Two of the continent’s most famous names paired together in the shape of Bayern Munich and Juventus but, while it may be a little premature to be writing either off as also-rans, both have to prove they still have what it takes to dine at the top table of European football. >
Of the pair, Juventus look better equipped to mount a serious challenge in the Champions League this season under coach Ciro Ferrara and the signing of Brazilian internationals Diego and Melo, €25m a pop from Werder Bremen and Fiorentina respectively, certainly provides them with some much needed creativity.
Long gone are the days when Zidane, Nedved and Deschamps ruled the roost for Juve but if Ferrara can get the best out of the often erratic David Trezeguet and nurture the talented Amauri into one of the competition finest strikers then they could surprise a few.
It’s no secret that the top clubs in Serie A have failed to cut the mustard at this level in recent years but Italian World Cup-winning captain Fabio Cannavaro has returned for one last hurrah and Gianluigi Buffon, still arguably the world’s best goalkeeper, along with Alessandro Del Piero might just be reinvigorated by the arrival of new talent.
Juventus are 34.0 chances with Ladbrokes to lift the trophy and while that price looks about right La Vecchia Signora can be backed at 2.50 with the same firm to emerge as Group A winners and that appears a shade on the big side to me.
If the odds compilers are to be believed then we can expect a straight fight between the Italians and Bayern for top honours in Group A and, while Laurent Blanc’s Bordeaux will be no pushovers, that assessment seems fair enough.
Bayern, four-time European Cup winners, have started the new Bundesliga season as they left off the last campaign with a series of indifferent results and new head coach Louis Van Gaal certainly has his work cut out if his side are to be a threat to the very best this competition has to offer once again. >
While the summer signings of Mario Gomez and Ivica Olic has bolstered an already bulging front line the acquisition of Arjen Robben, to play on the opposite flank to Franck Ribery, could well prove key – providing the Dutch winger can remain healthy.
Robben’s arrival, along with new signings Danijel Pranjic and Anatoliy Tymoshchuk in midfield, softens the blow of the loss of Lucio to Inter Milan but the German club do look vulnerable at the back and surely they’ll be exposed in the latter stages providing they can safely negotiate this group.
Maccabi Haifa, the Israeli champions, impressed me at the play-off stage when disposing of Salzburg but they look seriously up against it in a section that also includes Ligue 1 champions Bordeaux and even the vociferous home support Elisha Levy’s men are sure it receive is unlikely to be enough to earn them qualification.
Bordeaux themselves are not without a chance of progressing and having wrestled the French championship from Lyon’s grasp will not be short on confidence.
Blanc has lost Gabriel Obertan to Manchester United but has replaced the winger with the €15m permanent signing of playmaker Yoann Gourcuff from AC Milan, the 23-year-old spent last season on loan at the Stade Chaban Delmas, and the current French Footballer of the Year will be looking to make a name for himself at the highest level.
Gourcoff, now established in the national side, will hope to once again link up with Moroccan striker Marouane Chamakh, providing the latter remains in France, but Bordeaux look weak defensively despite the €8m purchase of goalkeeper Cedric Carrasso from Toulouse and may well have to settle for Europa League football come the turn of the year.
Group A Odds:
2pts Back Juventus to Win Champions League Group A @ 2.50 (Ladbrokes)