2013-14 Champions League group preview

QPR chairman Fernandes issues statement standing by Redknapp

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Tony Fernandes is sticking with the guy who got him here.

The QPR chairman felt compelled to make a statement on the status of embattled manager Harry Redknapp, whose club has lost all 10 of its road matches this season and sits in 19th place in the Premier League.

[ MORE: Mourinho asked Chelsea fans to show Gerrard respect ]

With the bright side that it’s far from over and plenty cluttered from places 12-20, Fernandes made it all clear on Monday.

From QPR.co.uk:

“I firmly believe Harry is the best man to get us out of the position we currently find ourselves in.
“He has great experience and having spoken to him at length over the last week or so, he is determined to turn this around and help us maintain our Premier League status.
“This is Harry’s squad of players, so he is the man to move us forward.”
Fernandes went on to say they’ll strengthen the club during the January transfer window if they can, and asked the fans to keep backing Redknapp, though it’s hard to blame their doubts.
So it seems Redknapp will be going down or staying afloat with his ship of veteran players. We’ll see if he injects any youth into the ranks over the next few weeks.

UEFA Champions League Group H preview

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Group H of the 2013-14 UEFA Champions League has more European Cup wins than every other group combined. This is as close as it gets to a Group of Death in this edition of the competition.

source:  FC Barcelona

How they qualified: La Liga champion, directly into group stage

Best finish: Winner (1992, 2006, 2009, 2011)

Home stadium: Camp Nou / Barcelona, Spain

Coach: Gerardo Martino

Outlook: Even with a new manager and a squad of aging players, FC Barcelona still sets the standard in Europe. The team still plays free-flowing tiki-taka, and it will still make a deep run into this competition, despite likely being written off for the new conquerors of Europe from Germany.

source:  AC Milan

How they qualified: Serie A third place, defeated PSV Eindhoven in playoff round

Best finish: Winner (1963, 1969, 1989, 1990, 1994, 2003, 2007)

Home stadium: San Siro / Milan, Italy

Coach: Massimiliano Allegri

Outlook: In the last 14 years, only twice has AC Milan failed to reach the Champions League, and only twice in those 12 appearances has it failed to get past the group stage. Despite any struggles the club may have, it always finds a way to progress in Europe. Milan’s attacking power is one of the best on the continent, as it showed when it beat PSV handily in the second leg of its playoff, 3-0.

source:  Ajax

How they qualified: Eredivisie champion, directly into group stage

Best finish: Winner (1971, 1972, 1973, 1995)

Home stadium: Amsterdam ArenA / Amsterdam, Netherlands

Coach: Frank de Boer

Outlook: Ajax seems to get the short end of the draw quite often in Europe. Gone are the days of Dutch supremacy, the nation’s best soccer traits adopted and taken to the next level by possession-based teams all over the continent, leaving Ajax to compete for scraps in continental competitions. It’s not that the team isn’t talented — it’s just not talented enough to compete with Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid.

source:  Celtic

How they qualified: Scottish Premiership champion, defeated Cliftonville in second qualifying round, Elfsborg in third qualifying round, Shakhter Karagandy in playoff round

Best finish: Winner (1967)

Home stadium: Celtic Park / Glasgow, Scotland

Coach: Neil Lennon

Outlook: If nothing else, Celtic always provides a great home atmosphere in Europe. This year, that’s about all fans have to look forward to from the Scottish champions, who squeaked by Kazakh team Shakhter Karagandy at the last hurdle before the group stage. The atmosphere on display that night was festive to say the least, and much of the same is expected when the giants in Group H go to Glasgow.

Group outlook

It seems to be a two-horse race for positioning in the knockout round in Group H, with Barcelona and Milan set to battle again in the Champions League after meeting in the Round of 16 last year and in the group stage the year prior. Ajax should take third place and advance to the Europa League, but Celtic will put up a fight for a prestigious European spot in Scotland.

UEFA Champions League Group G preview

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FC Porto has both of the past titles in Group G of the 2013-14 UEFA Champions League. The other three teams have been in the competition before, and a couple of times have come close, but have never managed to hoist the trophy.

source:  FC Porto

How they qualified: Primeira Liga champion, directly into group stage

Best finish: Winner (1987, 2004)

Home stadium: Estádio do Dragão / Porto, Portugal

Coach: Paulo Fonseca

Outlook: FC Porto benefited from José Mourinho’s coming-out party in Europe when it won the UEFA Cup and Champions League in back-to-back years just after the new millennium. Recently, it hasn’t been quite the same on the European stage, but Porto always offers a bit of flair that makes it a tough team to beat.

source:  Atlético Madrid

How they qualified: La Liga third place, directly into group stage

Best finish: Finalist (1974)

Home stadium: Estadio Vicente Calderón / Madrid, Spain

Coach: Diego Simeone

Outlook: Having just gone toe to toe with FC Barcelona in the Spanish Super Cup without looking out of place, Atlético could be a force to be reckoned with this year. The team combines a technical ability and tactical awareness of classic Spanish teams with the physical play generally more characteristic of English and German teams.

source:  Zenit St. Petersburg

How they qualified: Russian Premier League second place, defeated Nordsjælland in third qualifying round, Paços de Ferreira in playoff round

Best finish: Round of 16 (2012)

Home stadium: Petrovsky Stadium / St. Petersburg, Russia

Coach: Luciano Spalletti

Outlook: Zenit always finds its way into Europe, earning some results along the way without ever seeming to do much. With Anzhi Makhachkala giving up the ghost as the latest Russian superclub, Zenit has picked off a couple of its best players to reload for an assault on both the Russian Premier League and the Champions League. As always, Zenit will be difficult to beat.

source:  Austria Wien

How they qualified: Austrian Bundesliga champion, defeated FH in third qualifying round, Dinamo Zagreb in playoff round

Best finish: Semifinals (1979)

Home stadium: Franz Horr Stadium / Vienna, Austria

Coach: Thomas Parits

Outlook: The weakest team in this group, Vienna survived a late scare in the playoff round to defeat Dinamo Zagreb and make it into the group stage. Don’t expect too much out of the Austrian champion, far removed from its European glory days, but Vienna will provide much the same as all smaller fish in the massive sea of the Champions League: plenty of heart and determination.

Group outlook

This group is Atlético’s ticket to convincing the world that Spain has more than just two good teams. The “other” Madrid team, Diego Simeone’s group could turn some heads with dominant performances in this group. Expect tough challenges from Zenit and FC Porto, who will likely be left to fight over the second-place spot and further European qualification, while Vienna goes along for the ride and takes some lumps along the way.

UEFA Champions League Group F preview

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Group F of the 2013-14 UEFA Champions League is the only matchup of teams without a single league champion in the mix. Don’t confuse that for lack of quality, though, as this group includes a finalist from last year and three perennial domestic contenders.

source:  Arsenal

How they qualified: Barclays Premier League fourth place, defeated Fenerbahçe in playoff round

Best finish: Finalist (2006)

Home stadium: Emirates Stadium / London, England

Coach: Arsène Wenger

Outlook: Despite a lack of activity in the summer transfer market, Arsenal started its Champions League campaign well by dispatching Fenerbahçe with relative ease. Manager Arsène Wenger always knows how to coach his team into contention, and young talent such as Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud will be hungry to impress on the continental stage.

source:  Marseille

How they qualified: Ligue 1 second place, directly into group stage

Best finish: Winner (1993)

Home stadium: Stade Vélodrome / Marseille, France

Coach: Élie Baup

Outlook: Although Marseille is used to living in PSG and Lyon’s shadow, it has at least managed to overcome the latter in terms of success in recent years. The locally owned club won’t be able to match PSG for money, but it will always put up a fight, egged on by some of the most passionate fans in France.

source:  Borussia Dortmund

How they qualified: Bundesliga second place, directly into group stage

Best finish: Winner (1997)

Home stadium: Westfalenstadion / Dortmund, Germany

Coach: Jürgen Klopp

Outlook: Last season, Jürgen Klopp led his team to an improbable all-German final in this competition, handily defeating Real Madrid 4-1 at home in the semifinal behind a four-goal game from Robert Lewandowski, who stayed with the club over the summer despite serious international interest.

source:  Napoli

How they qualified: Serie A second place, directly into group stage

Best finish: Second Round (1991)

Home stadium: Stadio San Paolo / Naples, Italy

Coach: Rafael Benítez

Outlook: Rafa Benítez took over as Napoli manager after winning the Europa League with Chelsea last season. Napoli has also shown a willingness to spend in the transfer market, bringing in Gonzalo Higuaín and Pepe Reina (on loan from Liverpool). The Neapolitans may not be expected to win much in this competition, but they could do some damage to any team that takes them lightly.

Group outlook

This is a group of overlooked, often-second-place teams hungry for attention on the European stage. It’s hard to say if there are any clear favorites, although Dortmund has to be in that conversation because of its ability to devastate teams. Arsenal has the talent to advance to the knockout round, but it has been one of the more inconsistent teams recently. Meanwhile, Marseille and Napoli are both good, but they just might not have the talent to turn heads in Europe yet.

UEFA Champions League Group E preview

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After Chelsea, Group E in the 2013-14 UEFA Champions League is wide open for exploitation. The group’s teams are nicely spread out all over Europe, with England, Germany, Switzerland and Romania all represented.

source:  Chelsea

How they qualified: Barclays Premier League third place, directly into group stage

Best finish: Winner (2012)

Home stadium: Stamford Bridge / London, England

Coach: José Mourinho

Outlook: New-old coach José Mourinho has a lot of faith in his squad, as well he should. Chelsea should win this group, as it clearly has the largest talent pool at its disposal. Beyond that, Mourinho’s teams start to struggle. A core of his previous team, as well as the team that won this competition two seasons ago, remains at Stamford Bridge, which should give the former champion all the push it needs.

source:  Schalke

How they qualified: Bundesliga fourth place, defeated PAOK in playoff round

Best finish: Semifinals (2011)

Home stadium: Veltins-Arena / Gelsenkirchen, Germany

Coach: Jens Keller

Outlook: Schalke almost didn’t make it to the group stage, but wunderkind Julian Draxler worked his magic to ensure passage beyond the playoff round despite his team going down to 10 men. It’s been that kind of time for Schalke since Jens Keller took over as manager, particularly since the new season began. The Germans need to work the kinks out of their system to avoid an embarrassing result in this group.

source:  FC Basel

How they qualified: Swiss Super League champion, defeated Maccabi Tel Aviv in third qualifying round, Ludogoretz Razgrad in playoff round

Best finish: Quarterfinals (1974)

Home stadium: St. Jakob-Park / Basel, Switzerland

Coach: Murat Yakin

Outlook: Basel usually makes it to the group stage and pulls off a couple good results. The club also has a history of producing young talent to be poached by bigger clubs, Xherdan Shaqiri most notably from recent memory, as well as Philipp Degen, who has returned to the club of his youth days.

source:  Steaua Bucharest

How they qualified: Liga 1 champion, defeated FK Vardar in second qualifying round, Dinamo Tbilisi in third qualifying round, Legia Warsaw in playoff round

Best finish: Winner (1986)

Home stadium: Arena Națională / Bucharest, Romania

Coach: Laurențiu Reghecampf

Outlook: For the first time in five years, Steaua finds itself back in the Champions League group stage. It wasn’t easy getting here, and a result better than fourth place will be hard to achieve. A Romanian team has never qualified for the spring portion of the Champions League since the competition was rebranded, but this is probably the best team from the Carpathians in the past decade, even after selling center back Vlad Chiricheș to Tottenham.

Group outlook

Chelsea should win this group comfortably, but Schalke, Basel and Steaua all have equal claim to the second and third slots and advancement into further continental competition. If Schalke can pull together some decent performances, it has the best odds of advancing, but the other two will fight ferociously to ensure at least a third-place finish in this group.