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Premier League's best youngsters are English

Tactics and Analysis 17 hours ago
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Sep 11, 2009

Champions League 2009-10, Group D

Group D: Chelsea | FC Porto | Atlético Madrid | Apoel Nicosia
Group A | Group B | Group C | Group E | Group F | Group G | Group H


CHELSEA
•  Status: 2nd in English Premier League
•  Nickname: The Blues

THE RECORD: Chelsea's Champions League consistency cannot be faulted as they have appeared in five semi-finals and one final over the last six years. However, they have yet to land the trophy owner Roman Abramovich craves more than any other.

HEADLINER: Frank Lampard
Lampard has been one of the most consistent midfielders in European football over the last decade and this is one player who rarely has a poor day at the office.

A scorer in the 2008 Champions League Final in Moscow, Lampard came close to quitting Chelsea last year as former boss Jose Mourinho attempted to lure him to Internazionale. In the end, an improved Chelsea contract was enough to see him extend his stay at Stamford Bridge and he is a key man in the formation favoured by new Blues boss Carlo Ancelotti.

YOUNG GUN: Daniel Sturridge
Chelsea have not had much luck developing their own home-grown talent in the last few years, so they have opted to sign some of the best young stars in the game. Sturridge's arrival from Manchester City this summer suggested their aggressive pursuit of youthful stars in the making may soon be reaping rewards.

Out of contract at Manchester City, 20-year-old Sturridge turned down the chance to extent his stay at the club that has taken over from Chelsea as the world's richest. He will be used as an impact substitute and, while he is a untested at Champions League level, Blues boss Carlo Ancelotti has been impressed by his efforts to date.

THE MAVERICK: Didier Drogba
This powerhouse Ivory Coast hit-man looked set to leave Chelsea as he came under fire for receiving a red card in the dying moments of the 2008 Champions League Final and rumours were rife that he would be offloaded after he violently abused match officials after last season's semi-final loss to Barcelona.

However, Chelsea appreciate just how useful this bruising forward can be to them as, even at the age of 31, he is a key man in their game plan. He has a great touch, possesses power and strength in abundance and is also a threat from set-plays around the box. When Drogba is at his best, he can be unstoppable. When he doesn't fancy a challenge, he can be a liability.

SUMMER SIGNING: Yuri Zhirkov
Chelsea did not spend too much money in the transfer window last summer and they may be regretting that fact after FIFA slapped an embargo on their dealings for the next 12 months after the Gael Kakuta scandal. However, Russian international Zhirkov did arrive in an £18m deal and he offers quality cover for the left-back role primarily occupied by Ashley Cole or he could be used as a left winger.

Boasting pace and invention on the flank, he is a regular in the Russian national team and he has the class to shine in Chelsea blue.

COACH: Carlo Ancelotti
This legendary Italian is the latest to try and bring Champions League glory to Chelsea and he has a track record that suggests he is well qualified for the job after leading AC Milan to glory in this competition in 2003 and 2007.

He had been widely tipped to join Chelsea last summer following Avram Grant's exit, but opted to stay at Milan for another year and guided them back into the Champions League for this term. Ancelotti is famous for getting the very best out of ageing stars and he will be expected to do just that with the veterans in the Chelsea squad.

CHALKBOARD: Ancelotti's 4-4-2 formation is a little different to the line-up Chelsea have employed in recent years as it is based on a diamond midfield that will be spearheaded by the free-scoring Lampard.

Ancelotti didn't need to tinker with a settled back line, with his only decision being whether to pair skipper John Terry with Ricardo Carvalho or Alex. Ashley Cole has been back to his best in the left full-back role and defence-minded midfielder John Obi Mikel or the brilliant Michael Essien protect the back line. Drogba will look to form a potent partnership up front with Nicolas Anelka.

DON'T MENTION: Age concern will eventually become an issue for Chelsea as they have too many players in the over-30 category. The fact that they are classy operators means their risk value is diminished, but the likes of Terry, Drogba, Michael Ballack and Deco may become more injury prone as they reach the twilight of their careers.

There are also doubts over keeper Petr Cech's confidence dealing with high balls in the box and it was a weak spot that was exposed several times last season

VERDICT: Chelsea will launch another serious push for the Champions League crown. However, their aging squad are running out of time to claim glory.


FC PORTO
•  Status: Portuguese champions
•  Nickname: Dragons

THE RECORD: European champions in 1987 and 2004, Porto also have a European triumph to their credit in the 2003 UEFA Cup. However, they have struggled to recapture the European glory days since Jose Mourinho left the club five years ago. They went out to Manchester United in the Champions League quarter-finals last season.

HEADLINER: Raul Meireles
It is hard to underestimate how much Porto will miss the departed Lucho Gonzalez, but a solid season from the talented Meireles will go some way to plugging the central midfield gap for coach Jesualdo Ferreira.

Meireles has bags of Champions League experience and tends to pop up with the odd vital goal just when Porto need it most. Handed a role at the heart of the midfield scrap, he will be expected to make Porto tick and this 26-year-old Portugal national team star has the class to do just that.

YOUNG GUN: Maicon
Porto added a handful of youngsters to their squad this summer as they went fishing in the domestic and South American markets.

Brazilian Maicon is one of the more interesting arrivals from the CD Nacional club in Portugal and he will offer defensive cover to Bruno Alves and Rolando as he attempts to prove his worth at Champions League level. Having only just turned 21, he is one for the future. "It has always been my dream to play in the Champions League with a great club like Porto and now it can happen," he says.

THE MAVERICK: Hulk
Givanildo Vieira de Souza certainly turned himself into a distinctive character when he gave himself the nickname of Hulk. Bearing a resemblance to Lou Ferrigno, the actor who played the comic book hero in the classic US TV series, he certainly looked the part when he was plying his trade in the vivid green shirt of the Tokyo Verdy club in the J-League.

Hulk did enough to suggest he has the talent to sparkle in European football as he contributed to Porto's domestic title triumph last season and he also made a big impact with some committed displays in the Champions League. At the age of 23, this Brazilian is on the up and up.

SUMMER SIGNING: Falcao
Porto were left with a familiar dilemma as they looked to plug the gaps left by departing stars this summer and Falcao was brought in as the answer to the central striking problem created by Lisandro Lopez's departure.

Falcao started his Porto career in fine fashion, scoring goals aplenty in his initial games, and will head into the Champions League battle in good heart. This Colombian has already overcome plenty of hurdles in his fledgling career after he damaged his cruciate knee ligaments during his time at River Plate.

COACH: Jesualdo Ferreira
It took time for Ferreira to earn respect in the FC Porto hot-seat, but a hat-trick of league titles and last season's run to the Champions League quarter-finals earned Ferreira the plaudits he long missed out on.

Any coach who emerges from a last eight tie against Manchester United at Old Trafford with a 2-2 draw is worthy of credit and while a Cristiano Ronaldo rocket shot ended the FC Porto story in the return leg, Ferreira had made his point. Very much a coach who is viewed as a master motivator, he lists Benfica, Braga and the Portugal Under-21 side among his previous postings.

CHALKBOARD: Ferreira likes to use a 4-3-3 formation that will not be affected by the summer sales. His transfer dealings were conducted very much with his preferred formation in mind so the arrival of Argentina playmaker Fernando Belluschi fills the hole left by Lucho Gonzalez, while Falcao steps in for Lisandro and Christian Rodriguez is a key man on the wing.

Defensive solidity is one of their chief strengths, with Bruno Alves a reliable performer at the heart of Porto's defensive line. They also have a reasonably settled nucleus of stars who have become used to playing together in the last few years. It means the new arrivals should be welcomed into the family quickly.

DON'T MENTION: Porto tend to come up short when they need to prise open the very best defences in the Champions League knock-out stages. With the quarter-final tie seemingly balanced in their favour last season, they could not fire a bullet through Manchester United's back line on home soil and their new-look forward line may not be any more potent this time.

They also have a problem making the leap up from the modest opposition they generally beat with ease in Portugal.

VERDICT: A last 16 place is expected, but they may struggle to make it in a group featuring Chelsea and Atletico Madrid. Home form will be crucial.


ATLETICO MADRID
•  Status: Spanish league 4th place
•  Nickname: Los Colchoneros

THE RECORD: Atletico made it through to the knock-out stages of the Champions League last season after coming through a tough group featuring Liverpool, PSV Eindhoven and Marseille. The club were runners-up in this competition back in 1974.

HEADLINER: Diego Forlan
Condemned as a striker out of his depth in his time at Manchester United, Uruguayan Forlan has been one of the most prolific scorers in European football since making the move from Old Trafford to Villarreal in 2004.

He has been the key man in the Atletico side since 2007 and his scoring record has been hugely impressive for the last few years in La Liga. He claimed the Pichichi trophy in 2005 after finishing as top scorer in the Spanish league and repeated the trick last term, blasting a stunning 32 goals in 33 matches. He is the ultimate penalty box poacher, but can also score spectacular goals.

YOUNG GUN: Sergio Asenjo
A summer signing from Valladolid, this promising young keeper is under big pressure to shore up a defensive line that leaked a few too many goals for comfort last season.

At the tender age of 20, he is very much a raw talent, but his shot-stopping abilities are impressive. Manchester United and Liverpool had been linked with this Spanish international in the making, but he should be able to develop his talents better on home soil.

THE MAVERICK: Simao Sabrosa
This talented winger looked as if he could be a world-beater during his days at Benfica and after nearly joining Liverpool on several occasions, he eventually left the Portuguese side to sign for Atletico Madrid in 2007.

After a failed spell at Barcelona, he needed to prove he could perform in the Spanish league and he has done that with Atletico. Consistency is something of an issue as he can drift out of games for long periods, but he is fortunate to be in a side featuring the attacking talents of Maxi Rodriguez, Sergio Aguero and Forlan, who cover him when he is having an off day.

SUMMER SIGNING: Juanito
Atletico's thrilling attacking line have often been let down by those behind them, so coach Abel Resino moved to solve those problems with the signings of Spanish Under-21 keeper Asenjo and central defensive pillar Juanito, who arrived from Real Betis.

The latter of the duo has spent the last few years battling the drop with Betis, but their eventual demotion last season meant he had to move on. A Spanish international, he has bags of experience in La Liga and should bulk up the Atletico back line.

COACH: Abel Resino
This Spaniard faced a tough task when he assumed control of Atletico in February as many of the club's fans and a bulk of the players he inherited were still pining for sacked boss Javier Aguirre. He was only intended to be a temporary replacement, but earned the right to enjoy an extended role in the post after impressing in the final few months of last season.

This former keeper played nearly 250 league games for Atletico during his playing days and he believes he has what it takes to unite this talented squad and challenge for Champions League glory. "There was a lot of talk that our best players might leave this summer, but they are still here and that gives us a chance," believes Resino, who has yet to convince some observers that he has what it takes to succeed in this job.

THE CHALKBOARD: Resino will rely heavily on his front four of Forlan, Simao, Rodriguez and Aguero and the latter of that quartet may hold the key to his success.

The price tag hovering over Aguero's head seemed to rise by the week during the off season as Chelsea, Real Madrid and Barcelona were all linked with a move for the Argentine goal machine, but he remains at Atletico and will take his place at the spearhead of the side. The coach has promised an attacking Champions League policy and that is predictable when you consider the cards he has to play with.

DON'T MENTION: Signing a 20-year-old keeper and expecting him to solve the defensive problems that hurt Atletico last season must be viewed as a gamble.

There are also doubts over the tactical acumen of coach Resino, who is not believed to be universally popular in the Atletico dressing room, if press reports are to be believed. In particular, there are question marks over the coach's frosty relationship with Maxi Rodriguez, who gave up the captain's armband during the summer.

VERDICT: Atletico were one of the most dangerous teams hovering in pot three for the draw and they have a good chance of making it to the knock-out stages along with Chelsea in Group D.


APOEL NICOSIA
•  Status: Cypriot league champions
•  Nickname: Thrylos (Legend)

THE RECORD: A year after Anorthosis made their Champions League bow, another of Cyprus' finest, APOEL are gearing up to go head-to-head with the continental heavyweights. They have yet to advance beyond the second round of any European competition.

HEADLINER: Dionisis Chiotis
After playing for leading Greek outfit AEK Athens for over a decade, this keeper's career looked on the slide when he lost his first-team place to the Italian Stefano Sorrentino and he was eventually shown the door. Since moving on to Corfu side Kerkyra FC and then to APOEL in the summer of 2008, this 33-year-old has confounded his critics, emerging as the Nicosia club's most important player in their domestic league triumph of last season.

Born in Athens, he surely would have won more than one cap for Greece if not forced to compete for a starting spot with the outstanding Antonios Nikpolidis. True, he has his flamboyant side, but has a good grasp of all the goalkeeping fundamentals.

YOUNG GUN: Nuno Morais
A valuable Portuguese utility player capable of doing a steady job in central defence or as an energetic, tactically-aware midfield enforcer, Morais now gets his chance to sparkle in the Champions League.

After coming through the ranks of Portuguese side Penafiel, he represented his country at Under-21 level and his real claim to fame is that he was once on the books of Premier League giants Chelsea, whom he joined from Penafiel in 2004. Even though Morais and then Stamford Bridge boss Jose Mourinho were compatriots, it did not help his cause as first-team chances were almost non-existent. Now he gets a shot at Chelsea in the biggest competition of them all.

THE MAVERICK: Kamil Kosowski
This 31-year-old Polish wide midfielder boasts many assets as he is blessed with a delicate touch on the ball and exceptional range of pass. Kosowski can play on either flank and is always keen to get forward to support the attack, but his chronic inconsistency is an obvious flaw.

Since excelling for Wisla Krakow in the 2002-03 UEFA Cup - the Polish club made it through to the fourth round - Kosowski has been on his own European tour, playing for German club Kaiserslautern, Southampton, Chievo in Italy and Spanish side Cadiz. He joined APOEL a year ago and in his first appearance scored the winning goal in the Super Cup against Anorthosis.

SUMMER SIGNING: Adrian Sikora
After securing the services of Kosowski and striker Marcin Zewlakow, APOEL completed a hat-trick of Polish recruits, bringing in the little striker from Cadiz of the Spanish second division. Regularly on the score-sheet for first club Gornik Zabrze and fellow Polish side Dyskobolia, he helped the latter claim national cups in 2005 and 2007.

He has two full caps for Poland, but has been out of the international scene for some time and will hope his Champions League efforts earn him a recall. Former national team boss Pawel Janas once likened him to ex-Polish great Gregorz Lato.

COACH: Ivan Jovanovic
In two stints behind the APOEL wheel, the 47-year-old Serb has come up trumps each time, guiding them to the Cypriot title in 2003-04 and again last season. Jovanovic is renowned for finding the right words to fire up his side and for endlessly studying DVDs of opponents, rarely failing to locate the weaknesses, which he intends to exploit.

A former player with FK Rad in the Yugoslav top flight and Greek club Iraklis Salonika, he is very much a product of the Hellenic coaching school, taking charge at Iraklis, Niki Volou and Panahaiki.

THE CHALKBOARD: In Jovanovic's preferred 4-2-3-1, the defining principle is defensive solidity. In front of keeper Chiotis is a meticulously-built brick wall - a back-four plus two holding players - and APOEL are adept at soaking up pressure, biding their time before hitting on the break. When chasing a game, Jovanovic is quick to call up the cavalry, playing three true strikers: Sikora, Zewlakow and the Serb Nenad Mirosavljevic.

They must be watched carefully at set-pieces. Constantinos Charalambides, in particular, delivers a fine corner or free-kick and this will be one of their chief areas of goal threat in the Champions League.

DON'T MENTION: Their tendency is to defend too deep, a habit which only puts them under more pressure and will be exploited by their Group D rivals Chelsea, FC Porto and Atletico Madrid. Against top class opposition, they will be punished.

Another weak spot is their lack of width as both wide midfielders Kosowski and Charalimbides (or the Portuguese Helio Pinto) move inside as a matter of course.

VERDICT: They will struggle to avoid finishing bottom of Group D.


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