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Sep 11, 2009

Champions League 2009-10, Group A

Group A: Juventus | Bayern Munich | Bordeaux | Maccabi Haifa
Group B | Group C | Group D | Group E | Group F | Group G | Group H


JUVENTUS
• Status: 2nd in Italian league
• Nickname: Bianconeri (The White Blacks)

THE RECORD: Juve were crowned European champions in 1985 and 1996, but they feel as if their two titles in this competition are not enough for a club of their stature. The Turin giants also have triumphs to their credit in the UEFA Cup (1977, 1990 and 1993) and the Cup Winners' Cup (1984).

HEADLINER: Diego
The Juventus forward line was in need of an injection of fresh blood and the capture of Brazilian international Diego from Werder Bremen gives them a new look under recently appointed boss Ciro Ferrara.

At the age of 24, Diego finally proved himself on the European stage as he turned in a series of fine displays in a Bremen side that was struggling to find consistency last term. Scoring goals aplenty in the Bundesliga ensured he would be a prized catch in the transfer market this summer and Juve were the side who snapped up this talented support striker for around £20m. In World Cup year, he will want to sparkle on the Champions League stage.

YOUNG GUN: Paolo De Ceglie
De Cegile was a product of the Juventus youth system, yet he struggled to make a first team breakthrough and was farmed out to Siena during the 2007-08 campaign. His return to Juventus saw him play a few more games last term, but this Italian Under-21 international needs to force his way into the team this season.

Juve boss Ciro Ferrara has shown faith in this 23-year-old in the opening games of the Serie A season and that suggests he may get more regular action this time. De Cegile is a fine talent either in a full-back berth or a more advanced left wing role.

THE MAVERICK: Alessandro Del Piero
A little like Raul at Real Madrid, talking ill of Del Piero is not something you should do if you value your health in Turin. Del Piero is a Juventus legend in every sense of the word, but he has probably seen his best days at the age of 34. Still capable of a moment of inspiration, he was at his best as Juve pulled off a famous victory against Real Madrid in last season's Champions League campaign. That performance earned him a standing ovation from the Madrid faithful for his efforts. More of the same will serve to cement his already stellar Juve legend this term.

SUMMER SIGNING: Felipe Melo
Melo was the subject of intense transfer speculation during the off-season, yet it seemed to have come to an end when he agreed to put pen to paper on an improved contract with Fiorentina in June.

It may have been that the deal was signed merely to bump up the value of this gifted 26-year-old Brazilian, with his loyalty to Viola lasting a matter of days before he opened negotiations to sign for Juve. Arsenal were also said to be in the running for a player who sparkled in this summer's Champions League and he is a fine addition to this quality packed Juventus squad.

COACH: Ciro Ferrara
The dismissal of Claudio Ranieri at the end of last season did not pave the way for his backroom staff to head for the exit door as well, with the club's hierarchy seeing something in rookie coach Ferrara to hand him his chance in the Juve hot-seat.

This former Italian international played over 250 games for Juventus and will have learned from his experience assisting Ranieri last season, not to mention his stint as a member of Marcello Lippi's coaching staff during Italy's heroic 2006 World Cup victory. His achievement in bringing a host of star men to Juventus this summer means he has already earned plenty of respect in his new role.

CHALKBOARD: There was always a sense that Italy's 2006 World Cup winning skipper Fabio Canavarro spent the last three years at Real Madrid as a temporary holiday from his beloved Juventus and his return this summer sees him slot neatly into Ciro Ferrara's back-line.

Diego will play a key role in a formation that will see Del Piero and Brazilian forward Amauri up front. A 4-3-1-2 line-up will make the best use of the tools Ferrara has to work with.

DON'T MENTION: This side comes with a old-age stamp and while Milan proved experience can be crucial as they won the Champions League in 2007, a lack of pace may be a concern for Juventus.

The veteran Del Piero will have to prove he still has what it takes to rattle the best defenders in Europe and Ferrara may well have to show good management skills as the likes of Fabio Grosso, Mauro Camoranesi and Christian Poulsen may not enjoy spending too much time on the bench.

PREDICTION: A decent group stage draw gives Juventus a good chance of making the knock-out stages. That may be where they come up short.


BAYERN MUNICH
• Status: 2nd in German league
• Nickname: The Bavarians

THE RECORD: Bayern were victorious in the 2001 Champions League, beating Valencia in the Final on penalties, a triumph to erase the painful memory of Manchester United coming from behind to beat them at the same stage of the 1999 edition. They won three consecutive Champions' Cups in 1974, 1975 and 1976.

HEADLINER: Franck Ribery
Brilliant French creative midfielder Ribery is one of the most naturally-gifted players in European football. Few can match his dribbling skills, his ability to manipulate the ball and break free from the tightest spots, but what makes him so special is his unselfishness. Playing to the gallery is not the style of the ex-Galatasaray and Marseille star.

The all-important question is the extent to which he has been unsettled by incessant talk of a big-money move to Real Madrid, Chelsea or Manchester United. It's no secret that he was hoping to leave, only for Bayern to deter any would-be takers with a £90m price-tag.

YOUNG GUN: Holger Badstuber
New Bayern coach Louis van Gaal is renowned for putting his faith in youth and did not hesitate to ditch the vastly-experienced Brazilian international centre-back Lucio - who was sold to Inter Milan - and replace him with this 20 year-old academy graduate.

Solid and uncomplicated in his play, Badstuber has been on Bayern's books since the age of 13, rising impressively through the schoolboy, youth and reserve teams. He recently made his first appearance for Germany's Under 21 side.

THE MAVERICK: Alexander Baumjohann
A classical "number ten" capable of elegantly pulling the strings in the middle of the park, the youngster joined Bayern this summer on a Bosman free transfer from Borussia Monchengladbach. He caught the eye last season with his 20/20 vision, impudent runs with the ball glued to his feet and slide-rule passes. However, he did tend to alternate between the outstanding and the average.

Baumjohann scored arguably the most memorable goal of the entire 2008/09 Bundesliga campaign, a Maradona-esque solo effort against Werder Bremen in which he scampered half the length of the pitch before emphatically firing home.

SUMMER SIGNING: Mario Gomez
Feeling that Italian marksman Luca Toni had seen better days, Bayern broke the bank for a successor, paying Stuttgart a cool £27.2m for Stuttgart's prolific hit man. Gomez's numbers certainly stack up: 24 German League goals last term and a grand total of 63 strikes in 121 Bundesliga games up to the start of this season.

Broad-shouldered and powerful, yet surprisingly nimble, the 23-year-old is banking on a good Champions League campaign to put to bed the image he has of a domestic flat-track bully, who suffers when facing more able international rearguards.

COACH: Louis van Gaal
This no-nonsense Dutchman led Ajax to victory in the 1992 UEFA Cup and the Champions League title three years later. He also won five Dutch Leagues and the 1995 World Club Cup with the Amsterdamers and has spent time at the helm of Barcelona, Holland and AZ Alkmaar, whom he turned into Netherlands champions last term.

Uncompromising and never one to suffer fools gladly, he does not care at all for reputations. Only those who deliver exactly what he wants will find themselves on the team-sheet at Bayern and he may take time to settle into his new post.

THE CHALKBOARD: Van Gaal's philosophy revolves around a number of time-honoured tenets: maintaining possession, tactical discipline, constantly-rehearsed attacking movements, keeping technical errors to a minimum and having versatile players who can fill several roles.

Although he has experimented at Bayern with a 4-2-3-1, he is more likely to use a 4-4-2 featuring a midfield diamond. Skipper Mark van Bommel acts as the all-singing, all-dancing holder, while Ribery should be the imaginative free-spirit on the shoulder of the strikers. New arrival Arjen Robben may be used on the right, where he excelled for Real Madrid last season.

DON'T MENTION: Van Gaal's rather complicated system can confuse footballers who are renowned for liking things to be kept simple. His A-Z cannot be learned overnight and this autumn in the Champions League, his team could still be in a 'work in progress' phase.

Van Bommel's penchant for off-the-ball brutality and red cards is another concern, while young keeper Michael Rensing is no Oliver Kahn and always looks to be a heartbeat away from a major gaffe.

VERDICT: It all depends on how swiftly Van Gaal's new-look side gels. Anything is possible - a long run or first round exit are equally likely.


BORDEAUX
• Status: French champions
• Nickname: Les Girondins

THE RECORD: Bordeaux's high watermark in the old European Champions' Cup came in 1984/85 when a team featuring the midfield talents of Alain Giresse and Jean Tigana reached the semi-finals, before valiantly losing 3-2 on aggregate to eventual winners Juventus. Their best Champions League showing was a second round appearance in the 1999/00 season.

HEADLINER: Yoann Gourcuff
After two highly-frustrating years in Serie A with AC Milan, Gourcuff was sent on loan at the start of last season to Bordeaux, where he spectacularly put his career back on track by inspiring his new team to their first Ligue 1 title for a decade.

Milan appreciated the error of their ways when they tried to take Gourcuff back to Italy this summer, but his French keepers activated their option to buy him for a paltry £13.6m and he is happy to be with the Marine et Blanc (Dark Blue and Whites). He has been compared favourably to the great Zinedine Zidane.

YOUNG GUN: Benoit Tremoulinas
This excellent home grown left-back established himself in the first team last term, seeing off the challenge of the much more experienced Diego Placente and Franck Jurietti. Short of stature and dynamic, the 23-year-old is often mentioned in the same breath as former Bordeaux and France full-back Bixente Lizarazu and like the latter, he excels on the overlap and in his ability to supply an inviting cross.

THE MAVERICK: Wendel
This willowy Brazilian attacking midfielder is renowned for his speed, trickery, left-footed assists and threat from direct free-kicks. He has several strings to his bow as he is also able to play full-back or as a defensive midfielder, but is at his best when allowed to express himself in the opposition half, which coach Laurent Blanc gives him full license to do.

A native of the Minas Gerais state in south-east Brazil, he played in his homeland for top clubs Cruzeiro and Santos and spent the 2004/05 season in the Portuguese League with Nacional, where he surprisingly failed to convince. He joined Bordeaux in August 2006.

SUMMER SIGNING: Cedric Carrasso
With 37-year-old keeper Ulrich Rame winding down a fine career, Bordeaux needed a top-class replacement and so swooped to bring in the Toulouse custodian, rated third by the French national team behind Marseille's Steve Mandanda and Hugo Lloris of Lyon. Bordeaux needed to act fast as Bayern Munich were hunting him too.

Brilliant on his line, steady and a good organiser of his back- line, he began his professional life at Marseille and was showing a great deal of promise there, only to be hit with a double-injury whammy, first torn knee ligaments, then a snapped Achilles tendon. He bounced back from that setback to become a real star.

COACH: Laurent Blanc
If the man known as 'Le President' for his authoritative air is not nominated to replace the sadly inadequate Raymond Domenech as French national team boss, the Gallic federation will have some explaining to do.

In only two full seasons as a pro team leader, the 43-year-old has proved himself to be both tactically astute and an intelligent man-manager, while his results speak for themselves: runners-up spot in Ligue 1 in 2007/08 and the title last season.

He has a wealth of playing experience to draw on. No fewer than 97 full caps for France as a stylish libero, World Cup'98 and Euro 2000 winners medals, not to mention successful spells at club level for Montpellier, Auxerre, Barcelona, Marseille, Inter Milan and Manchester United amongst others.

THE CHALKBOARD: Laurent Blanc's team stands for flamboyant, attacking football. France's Ligue 1 can be a little sterile, with so many coaches content to place as many men behind the ball as they can and wait for the right moment to spring out on the counter. By way of contrast, Bordeaux want to grasp the initiative and enjoy taking risks.

At the heart of Blanc's favoured 4-3-1-2 is a the midfield diamond featuring the expansive gifts of Gourcuff just behind the strikers, Wendel in a half-left position and the towering Alou Diarra as the sentinel in front of the back-four. The frontrunners compliment each other perfectly, with the fox in box Argentine Fernando Cavenaghi and the aerial power of the Moroccan Marouane Chamakh.

DON'T MENTION: Bordeaux have defensive limitations after they lost much of their rearguard solidity when stopper Souleymane Diawara surprisingly quit for Marseille this summer.

He was one of their unsung heroes last season and his potential replacements, the Brazilian Henrique or new signing from Lorient Michael Ciani, could struggle to make the same rugged impact. Both full-backs, Tremoulinas and Matthieu Chalme are far better going forward than pulling down the shutters and in addition, the over-rely on Gourcuff.

VERDICT: They will score goals and entertain, but a soft centre at the back may block them from a place in the knock-out phase.


MACCABI HAIFA
• Status: Israeli league champions
• Nickname: The Greens

THE RECORD: Maccabi have a lot to live up to in the Champions League. In their one previous participation in 2002/03, they failed to qualify from the group stage, but did managed to claim the impressive scalps of Manchester United and Olympiakos, both of whom were seen off 3-0.

HEADLINES: Yaniv Katan
Don't pay too much attention to this Israeli international's failure to settle at West Ham United during an ill-fated six-month spell in 2006. In two separate stints in Maccabi green, this hit-man has proved one of the club's greatest servants, providing large quantities of goals, assists and leadership. Pacy, skilful and determined, he is equally effective as a striker, on the wing, or in a slightly deeper position.

Five-times an Israeli champion with Maccabi, the 28-year-old certainly enjoyed himself in this competition against Manchester United five years ago, opening the scoring in both the 5-2 defeat at Old Trafford and the celebrated 3-0 win over the English giants.

YOUNG GUN: Eyal Golasa
This highly talented and confident attacking midfielder produced stellar performances in the Champions League preliminaries that not only put him in the shop window for a move abroad, but also earned him a call-up from Israel manager Dror Kashtan. He was particularly to the fore in the recent home victory over FC Aktobe of Kazakhstan, coming off the bench to help turn a three-goal into a sensational 4-3 win.

He learnt his football at the Beitar Nes Tubruk Netanya club, widely-considered the best youth set-up in the country.

THE MAVERICK: Lior Rafaelov
This 23-year-old midfield maestro has panache and class to burn. So much so that he has often been compared to Israeli superstars past and present such as Eyal Berkovic and Yossi Benayoun, but the harsh truth is that he is yet to totally fulfil his vast potential. One moment Rafaelov looks magical and, the next, only monochrome.

At his most dangerous when cutting in from the left wing, he has been on Maccabi's books since the age of 12 and made his first team debut at the age of 18. He is an Israeli Under 21 international, but has no full caps to date. The Champions League could be his stage.

SUMMER SIGNING: Vladimir Dvalishvili
A bullish Georgian striker signed from Lativia's Skonto Riga, he is already a cult hero with Maccabi fans thanks to his five goals in the successful Champions League qualifying campaign. Direct, excellent at holding the ball up and a good dribbler, he is said to be the best front-man to come out of Georgia since the ex-Ajax and Glasgow Rangers star Shota Arveladze.

The 23-year-old began his career at Georgian sides Dinamo Tbilisi and Olimpi Rustavi before trying his luck as a migrant with Skonto Riga. He won his first full cap for his country last June against Moldova.

COACH: Elisha Levy
Maccabi's captain in the early 1980s, he had to wait until his 50th birthday to finally have an opportunity to lead a top Israeli side, lured away from Bnei Sakhnin in the summer of 2008 to replace his namesake Rony Levy at the Mac Haifa helm. He has worked miracles in the 12 months since, steering the club to their eleventh domestic crown and the Champions League group phase.

The Jerusalem-born boss used to be exclusively considered a specialist in promotions from the Second or Third Divisions, doing the trick four times with four different clubs. Full marks have to go to Maccabi president Jacob Shacar for ignoring all the doubters who claimed Levy did not have the know-how to manage at the top of the Israeli tree.

THE CHALKBOARD: At home Maccabi are not easily intimidated and, whatever the opposition, they are likely to go with a slick attack-conscious 4-4-2. By contrast, they may use a 4-2-3-1 on their European travels, with John Culma and Biram Kayal the midfield holders, Katan and young guns Golasa and Rafaelov in creative mode and Dvashvili as the lone frontrunner.

Elisha Levy places much emphasis on defensive organisation and the back-four was so well drilled last season that they conceded only 24 goals all year. Their short-passing game is excellent, as is the overlapping of South African left-back Peter Masilela.

DON'T MENTION: Their lack of Champions League experience is a worry. Only Katan and veteran defensive back-up Alon Harazi have been this way before. They will have to guard against an excess of adrenaline and becoming too gung-ho.

Keeper Nir Davidovich has saved his team so many times over the years with vital stops and is a club icon, but the flip side of the coin is that he has been known to spill the odd long-shot too.

VERDICT: Money talks in European football and an annual budget of just £5.3m means Maccabi will be little more than nuisance value in the Champions League.


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