After a week of anticipation for all the three people that care, the draw for the UEFA Cup took place today. The English Premier League teams involved were Tottenham Hotspur, Bolton Wanderers and Everton; all of them drawn into groups of varying degrees of difficulty.
This year’s UEFA Cup promises to be more entertaining than those of past season, mainly due to the new influx of money for many football teams across the world. While the UEFA Cup is generally seen as the second tier of European football, there are still a few good teams that play in it- whether big names fallen from grace or those playing in such a strong league that the best they can hope for is the UEFA Cup.
This year, both Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid make it in. Bayern Munich had a shocking season by their high standards last year and only finished fourth in the Bundesliga while Atletico were unable to compete with the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Sevilla and Valencia. Both clubs spent big in the summer, bringing in players such as Franck Ribery, Luca Toni, Simao Sabrosa and Jose Reyes and thus the English sides will find it difficult should they play either of those teams. As I focus on the Premier League, here I will take a look at the three English teams and their groups, as well as evaluate whether they have a chance of making it into the knockout rounds.
Drawn with: AZ Alkmaar, Zenit St Petersburg, FC Nuremburg and FC Larissa
Everton have been put into a tricky group, with no ‘big names’ as such but four teams quite capable of beating them. Dutch side AZ Alkmaar only missed out on the Eredivise on the last day of the season last year as they finished third; the club has struggled this year after only picking up eight points in their opening seven games. AZ have some decent players in their ranks and should be pretty evenly matched against Everton. FC Larissa are not the biggest club around- I doubt most ordinary football fans would not have heard of them before their tie with Blackburn. Blackburn found out to their own cost how dangerous the Greek team could be when they were knocked out of the qualifiers. Going to Greece is hardly an easy task, and Everton while they should comfortably win the home game in England, Everton should be happy to go to Greece and come back with a draw.
German side Nuremburg are another side that did well last season but have started off poorly this; last year saw them rise to 6th in the table, just three points behind Bayer Leverkusen- this year has them sitting in the relegation zone with just six points from their opening nine games. As for Russian club Zenit St Petersburg, Everton should win at home, however going away to Russia will be a difficult task.
Prediction: Everton will find it tough, but qualify behind AZ Alkmaar to the next round
Drawn with: Bayern Munich, Sporting Braga, Crvena Zvezda, Aris Thessaloniki
Bolton were either lucky or unlucky to be drawn in the same group as Bayern Munich, depending how you look at it. Playing a game against Bayern is always a lucrative tie, and this game will bring the club plenty of money. However, should they take a heavy beating —and with Luca Toni, Franck Ribery, Miroslav Klose and Bastian Schweinstaiger all attacking for Bayern this is quite possible— the repercussions could well be felt in their Premiership campaign. Bolton have been drawn into a difficult group; Sporting Braga and Crvena Zvezda are not easy opponents to play against.
Followers of the Premiership will think their eyes have deceived them when they take a look at Sporting Braga’s kit- the club copied Arsenal’s kit after seeing it in the 1930s; Braga’s nickname is Os Arsenalistas (the Arsenalists). Crvena Zvezda seem like some unknown, small European side on first look at their name; the club was actually known as Red Star Belgrade, and have produced some of the finest Serbian players over the years, even winning the European Cup in 1991. As for Aris Thessaloniki, the Greek side is the one team in the group that Bolton should fully expect to pick up maximum points from. Due to Bolton’s overdependence on Anelka, should the Frenchmen get injured they will struggle- and due to the difficult away ties they have to play in their group there is a good chance they will pick up a few severe beatings.
Prediction: Bolton will not qualify from the group, finishing fourth behind Bayern, Sporting Braga and Red Star Belgrade
Drawn with: Anderlecht, Getafe, Hapoel Tel Aviv, Aalborg
Tottenham Hotspur were drawn into a group that a team of their class really should qualify from. With the likes of Dmitar Berbatov, Ledley King and Robbie Keane at the club, Spurs have quality beyond those in the group. Belgian side Anderlecht does not have any big name players; they do have midfielder Lucas Biglia, who was voted Young Professional Football of the Year in Belgium for 2007. Spanish side Getafe are capable of causing a few problems- they famously thrashed Barcelona 4-0 last season, and Tottenham will have to be on the watch for Nigerian striker Uche, who is capable of scoring goals against the best on his day.
As for the other two teams, Spurs should not have too many problems. They might find it difficult away in Israel against Hapoel Tel Aviv, but Aalborg both home and away should not be a problem. I’m talking about Spurs at the standard that they’re capable of playing at however, and not at the recent rubbish they’ve played; I’m backing the club to improve by the time they’re into their UEFA Cup group stages.
Prediction: Spurs to finish top. Easily.
This writer apologizes if he sent anyone to sleep; this post had to be done :D. Do you think the English clubs will do as predicted, or are Bolton set to shine and Tottenham doomed to fail? Use the comments form and tell me below 😉