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Champions League 2006/7, Group C

Group C: Liverpool FC | PSV Eindhoven | Bordeaux | Galatasaray
Group A | Group B | Group D | Group E | Group F | Group G | Group H

Liverpool

Domestic finish last season: 3rd in the Premiership

Champions League Form Guide: Kings of Europe in 2005, Liverpool have a proud history of success in this competition and expect to be in the mix when the prize is handed out. They also won the trophy in 1977, 1978, 1981 and 1984.

The coach: Rafael Benitez

The Spanish coach who guided the Reds to their famous Champions League triumph in 2005 believes his side have learned the harsh lesson of their shock defeat against Benfica in last season's competition.

'When the draw was made for this season's group stages, the media came to me with the idea that we had been given an easy passage into the last 16,' he says.

'Well let me remind everyone that the same idea was mentioned when we were given a last-16 game against Benfica last season and that proved to be our last as European Champions.

'Once again, we have been given a group that does not look so difficult on paper, but these teams will view Liverpool as the big team to beat and they will raise their game against us. We have to learn from the Benfica experience if we want to do well in the competition again this time. That means treating every opponent with respect.'

The star man: Steven Gerrard

Voted the best player in the 2004/05 Champions League, midfield dynamo Gerrard should now be coming into his prime and that has to be great news for Liverpool and England.

Combative, bursting with energy and with the ability to score the most crucial of goals with his long-range shooting, the only concern for Benitez must be that his side's reliance on their captain means a long-term injury would be a savage blow, yet he dismisses such a suggestion.

'People have always said this team rely to much on Stevie, but this is not true any more,' he states. 'When you look at the players we have added to the squad this summer, we can now see a side coming together that is no longer about one man, however important Gerrard will be for us.'

The new face: Craig Bellamy

A lack of goals proved to be Liverpool's undoing in the Champions League last season and Rafa Benitez has moved to solve that problem by adding a couple of exciting striking options to his ranks.

Dirk Kuyt has long been linked with a move to England and finally arrived in a £10m deal, yet it is the addition of former Newcastle and Blackburn forward Craig Bellamy that could prove to be crucial. With bags of pace and a burning ambition to prove he belongs at the highest level of the game, he may be a trump card in the European games.

'My idea of Liverpool is a club challenging for the title and the Champions League every year and that's where we need to be this time,' states the Welshman, who is a lifelong Reds fan. 'From the outside looking in, I expect to see this club in the mix for all the top prizes and now I get the chance to influence them.'

The weak spot: Liverpool's trophy successes over the last couple of years has come in spite of set of problems that Benitez took time to solve.

The defensive duo of Jamie Carragher and Sami Hyypia have served the club well, but the theory that the latter of the duo may be coming to the end of his career at the very top has long been aired. Summer captures Daniel Agger and Fabio Aurelio will provide Benitez with additional defensive options, but a couple of injuries will leave the Reds exposed at the back.

Benitez may also take time to assess the striking options he has at his disposal and finding the right combination between Robbie Fowler, Craig Bellamy, Peter Crouch and Dirk Kuyt will be a key to their Champions League hopes.

Verdict: After the shock of an exit at the round of 16 stage last time, Liverpool have a point to prove in this season's Champions League and with Benitez's tactics at their best in this competition, they can expect to be in the mix when the quarter-finals are played.


PSV Eindhoven

Domestic finish last season: Dutch champions

Champions League form guide: The last few years have been glorious under the guidance of the inspirational Guus Hiddink and it will be tough for the 2005 Champions League semi-finalists to repeat such heroics.

The coach: Ronald Koeman One of Holland's finest players returned to the coaching ring during the off-season and he is certainly filling a vast pair of boots at the Philips Stadion. Koeman needs to show he will be his own man as he tries to follow in Hiddink's footsteps.

He has certainly inherited a decent squad and knows that anything less than another Dutch title triumph and a decent Champions League run will be considered as failure.

'I look at the group we are in and it gives us a good chance to progress, but to say we are favourites to qualify alongside Liverpool and this is a dangerous idea,' he says. 'We know we face a tough test against Bordeaux and Galatasaray so don't believe the rumours that we should expect to be in the next phase. It will not be so easy.'

Star turn: Philip Cocu

In a season that is likely to test the resolve on the PSV resources to the full, they will need a positive impact from their veteran captain and leader. As ever with Cocu, he is unlikely to let them down.

This former Barcelona midfielder has long fallen into the unsung hero category, but those who have got the chance to work with him will confirm he is the heartbeat of the side. Leading by example, he is one of those professionals who never seem to have a bad game and he accepts he'll need to produce more of the same in this season's Champions League.

'The draw gives us the prospect of playing three teams who are very strong at home,' he stresses. 'It may depend on how we do in the away games that will decide whether we go through. I look at the group and believe there will not be so much between the four sides and that means one big error could be crucial in the end.'

The new face: Patrick Kluivert

One of the more intriguing transfers of the summer saw Kluivert line up with his old Holland team-mate Koeman at PSV.

After disappointing spells with both Newcastle in England and Valencia in Spain, the always confident former Dutch national team hit-man knows he has much to prove as he tries to extend his career back home with PSV.

'I'm still only 30, so the idea that my days at the top are finished cannot be true,' says the former Ajax and AC Milan marksman, who will wear the No.9 shirt for PSV this season. 'There can be no better place for me to show what I can do than the Champions League.'

While no one has ever doubted Kluivert's ability, his reputation as being a troublemaker around the dressing room means Koeman is taking a gamble by adding him to his squad. Prone to injuries of late, it may be that getting him fully fit will be PSV's biggest task this season.

The weak link: A shaky start to the Dutch league season does not bode well for PSV who are bound to suffer following the absence of their miracle man, departed coach Guus Hiddink.

Koeman was tinkering with his squad right up to the transfer deadline and time will tell whether his captures of Kluivert, Ecuador international Edison Mendez and Jan Kromkamp provide them the sort of depth required to mount a strong challenge in this competition.

It's up front that they may struggle as the departure of the consistent Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink to Celtic will pile plenty of pressure on Kluivert.

Verdict: The post-Hiddink era is likely to be tagged transitional and unless the enigmatic Kluivert finds the sort of form he lost some time ago, they may struggle to claim a top two finish in Group C.


Bordeaux

Domestic league finish last season: Runners-up in the French league

Champions League form guide: The Girondins have only made one previous appearance in the competition, in 1999/00, when they reached the last 16. In their second phase group they finished last behind Manchester United, Valencia and Fiorentina.

The coach: Ricardo Gomes

The 41-year-old former Brazilian international centre-back took over from Michel Pavon at the start of last season and proved an instant success, transforming a team that had just avoided relegation into a real force in French football.

His appointment last summer sparked a controversy in France, with the country's coaches union complaining long and loud that he did not have the necessary badges, but he has won over a few of his critics. 'I hope people can now see that I have something to offer as a coach,' he states. 'To see Bordeaux in the Champions League draw proves I have done some good work here.'

As a player, the Rio-born Ricardo played 45 times for Brazil and also wore the colours of Fluminense, Benfica and Paris Saint-Germain. He was a member of the Benfica side which lost to AC Milan in the Final of the 1990 European Cup. Previous coaching posts include, Paris Saint-Germain, Flamengo and the Brazilian Olympic team.

Star turn: Rio Mavuba

A young midfielder earmarked to be the long-term successor to Claude Makelele in the French national team - if the Chelsea man is ever allowed to retire. The ex-under-21 skipper can do it all; tackle, drive forward and move the ball around accurately. He also shoots powerfully, but does not try his luck often enough.

The 22-year-old came into the world in a boat off the coast of Angola as his parents sought to flee the civil war there and since he was born in international waters, he was technically qualified to play for any country. He ultimately chose France because he had been brought up in Bordeaux.

His father Mafiula Mavuba played for Zaire (now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo) at the 1974 World Cup finals in West Germany.

The new face: Johan Micoud

After a five-year interim with Parma and Werder Bremen, the elegant playmaker opted to return this summer to Bordeaux, the club he inspired to the French League title in 1999.

'I feel you will see the best of me in a team that I feel so comfortable with,' he says. 'I'm pleased to be back in France and this Champions League challenge will be so exciting for everyone at Bordeaux.'

At times he can look overly casual, but when he gets it right, he is the total midfield package, a wonderful combination of vision, great ball control and passing ability, goal scoring and set-piece delivery. There is more than a hint of the arrogance and upright style of Eric Cantona in his play. He does things his way and too bad if anyone disagrees. Despite playing for four years at Werder, he resolutely refused to learn German and he has never been one to co-operate with the media.

The weak spot: Club president Jean-Louis Triaud did not spend nearly enough on reinforcements in the close season, only bringing in Micoud and Brazilian midfielder Fernando from Italian outfit Siena. Ricardo is reported to be very frustrated by the lack of transfer activity and who could blame him.

Not surprisingly for an ex-defender, Ricardo puts great emphasis on a strong rearguard, yet he often overdoes the safety-first approach, even at home. His Bordeaux team is essentially set up to operate on the counter and the team has great difficulties taking the initiative.

There is a distinct lack of Champions League experience in Bordeaux's small squad. Only Micoud, keeper Ulrich Rame, Tunisian defender David Jemmali and veteran striker Lilian Laslandes have competed before at this continental level. The rest will have to learn fast.

Verdict: With ambition in short-supply, Bordeaux will be hard-pressed to survive into the New Year.


Galatasaray

Domestic finish last season: Turkish champions

Champions League form guide: Regulars in this competition, their best run came as they made it through to the semi-finals back in 1989. They have struggled in the group stages of late, yet they have still managed to pull off the odd shock win, as AC Milan, Real Madrid and Juventus will regretfully confirm.

The coach: Eric Gerets

Walking into the hothouse that is Turkish football and Gala in particular is not easy for any foreign coach, yet this legendary Belgian figure has proved he has the composure and ability to succeed where many a big name has failed.

With 86 full international caps for his country and experience aplenty during his playing days, Gerets proved himself to be a fine coach with Club Brugge, PSV Eindhoven, Kaiserslautern and Wolfsburg before agreeing to take on the post at the Ali Sami Yen Stadium last year. A title triumph in his first season bought him time to get the squad into shape for the Champions League challenge and he is in confident mood.

'After my time at PSV, I'm not surprised to be playing them in this group stage,' he says. 'This can be a good group for us. Liverpool are the favourites, but I believe we can go through as either the first or second team. No one enjoys coming to Galatasaray and we have to make our home games count.'

Star turn: Umit Karan

Eric Gerets made a bold move as he pulled Karan back from his loan spell at Büyüksehir Belediye Ankaraspor, viewing him as the ideal candidate to shine up front for Gala as they went in search of championship glory.

How he was proved right as this experienced German-born hitman blasted goals aplenty, with his final total of 16 goals in 18 matches proof that the coach had pulled something of a master stroke by spotting his potential and handing him a first team chance at Gala once again.

A knee injury ruled him out for the second half of the season, but Gerets is convinced he will have his key man back in time for the crucial phase of the Champions League. 'We have not been at our best in some of the early games of this season, but we all know that will change when Umit comes back into the side. He gives us an extra dimension.'

The new face: Junichi Inamoto

One of the stars of Japan's 2002 World Cup campaign, Inamoto managed to forge a lengthy career in England on the back of that success.

While he rarely threatened to break into the Arsenal first team after his move to Highbury a year before his nation jointly hosted the World Cup, his form in that tournament secured him a move to Fulham and he played for West Bromwich Albion and Cardiff City before accepting the chance to become the first Japanese player to play in Turkey this summer.

Viewed as the ideal replacement for Alioum Saidou, who left for Nantes during the summer, the stocky Inamoto bucks the trend of Japanese players whose natural abilities are undermined in the heat of battle by their lack of physical stature.

The weak spot: Early-season form has been a little disappointing, while they have been hit by the news that key men Tolga Seyhan and Orhan Ak will miss the start of this Champions League campaign due to injury.

Throw in the fact that key striker Umit Karan is another struggling to regain full fitness doubt and coach Gerets knows his side have plenty of questions to answer as Gala make a return to this competition after a three-year sabbatical. As ever, their often less than convincing form on the road will decide their fate.

Gerets has certainly been adventurous in the transfer market, with Argentine midfielder Marcelo Carrusca being joined at the club by an old Gala favourite, Turkish international Okan Buruk, who reappearance in the red shirt was a cause for great celebration.

Verdict: The draw has given them hope of going through and if their vociferous home support can intimidate Bordeaux and PSV Eindhoven into submission, a last 16 place is within their grasp.


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