Manchester City will face the Spanish, Dutch and German title-holders in the Champions League group stage, while last season’s winner Chelsea will play Juventus, which won Italy’s Serie A in May.
English Premier League winner City was matched during yesterday’s draw in Monaco with Real Madrid, Ajax and two-time defending Bundesliga champion Borussia Dortmund in Group D.
While City is playing in European soccer’s elite club competition for the second time, its three opponents have combined for 14 titles, led by Real Madrid’s record of nine.
“When you want to play Champions League football, you want to play big teams,” former City midfielder Patrick Vieira, now an executive with the club, told Sky Sports. “When you look at the quality of our players, we can believe in ourselves.”
Chelsea, which beat Bayern Munich in May for its first European Cup title, is in Group E with Juventus, a two-time winner of the competition. Ukrainian champion Shakhtar Donetsk and tournament newcomer Nordsjaelland, the Danish league winner, round out the group.
Chelsea is trying to become the first club to retain the title since AC Milan in 1990. The competition was renamed the Champions League in 1992.
“It’s not going to be easy,” Chelsea club secretary Dave Barnard told Sky Sports. “Manchester United thought they had an easy group last season and went out early, so we cannot afford to do that. We will respect all our opponents.”
Barcelona is the 11-4 favorite with U.K. bookmaker Ladbrokes Plc (LAD) to lift the European Cup for the fourth time in eight seasons. That means that every $4 winning bet returns $11 plus the original stake.
Madrid is second at 4-1, followed by Manchester City and Manchester United at 7-1. Chelsea is the fifth choice at 12-1.
“We’re favorites, we can be happy with the draw,” Barcelona captain Carles Puyol said on his club’s website. “It won’t be easy. You pay dearly for any errors or overconfidence in the Champions League. We respect all of our rivals.”
Barcelona is joined by former European champions Benfica and Celtic in Group G, along with Spartak Moscow. Scottish champion Celtic is the only one of the 12 ex-winners in the field to reach the group stage from the playoffs and not automatically qualify.
“It’s a tough, tough group,” Celtic coach Neil Lennon, whose club has reached this round for the first time in four years, said at a news conference. “All the teams play good football, so it will be attractive to watch.”
Bayern Munich is in Group F with Valencia, Lille and BATE Borisov. Manchester United heads Group H with Braga, Galatasaray and Cluj.
London’s Arsenal will be joined in Group B by Schalke, Olympiacos and French champion Montpellier. Porto, Dynamo Kiev, Paris Saint-Germain and Dinamo Zagreb are in Group A.
Group play runs from Sept. 18 through Dec. 5 with the top two teams in each advancing to the round of 16. The final will be played May 25 at Wembley Stadium in London. The 32 teams will receive a minimum of 8.6 million euros ($10.8 million) from tournament organizer UEFA.
Barcelona’s Andres Iniesta was named the winner of UEFA’s Best Player in Europe Award for the 2011-12 season following the draw.
The midfielder, who helped Spain defend its European Championship title this summer, received 19 votes in a poll of 53 journalists representing each of European soccer’s member associations to beat out Barcelona teammate Lionel Messi and Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo. Messi, last year’s winner, and Ronaldo each had 17 votes.
To contact the reporter on this story: Bob Bensch in London at email@example.com.