The road to the 2012 UEFA Champions League final on Saturday 19 May, 2012, at the Fußball Arena München, starts today. The draw for the group stage will take place in Monaco, on August 25, 2011, at 17.45CET (15:45 GMT – 19:45 Dubai Time).
32 European teams will be split into 8 groups, with each group having 4 clubs. The draw might see some really tough encounters where the odds of having FC Barcelona and AC Milan in one group, or Real Madrid and Manchester City in another, are really high.
The Allianz Arena, in the north of Munich, will be the venue for the 2012 UEFA Champions League Final
The draw ceremony will also see the presentation of the inaugural UEFA Best Player in Europe Award, for the first time. A jury of 53 sports journalists representing each of the UEFA member associations selected Xavi, Messi, and C. Ronaldo as the three nominees for the award, based on their performance during the 2010/2011 season for both club and country. (You can check the mechanics of the voting here)
The 32 participants were all busy this summer reinforcing their squads in anticipation of another long and competitive football season. Many have yet to dig further into their pockets and buy more players if they were determined to reach advanced stages of the European Championship. The transfer market will close by midnight on August 31, and here are some quick views on some of the big names:
1- AC Milan: The Italian Champions have just signed Alberto Aquilani on a loan deal from Liverpool with an obligation to buy him permanently if he plays more than 25 games this season. Yet, there are still hopes that there is a Mr. X to join them soon. With an aging midfield, and no real playmaker, one more signing can do them miracles if chosen right. If they don’t, I can’t see them winning this year around.
Searching for Mr. X should never stop with the capture of Alberto Aquilani
2- FC Barcelona: The European Champions finally welcomed their son back to the Camp Nou; the former Arsenal Captain Cesc Fàbregas. They also signed the Chilean sensation Alexis Sánchez to strengthen their attack that boosts having Messi in it. However, with their Captain Puyol sidelined, and his companion Pique also injured, the Blaugrana might jump into the market to find a world class defender as a cover for their backline. It is true that the midfield and powerful attack can do miracles for them, but if they do not reinforce their defense I can’t imagine a happy ending of the 2011/2012 campaign.
3- Chelsea FC: Dubbed as the new Mourinho, newly assigned manager André Villas-Boas has a lot to ask from the management. He has just signed Romelu Lukaku and Juan Mata to reinforce a somehow sterile attack. Yet, Mr. AVB knows that his real problem lies in the midfield. He has already lost Essien because of a lengthy injury, and knows that Lampard is not at his best. Signing an attacking midfielder, say Luka Modrić for example or Kaka, will prove crucial as the season progresses.
4- Manchester United: Sir Alex is already celebrating more than 25 years with the English Champions. He started introducing young talents this season after losing a couple because of retirement. The Sir knows well that he has a wealth of experience and talent in his squad, and also knows that he needs the cherry on the top if this squad is to know European glory this season. A Sneijder can be the missing piece, but knowing the Sir well we should anticipate a sudden move towards another unthought-of of figure; Kaka perhaps?
5- Real Madrid: Jose Mourinho is serving his second season with the “Whites”. He already missed out on most of the trophies last season and yet the management still believes he is “The Special One.” He even managed to become the Head of Football Operations at the club. With Mourinho’s increasing powers and big spending over the summer, expect one more signing in the attack department.
6- Manchester City: Many might argue that the citizens should not be among Europe’s elite, at least for the time being. It is true that they have not participated in the competition since 1968, but they return this year with heavy artillery. Having secured the signings of Samir Nasri and Aguero recently diminishes the possibilities of buying anymore talents. However, managing to keep the unsettled Carlos Tévez within their squad might boost their hopes of advancing to the final rounds of the competition.
If you want to be among Europe’s elite, you don’t promote fear of one player on your official website!
7- Internazionale Milano: In 2010, the Italian giants won the competition. Since then, everything fell apart. To add to their misery, Samuel Eto’o has just left them for some thousands of dollars per hour. The squad is aging, unorganized, and in dire need of reinforcements at all levels. Targeting the likes of Diego Forlán and Carlos Tévez will not be the answer to all their problems. Massimo Moratti should act fast within the next week if he wanted to forget last season’s disasters.
8- Arsenal: Monsieur Wenger has just silenced his critics on the last day of the play-offs and managed a qualification. His strategies and “weird” ways might have served him well until yesterday. Still, it has been six years since he managed a title and five years since he reached the competition’s final. If the Gooners are to shine this year, the French Professor should run like a headless chicken in the coming few days to get himself some defenders and a couple of midfielders to replace the recently departed Cesc and Nasri.
Whether you agree on the above or disagree, whether you have better things to say or worse, here is a hint: let me know and convince me with your comments below.