Every time we find ourselves in the Champions League Group Stages, the same basic question nags at me and gnaws at my mind; what sort of draw do we want for ourselves?
Do we want the one where we have the best chance of going through, even if it doesn’t promise glitz and glamour and trips to places we’ve never been … or do we want to genuinely test ourselves and the manager’s ideas against the best clubs that there are?
What makes the ideal Champions League Group Stage draw?
There are a lot of fans who will say that yes, you want the best teams you can get. But ask them if that means Liverpool and they’ll say that no, they don’t want Liverpool because there’s no outstanding away trip involved in that. So even amongst those who want to play the best, there are those who want the most exotic trip.
Madrid, maybe, to play Real then.
There are fans who would just love three adventures in sexy sounding cities, and I get that. So, to them, Milan, Madrid and Salzburg would be perfect. If they have memories of Atletico Madrid, then perhaps – haha – they’d fancy Sevilla instead.
In the Pot 3 I’d find Naples awfully hard to turn down as it’s been on my bucket list cities for years. Equally, though, I’ve always fancied visiting Austria so that too would have an appeal. I recognise which of the two would be the better draw – Salzburg for sure – but that doesn’t stop me aching to see Vesuvius and the ruins of Pompeii.
Let’s be honest though, most of us would prefer the simpler task.
I would take Frankfurt in Pot One. They looked beatable and Germany is a place I’m always going to have a lot of affection for. Porto would be a nice place to visit and a pretty favourable draw … that one wouldn’t be a bad option at all.
If we get the Germans that rules out Leipzig in Pot 2. Porto and Leipzig seems a better prospect, leaving us, possibly, with Salzburg as our Pot 3 best bet as Sporting are no longer in the running. If Ajax end up in Pot 2 they could be decent side to get there … that opens up some interesting options. I do not fancy Shakhtar in Pot 3 … the game would have to be played at a neutral venue, most probably, but it still doesn’t hold much appeal.
The full shape of Pot 3 won’t be known until the qualifiers are played but it does look as if there could be some easier fixtures in there for us. But is an easier set of fixtures necessarily what we want? Do we want a Champions League Group or something that looks like it could have been borrowed from the Europa League?
For this year, I’m willing to forego the glamour a bit in pursuit of an easier ride. I would love to visit wonderful cities and see wonderful sights … but I’d be hiding behind the sofa if I was stuck at home and we were drawn against European superpower teams.
So I’ll take Porto, Leipzig and Salzburg or perhaps Shakhtar. I would settle for progress rather than glamour. I would hope, therefore, to avoid Liverpool, Barcelona and Inter Milan or one of the other available Hellscape scenarios which would sent us to three massive clubs.
There will be glamour enough in being there and trying to win points … but how do other fans feel about this? Do you want sexy cities and big names, or are you a more pragmatic supporter who just wants our team to have a chance at going through?