcome then in our Grand Stade and we’ll meet Adil Rami (Valencia) at a club we played recently. We must demonstrate we took lessons from the previous campaigns by taking to to each of those teams.”
To gauge the opinion of the fans we have asked three of the FFW team for their take on the draw and what they think of their chances. First up is Lille LOSC fan Andrew Gibney:
This is actually a tougher group than last year, but we have just as good a chance to progress. Starting with BATE first at home is a great chance to start on the front foot, and ending with Valencia at home last could be the deciding factor in this whole group. Three teams are realistically fighting for second behind the Germans. There is no reason why it can’t be Lille in the last 16.
BAYERN MUNICH: Obviously the best team in the Group. Very strong going forward and they have the obvious weapons to punish our defence. The €40m signing of Javi Martinez speaks volumes about the gap between both clubs.
VALENCIA: A really good team that we must respect, but they are not miles away from Lille’s level. A good chance to show Adil Rami what he is missing, but a great chance to welcome him home and show him the stadium he helped build. The LOSC fans will always give a warm welcome to the team that won the league in 2010/11. Valencia have lost some players but they always buy well and cause problems.
BATE BORISOV: The unknown quantity for me in this group, but they have been at this level quite a few times now, it is too naive to rule them out, the trip to Belarus will be tough, and if their national team’s performances against France have shown anything, the French sides need to pay this side the respect they deserve. Will fight to the depth for a place in the next round.
Next up is Montpellier resident and fan Philippa Booth:
Montpellier have had a slow start to the season and being in Pot 4, and were likely to face a poule de la mort (don’t write in, French-speakers) in the Champions League draw – what they got was group B with Arsenal (and a return visit for Giroud), Schalke, and Olympiakos.
Louis Nicollin has said that his target for Montpellier’s first appearance in the CL would be to finish third and get a trip to the Europa League – they will need to up their game from current form to achieve that, but don’t rule out an upset at Mosson. The homecoming of Olivier Giroud to the club he helped to the title last year will of course be epic, and this is not a completely fatal group, so LouLou’s target may not be unobtainable.
ARSENAL: Well, Giroud. That will be the big story for these match-ups – his former team-mates are currently struggling to adapt to having a new front-man, but maybe the defence will have some clues how to stop him from their time together. If Arsenal continue to try to Arsenal the ball into the net, they can be contained…
SCHALKE: Came 3rd in the Bundesliga last season, and Huntelaar will be a handful for the (currently a bit iffy) Montpellier defence.
OLYMPIACOS: The Greek Champions suffered heartbreak when OM pulled themselves together against Dortmund last time. No big stars, but they’ve caused Arsenal problems in the past so could make things interesting in the wider context of the group.
I’m superstitious, so I don’t make predictions. All I will say is that I will be there at Mosson for the group games, and hope that Montpellier’s European adventure will continue into 2013, whatever the competition.
Last but certainly not least is PSG fanboy Jonathan Johnson:
On the face of it PSG have a very favourable draw. Avoided potential group like Real Madrid/Manchester City/Dortmund and on paper, should qualify from this group. However, paper never won anything and PSG will be up against seasoned Champions League contenders Porto, ambitious Ukrainian side DK and the Croats from Zagreb who rolled over against Lyon last year.
Champions League domination may be the ultimate aim for PSG’s masterplan but the team and staff have already been talking about an extended run in Europe’s premiere competition. They will be kicking themselves if they don’t achieve this now. All three ties will be difficult away from home but at the Parc des Princes, PSG will fancy that they can take nine points from their three games.
PORTO: Group opposition the last time PSG were in the Champions League, that Porto side had just won the competition the season before under Jose Mourinho and were decorated with considerable talent despite an exodus of the star names that won them the trophy under the Portuguese tactician. PSG will fancy a repeat of the 2-0 win they registered at the Parc des Princes thanks to goals from Pauleta and a sublime effort from the less well-known Charles Edouard Coridon. More of the same please.
DYNAMO KIEV: Underestimate them at your peril. DK have a strong squad boasting talents such as Niko Kranjcar, Miguel Veloso and former Sochaux hitman Brown Ideye. Although they struggled to overcome Borussia Monchengladbach in qualifying the Ukrainians will be a tough side to face, especially away from home.
DYNAMO ZAGREB: The minnows of the group by some way but still a team to be wary of. Josip Simunic, Ante Rukavina, former Monaco duo Jerko Leko and Nikola Pokrivac will all be familiar to fans of European football and the club have more Champions League experience than PSG in the past few years. Lacking the young promising talents of bygone years perhaps but still a tricky away tie, Ancelotti will be targeting this set of games as a must-win six point haul.
Huge surprise and a pleasant one at that. Not that I think PSG’s group will be a walk in the park, it is just a lot less daunting than it could have been considering the teams in the other pots. I am confident that by the time the games roll around that PSG will have gotten things right on the pitch and started to move towards the summit of Ligue 1. Commanding home displays will be a must though as previous experience and recent Europa League outings have shown that the capital club are vulnerable on the road.
Well there you go. Three teams all with at least some chance of making the last 16. We’d easily take one to go through and the others in the Europa League. Good luck to all three teams.