It doesn’t seem like much is going to come easy this season. This is without a doubt the hardest group in this year’s draw, and the hardest group Liverpool’s been in since Benitez became manager.
At least Liverpool has experience against both PSV and Marseille, who they’ve met in the Champions League in the past two seasons. Liverpool was matched up against PSV in both the group stage and the knockout round in 06-07, drawing 0-0 in the first meeting before winning the next three 2-0, 3-0 and 1-0. Former Liverpool right back Jan Kromkamp is still at the club, and winger Ibrahim Afellay has grown into one of the hottest young Dutch prospects.
Marseille was in Liverpool’s group last season and won the first match at Anfield 1-0 in one of Liverpool most insipid performances of the last few seasons and thanks to a wonder goal by Valbuena. Liverpool reaped revenge in the next meeting, winning 4-0 in France to assure advancement to the knockout rounds. Cisse’s gone, having been loaned to Sunderland, as is Samir Nasri, but Niang, Kone, and Ben Arfa are all still dangerous attackers.
And hopefully Torres’ eyes lit up at being paired with Atletico, because the Spaniards are clearly the toughest #4 seed. Again, the opposition will field former Liverpudlians, with Luis Garcia and recently-signed striker Sinama Pongolle on the roster. Players like Sergio Aguero, Simao, Raul Garcia, Maniche, and Maxi Rodriguez are all threats. Atletico hasn’t been in the Champions League proper since 1997, and qualified this year by thrashing Schalke 4-1 on aggregate (winning 4-0 in Madrid). To be honest, Atletico frightens me far more than either PSV or Marseille.
Qualification from this group will be a tough task, even as a #1 seed. There are usually two teams clearly favored to advance in each group, and for the most part, the other 7 groups follow that theme. But not here. Any of the four could progress from Group D.
At the least, Liverpool’s familiar with all three teams and there are no long trips to Eastern Europe, but all of three have impressive players, and all can compete with any team on their day. It goes without saying that if Liverpool continues playing as they have in the first four games, it will be exceptionally difficult to advance.
The full draw is listed below.
Group A: Chelsea, AS Roma, Bordeaux, Cluj
Group B: Inter, Werder Bremen, Panathinaikos, Anorthosis
Group C: Barcelona, Sporting, FC Basel, Shakhtar Donetsk
Group D: Liverpool, PSV, Marseille, Atletico Madrid
Group E: Manchester Utd, Villarreal, Celtic, Aalborg
Group F: Lyon, Bayern Munich, Steaua, Fiorentina
Group G: Arsenal, FC Porto, Fenerbahce, Dinamo Kiev
Group H: Real Madrid, Juventus, Zenit, Bate