UEFA Champions League Draw: Group H Analysis
Group H might not be amazing from a pure footballing standpoint, but it's certainly a lot of fun. Barcelona, the obvious candidates to go through, have links to all three sides they drew -- they play against AC Milan almost every year, were inspired by Ajax and suffered an embarrassing loss to Celtic last season. On top of that, it's the only group in which all four participants have won a European Cup. Neat!
In an uncertain group, there's just one thing for sure: Barcelona will go through. They always do, and this season they'll be desperate for revenge after Bayern Munich swatted them aside in the semifinals. With Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and a slew of other brilliant players, Barca tend to be irresistible. Nobody in the group is capable of stopping them over the course of six games.
Blog: Barca Blaugranes.
Going through: AC Milan
Serie A isn't the powerhouse that it once was, and Milan aren't the team they used to be. Nor will the Rossoneri be particularly thrilled at being drawn in the same group as Barcelona for the third time in four years. But there's still plenty of quality there -- on paper they're a better side than Ajax and Celtic. The group is so finely balanced, however, that one bad outing could spell doom for Milan.
Blog: The AC Milan Offside
Europa League-bound: Ajax
Ajax had to navigate the group of death to end all groups of death last year, and they did credibly well by finishing ahead of Manchester City. That wasn't good enough to get them to the knockout rounds, of course, but there's only one major European power in Group H, and last seasons experience will give Ajax real hope of getting through. They'll need to be both good and lucky to avoid finishing third or worse, but it's definitely not out of the question.
Dead last: Celtic
Celtic surprised last season, making the knockout stages ahead of SL Benfica before being torn apart by Juventus, and their ranking in last here shouldn't be taken as indicative that they can't do it again. But they'll need to replicate their amazing performances from last year's group stages, and the problem with that is that they'll be very difficult to repeat. Barring another big surprise, Celtic are in trouble.
Best player: Lionel Messi
It will not come as a major shock that the world's best player is also the group's best player. Lionel Messi is beyond compare.
Emerging star: Mario Balotelli
You'd have thought Mario Balotelli would have already emerged by now, but there's still the sense that he's more of a zany entertainer than a brilliant footballer. He does bring that image upon himself somewhat, mind you, but it's not entirely fair -- he's intelligent, creative and athletic beyond belief. If he's firing on all cylinders/not allergic to grass/not suspended/not burning bathrooms down, Milan are in good shape.
Must-watch: Celtic vs. Barcelona
It was pretty awesome last time. Is a repeat on the cards?
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