If more people played Football Manager more often, the need for the media to stretch the slack rubber of explaining why Arsenal remains among the Pot 1 (top seeded) teams when drawing clubs into their respective UEFA Champions League groups would be more unnecessary than it already is (for those who know).
That written, Arsenal, which completed the signing of former midfielder Mathieu Flamini on Thursday, would probably wish it wasn’t a Pot 1 team afterall following being drawn with a trio of runners-up from competitive leagues; Olympique Marseille from Ligue 1, a league it currently leads, Napoli from the Serie A in a repeat of their dramatic Emirates Cup tie in preseason as well as enterprising German side Borussia Dortmund that also finished runner-up of last season’s Champions League.
Reigning champions Bayern Munich were drawn with Manchester City, CSKA Moscow and Viktoria Plzen in Group D, a group Bayern should have little trouble qualifying from. Man. City meanwhile will fancy their qualification chance this time having crashed out of Europe altogether at the group stage of the last two seasons.
Russian side CSKA on paper will fancy making the knockout stage and upsetting City, however slim that chance is on paper, or at least finish third and drop to the Europa League. Plzen on their part will be buoyed by knocking Atletico Madrid out of last season’s Europa League when they go into matches in this group from next month.
In other groups, there’s Barcelona, that scrapped to the Spanish Super Cup title over Atletico, and AC Milan finding themselves drawn together again in Group H, with Ajax and Celtic the other teams in that group. Group G comprises winners of four of the last six Europa League titles as FC Porto, Atletico Madrid and Zenit St. Petersburg come up against each other along with Austria Vienna.
Then there’s Real Madrid and Italian champions Juventus in Group B alongside last season’s quarterfinalist Galatasaray and FC Copenhagen while PSG are firm favourites in Group C ahead of Benfica, Olympiakos and Anderlecht while English champions Man. United will come up against a supposedly weakened Shakhtar Donetsk side, German darkhorse Bayer Leverkusen and this season’s exciting prospect from La Liga, Real Sociedad in Group C.
And Europa League holders Chelsea will contest Group E with Kevin Prince Boateng’s new club Schalke, Steaua Bucharest of Romania and Swiss side FC Basel. Before then, Jose Mourinho’s side come up against Bayern in this season’s European Super Cup match at Prague tonight.
Both sides boast of strong first team squads filled with an abundance of midfielders and in Chelsea’s case, strikers, after the Blues completed the signing of Cameroun forward Samuel Eto’o from Anzhi days after completing the hijack of Willian. The spotlight however would shift from the duo to the opposing managers, espcially Mourinho who has a poor record of just three wins in 15 meetings against Pep Guardiola to mull on.
Nigeria’s basketball national team have much to mull on concerning the way forward after first losing to Senegal by a point at the quarterfinal stage on Wednesday before falling to another shock 79-76 loss to Cape Verde in a 5th-8th place semifinal playoff on Thursday.
D’Tigers however recovered to thrash Morocco 105-87 in a 7th-8th playoff and complete a gruelling three matches in as many days in Abidjan, finishing a disappointing seventh having placed third at the last Championship in 2011.
Favourites Angola meanwhile are through to the last four there along with hosts Cote D’Ivoire whom they face in a semifinal tonight, with Egypt to face Senegal in the second semifinal as the last four battle for three World Championship spots available.
While the Basketball Nations Cup ends this weekend, the US Open, which began on Monday, truly begins as most of the top seeds have eased through the opening rounds and are now preparing for the third round.
One wee bit of a shock was however recorded when British player… no, not Andy Murray, he’s still on course to defend the title, but Dan Evans who came from a set down to defeat Australia’s Bernard Tomic and set up a third round tie against 19th seed Tommy Robredo. Women’s 5th seed Sara Errani was also knocked out in the second round by compatriot Flavia Penneta in straight sets.
Champion Murray will only just play his second round match against birthday mate Leonardo Mayer of Argentina, while the other usual suspects – Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka and Li Na – are already through to round three which serves off this weekend.
Major highlight of this weekend though will come from football in the Premier League where archrivals Liverpool and Manchester United face off in Sunday’s lunchtime kickoff at Anfield before Tottenham Hotspur visit Arsenal in the north London derby later on Sunday.
Tottenham, conveniently drawn in Group K of the Europa League with Anzhi Makhachkala earlier today, head into the derby feeling better than this time last week when their deal for Willian was hijacked, having completed the signings of Erik Lamela from AS Roma and Romanian defender Vlad Chiriches while Ajax playmaker Christian Eriksen is close to agreeing a deal with the Lilywhites.
Other matches in the Premier League this weekend sees Hull City travelling to face Man. City in Saturday’s early kickoff followed by Cardiff City aiming to add another scalp in Man. United-£36m bid-rejecting Everton, Newcastle United hosting Fulham and Sunderland away at Crystal Palace in the evening kickoff.
In France, league leaders Marseille face second placed big spenders Monaco, while champions PSG welcome Guingamp to the Parc Des Princes and Olympique Lyon will look to put behind their Champions League exit at Real Sociedad when they visit Evian on Saturday.
Sociedad welcome Atletico Madrid to San Sebastien in a potentially thrilling La Liga match on Sunday, champions Barcelona visit Valencia afterwards while Real Madrid host Athletic Bilbao in Sunday’s (rather very) early kickoff.
Real’s Champions League group adversary Juventus will be at home to Lazio in a Serie A match on Saturday evening a fortnight after beating the Romans 4-0 to win the Italian Super Cup. Before that match, Napoli will pay Chievo Verona a visit.
And in Germany, Dortmund have the chance to regain top spot from Bayern (that drew 1-1 with Freiburg on Tuesday) if they pick a win from their trip to Eintracht Frankfurt on Sunday.
Before then, Bayern could have dropped to fourth place even should Bayer Leverkusen, FSV Mainz and Hertha Berlin win their respective matches away at fumbling Schalke, Hannover 96 and Wolfsburg.
Finally from the home front, Enyimba went top of the league with 46 points after 28 matches, ahead of Bayelsa United on goal difference, following a 3-0 win at home to Gombe United in midweek.
Bayelsa drew goalless at Sunshine Stars while champions Kano Pillars dropped to third, a point behind the leading two, after a 2-0 loss at Heartland, with Kwara United a further point behind in fourth place following a 2-0 loss as well at Nembe City.
With that, it’s a wrap from here. Billionaire philanthropist Warren Buffet turns 83 on this day, actor Mark Strong turns 50, Charlie’s Angel Cameron Diaz and legendary former Czech midfielder Pavel Nedvěd turn 41 today as well and American tennis player Andy Roddick is 31 today.
To them and everyone else celebrating, best wishes of the day. And here’s to a pleasant weekend to you all. Cheers!