Wembley ‘big incentive for London clubs’

ARSENAL chief executive Ivan Gazidis believes a Wembley final will provide extra motivation for London clubs to go all the way in the Champions League after British sides learned their fates yesterday.

Newcomers Tottenham got the plum draw they hoped for with a group that includes last season’s winners Inter Milan, while Chelsea and the Gunners were handed more straightforward opposition.

Manchester United will face Rangers in two mouth-watering all-British clashes after they were drawn together in Group C, while Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid join AC Milan, Ajax and Auxerre in arguably the pick of the draw.

London has three teams in the group stage this season for the first time, and Gazidis identified the appeal of a potential showdown at the 90,000-capacity national stadium as a major factor. “There is a real incentive for all English clubs, especially the London clubs,” said Gazidis. “It would be fantastic to play in the final in London and I know Spurs and Chelsea will feel the same way. There will probably be a mini competition within a competition there.”

United manager Sir Alex Ferguson is relishing facing a club he supported as a boy and went on to play for, now managed by his former assistant Walter Smith. “You can’t complain about that, it’s a good draw for us,” said Ferguson. “Walter Smith’s already been on the phone, talking about tickets for Old Trafford. I’m really looking forward to our games against each other.”

United’s draw raises concerns, however, about the return to Manchester of Rangers fans, some of whom rioted after the 2008 Uefa Cup final defeat to Zenit St Petersburg. Around 150,000 descended on the city for that match but Rangers chief executive Martin Bain said there would be no repeat.

HOW BRITISH SIDES FARED IN THE DRAW

GROUP A
TOTTENHAM

Best: Semi-finals (1962)
Last year: Did not qualify
Fixtures:
14 Sep: Werder Bremen (A)
29 Sep: FC Twente (H)
20 Oct: Inter Milan (A)
2 Nov: Inter Milan (H)
24 Nov: Werder Bremen (H)
7 Dec: FC Twente (A)

Inter Milan

Stadium: Giuseppe Meazza
Capacity: 80,000
Rafael Benitez faces a steep challenge to replace Jose Mourinho, but the Spaniard has retained most of the players who won this trophy in May, and loves nothing more than European competition

Werder Bremen

Stadium: Weserstadion
Capacity: 42,000
World Cup star Mesut Ozil has flown the nest but the Germans showed they will be tough nuts to crack in the play-off round when they mounted an unlikely comeback to beat Sampdoria

FC Twente

Stadium: De Grolsch Veste
Capacity: 24,000
Steve McClaren rebuilt his reputation by leading them to the Dutch title last season, but the Englishman has since departed. Like Liverpool, they sing You’ll Never Walk Alone before kick-off


group C

MAN UTD

Best: Winners (‘08, ‘99, ‘68)
Last year: Quarter-finals

Fixtures:
14 Sep: Rangers (H)
29 Sep: Valencia (A)
20 Oct: Bursaspor (H)
2 Nov: Bursaspor (A)
24 Nov: Rangers (A)
7 Dec: Valencia (H)

Valencia

Stadium: Estadio Mestalla
Capacity: 55,000
The Spaniards are back in the Champions League after a two-year absence, having finished third last season, but it remains to be seen how they will cope without stars David Villa and David Silva

RANGERS

Stadium: Ibrox
Capacity: 51,000

Their clashes with United promise to be blockbuster affairs, and they surely can’t do worse than last year, when they only managed two points and lost 4-1 at home to Unirea Urziceni. Can they?

Bursaspor

Stadium: Bursa Ataturk
Capacity: 18,000
Won the Turkish Super Lig for the first time last season and are making their debut in Europe’s top competition. Not great bets to reach last 16, but are splendidly nicknamed the Green Crocodiles


GROUP F


CHELSEA

Best: Runners-up (2008)
Last year: Last 16
Fixtures:
15 Sep: MSK Zilina (A)
28 Sep: Marseille (H)
19 Oct: Spartak Moscow (A)
3 Nov: Spartak Moscow (H)
23 Nov: MSK Zilina (H)
8 Dec: Marseille (A)

Marseille

Stadium: Stade Velodrome
Capacity: 60,000
Fixtures:
15 Sep: MSK Zilina (A)
28 Sep: Marseille (H)
19 Oct: Spartak Moscow (A)
3 Nov: Spartak Moscow (H)
23 Nov: MSK Zilina (H)
8 Dec: Marseille (A)

Marseille

Stadium: Stade Velodrome
Capacity: 60,000

Chelsea connections abound at Didier Drogba’s former club who, under new boss Didier Deschamps, won their first league title for 18 years. Have started the new season with consecutive defeats, however

Spartak Moscow

Stadium: Luzhniki Stadium
Capacity: 78,000
Scene of the 2008 final, in which Chelsea lost to Man Utd on penalties, it is unlikely to be the Blues’ favourite venue, not least because games at the Luzhniki are played on an artificial pitch

MSK Zilina

Stadium: Pod Dubnom
Capacity: 11,000
Slovakia’s dominant team of the last decade, they won their fifth title in nine years last season. Were the first team Chelsea played after Roman Abramovich bought the club in 2003

GROUP H

ARSENAL

Best: Runners-up (2006)
Last year: Quarter-finals

Fixtures:
15 Sep: Braga (H)
28 Sep: Partizan (A)
19 Oct: Shakhtar (H)
3 Nov: Shakhtar (A)
23 Nov: Braga (A)
8 Dec: Partizan (H)

Shakhtar Donetsk

Stadium: Donbass Arena
Capacity: 51,000
Ukrainian champions bought Eduardo from the Gunners in summer, and the Croatian is assured a warm reception on his return to the Emirates. Not a part of the world Arsenal relish going to

Braga

Stadium: Estadio AXA
Capacity: 30,000
Finished a best-ever second in the Portuguese top flight and then beat Celtic and Sevilla to reach the group stage for first time. Fans known as Arsenalistas, owing to kit’s resemblance to Gunners strip

Partizan Belgrade

Stadium: Stadion FK Partizan
Capacity: 32,000
Have ruled the Serbian top flight for the past three years and are back in the group stage for the first time since 2003/4, having squeezed past Anderlecht in the play-off on penalties

THE REST OF THE GROUPS

Group B
Lyon Benfica
Schalke Hapoel Tel Aviv

Group D
Barcelona Panathinaikos
FC Copenhagen Rubin Kazan

Group E
Bayern Munich Roma
FC Basle CFR Cluj

GROUP G
AC Milan Real Madrid
Ajax Auxerre