Group E is as close to a “group of death” as this year’s UEFA Champions League can get. There does not appear to be an easy match for any team and a spot in the final 16 will be well-earned. Bayern Munich and Manchester City will be paired in group play for the third time in the last four years.
Bayern Munich – The 2013 champions are one of Europe’s truly elite teams, seemingly filled with international players at every position. It also seems that they have gotten better with the additions of Robert Lewndowski and Xabi Alonso. In doing so, they presumably weakened their Bundesliga rival Dortmund, as well as 2014 champion Real Madrid. Second-year coach Pep Guardiola expects nothing less than the group’s top spot and to play in the final in Berlin. This year, however, the journey through the group stage could be filled with landmines and the Reds must be on top of their game to make it through.
Manchester City – The English champions finished second to Bayern in last year’s group stage. City has set their sights high and a failure to finish in the top two of Group E and reach the final 16 will be a major disappointment. Manager Manuel Pellegrini feels that with last year’s experience, “I am sure we are going to continue.” Such confidence is based on a solid foundation, since City won 3-2 in Germany. They would have won the group outright had they pressed for one more goal. This is only the club’s fourth entry into the UEFA Champions League, but they have become one of the best English teams in recent years.
AS Roma – “We respect all our opponents, but I don’t see why we should fear them,” Roma coach Rudi Garcia exclaimed. Drawn from the bottom pot, Roma will test the Bayern and City powerhouses. A strong defense became even stronger with the addition of Kostas Manolas from Olympiakos for £10.4 million. Roma’s return also marks the return of fan favorites Daniele De Rossi and Francesco Totti to the big stage. Garcia went on to say that his team is relishing the chance to play Bayern and City. It will help expedite their resurgence to Europe’s football elite.
CSKA Moscow – Last year did not fare well for CSKA as Bayern and City advanced to the round of 16. In the process, Moscow lost all four games to the group’s favorites. More unfortunate, however, is the racial abuse City’s Yaya Toure claimed he received in last year’s match that City won 2-1. While CSKA denied the allegations, it is something to keep an eye on. Racial attacks have no place in soccer and such distractions will add to Moscow’s difficulties if they hope to advance. CSKA coach Leonid Slutski understands the task ahead when he stated, “(CSKA) have been drawn in a very tough group.”
Munich, Manchester City and CSKA were matched in the same group in last year’s UEFA Champions League. Joining them in Group E this year is AS Roma, a considerably tougher team than last season’s entry, FC Viktoria Plzen. Each one of these teams has the wherewithal to advance to the knockout stage. Mistakes could play a critical role in determining the order of finish. As it stands, two teams will advance to the round of 16, one team will be relegated to the Europa League, and one team will go home. This will be a very interesting group that should provide some exciting football.
Commentary by Hans Benes