German representatives face difficult routes through Champions League | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 26.08.2010
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German representatives face difficult routes through Champions League

Three of the Bundesliga's top clubs are looking to make a big impression in the Champions League this season. In May, Bayern Munich came closer than any other German club since 2002 to winning the title.

The badges of Bayern Munich, Werder Bremen and Schalke 04 with the European Cup.

Bayern, Bremen and Schalke prepare to tackle Europe's elite

Bayern - losing finalists against Inter Milan in May - are among the top seeds and were drawn Thursday against AS Roma, FC Basel and CFR Cluj in Group E of this season's Champions League competition.

The German champions qualified automatically after securing the Bundesliga title and therefore avoided the likes of Italian giants Inter and AC Milan, English Premiership big-boys Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal, Spanish champions Barcelona and perennial qualifiers Lyon from France's Ligue 1.

Clubs from the same country cannot not be drawn against each other in the group stage and for TV purposes are kept on opposite sides of the draw as far as possible, so Bayern have also avoided playing one of their Bundesliga rivals - at least for now.

Bayern look to hit the ground running

Bayern have been slowly building a head of steam in this competition over the past few seasons and since Louis van Gaal took charge they've been picking up speed. From being a team seemingly predestined to get knocked out in the quarterfinals, Bayern have quietly developed into a club ready to challenge for the title.

Louis van Gaal with Arjen Robben after the 2010 Champions League final

Bayern are hoping for happier end to the 2011 competition

However, they faltered badly in the early stages of the competition last season, almost crashing out at the group stage with only a heroic performance against Juventus preventing them from slipping into the Europa League.

But with every passing round, the Bavarian giants had an unbeatable air about them. They marched through against teams like Manchester United and Lyon with a strange certainty that they would reach the final and had many convinced that they could win it. Unfortunately, it was not to be.

This season, a strong showing against another Italian team will be needed. AS Roma ran Inter Milan close to the Serie A title last season and will prove obstinate opposition for Bayern, especially at the Stadio Olimpico.

The German champions should have the measure of the Italians at home but Bayern's visit to Rome could prove tricky. There shouldn't be any problem for the Germans against FC Basel so qualification should be assured, regardless of which way the results go against Roma and Cluj.

If Bayern can avoid the pitfalls which almost cost them the chance of making the knockout phase last time and find their European groove earlier this season, then they'll be a strong bet to repeat their run to the previous final and who knows - perhaps even win it?

Werder Bremen player Markus Rosenberg reacts against Madrid scored during his Group C Champions League match in Madrid, Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2007.

Bremen have yet to fulfill their Champions League potential

Bremen hope to recapture barnstorming form

Werder Bremen, recently qualified at the expense of Sampdoria, return to the Champions League after a couple of seasons away from Europe’s premier club competition.

The impressive and dramatic performances by Thomas Schaaf's side against their Italian opposition in the qualifying round certainly suggests that Bremen will be an entertaining addition to the group stages, but how will they fare against teams like reigning champions Inter Milan, Dutch champions FC Twente and Tottenham Hotspurs?

Bremen have never really worried the latter stages of the Champions League despite consistently reaching the knockout rounds during their strong, mid-noughties period of Bundesliga ascendance.

However, they’ve been off the boil for the latter part of the decade and have not managed to regain the consistency which saw them continually challenging for the Bundesliga title and qualifying for the Champions League.

It remains to be seen how Inter Milan play under new coach Rafa Benitez, but however the former Liverpool coach chooses to line the European champions up, it's still effectively the same team that won the trophy last season.

Bremen will be in for a fight both at home and away. They may fancy their chances against new boys Tottenham Hotspurs but the English Premiership side looked far from over-awed in qualifying, so Werder will have to draw on their experience to snuff out Spurs' enthusiasm over two games.

FC Twente shocked the Eredivisie last season under current Wolfsburg coach Steve McClaren, so who's to say they won't spring a surprise in the Champions League? They're unlikely to win it but they could cause Bremen problems. At best, Werder could get through in second but it looks a tough group for the North Germans.

Schalke faces tough group

Schalke's players leave the pitch after losing their Champions League quarterfinal second leg soccer match against Barcelona at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, Spain, Wednesday, April 9, 2008. Barcelona defeated Schalke with 1-0.

Schalke hope Magath and Raul can plot a successful course

Schalke, the third team in the Bundesliga trio, have a tricky group consisting of Lyon, Benfica and Happoel Tel Aviv. But while Schalke teams in the past have been finding their way through European competition with little knowledgeable guidance, they have a hard-headed coach with experience of the business end of the European Cup in Felix Magath.

A winner and runner-up with Hamburg as a player, Magath coached Bayern in three Champions League campaigns, reaching the quarterfinals in 2004/05 and the first knockout round the following year.

He also took Bayern to the knockout round in the 2006/07 competition but was fired for poor Bundesliga form before their quarterfinal defeat to AC Milan.

Magath also has the most prolific goal scorer in Champions League history on his books in the form of Raul. The former Real Madrid talisman and captain has three Champions League winner’s medals to his name as well as an unprecedented 66 strikes in the competition.

As a result Schalke will be going into this season’s Champions League with an experienced leader off the pitch and an experienced one on it.

Lyon have been here so many times before that they treat the Champions League as if it was an extension of their domestic competition. But, as Bayern found out last season, this sometimes works against them.

Lyon may not be equipped to deal with both this season, and Schalke will hope to get a victory against them either home or away.

Benfica could be the wild card in the group. The Portuguese are renowned for swift counterattacking play and their style may be a little cavalier for the Germans.

These games could be very hard for Schalke. But the Germans should get the points they need to at least challenge for the second qualifying spot against Hapoel Tel Aviv.

Author: Nick Amies
Editor: Martin Kuebler

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