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Milan & Juventus’ Champions League fate decided
The Champions League group stage draw commenced this evening and there were many highlights. The foremost among them was AC Milan being drawn together with Zenit St. Petersburg, Anderlecht and Malaga in Group C. Scudetto holders Juventus got Champions League winners Chelsea, Shakhtar Donetsk and FC Nordsjaelland in Group E.
As has been well documented, AC Milan have had their troubles this summer. They’ve had to part ways with several members of their “old guard” like Alessandro Nesta and Gennaro Gattuso, as well as the sale of Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimovic to PSG. After suffering defeat at the hands of Sampdoria at the San Siro last weekend, this season looks like it could be a long one for the seven time Champions League winners, but their inclusion in Pot 1 looks to be a winnable group on paper. Maybe they can have a Cinderella run like Schalke enjoyed in 2010/2011. With the luck of the draw, they could qualify for their second straight quarter final and who knows, they might be included in the final four and beyond. Zenit St. Petersburg aren’t to be taken lightly, though. They are the defending champions of Russia and current leaders of the 2012/2013 Russian Premier League and have some notable players such as Bruno Alves, Domenico Criscito and Vyacheslav Malafeev. Don’t rule out Malaga either. Despite their financial issues, they still pose a threat to the Rossoneri, so they’d best be on their toes. Remember that even though AC Milan may have lucked out on paper, they’ve got to bring their A-game to the pitch.
Juventus have returned to the Champions League for the first time since 2009/2010 and they were missed. They boasted one of the best defensive records in Europe and have been unbeaten in forty domestic matches dating back to May 2011. There was alot of talk about them being included in a potential “Group of Death” with Real Madrid, Manchester City and Borussia Dortmund. Luckily, they dodged that bullet and have been paired up with Chelsea and Shakhtar along with Nordsjaelland. This will be a real test for Juventus. With no European football affecting their Serie A calendar, they were able to go through most of the season injury free and rested. Now, injuries are already piling up and without a top striker and only a day remaining in the transfer window, this could be a tough group to manage, especially with Chelsea’s resurgence and firepower up front. Shakhtar are no pushover either as they made a surprising run to the quarter final in 2010/2011 only losing to Barcelona. They have a wealth of young talent on their team such as Brazilians Costa, Willian and Dentinho. However, Juventus’ defense could be their “get out of jail free” card. Giorgio Chiellini bosses the back line every season he plays, Andrea Barzagli enjoyed a breakthrough campaign in 2011/2012 which carried over into Euro 2012 and Leonardo Bonucci has finally started to reach his potential. The champions of Italy might have a tough time without their manager Antonio Conte, who at this point looks set to miss the entire group stage, but their way out could be their solid defense and their current attackers can rise to the occasion.
Matchday One will commence on September 18th and 19th with both Italian clubs in action. The groups will be tough, can they both progress?