Tough draw for French clubs

French clubs face an uphill struggle after Thursday's draw for the Champions League group phase. Lyon will meet Bayern Munich and Fiorentina, while Marseille face Liverpool and Atletico Madrid, and Bordeaux take on Chelsea and AS Roma.


AFP - Holders Manchester United were drawn with Scottish champions Celtic, Spain's Villarreal and Denmark's Aalborg in Thursday's draw in Monaco for this season's Champions League group phase.

United, who also won the English Premiership title, were drawn in Group E while Chelsea will meet AS Roma, Bordeaux of France and Romanian debutants Cluj in Group A.

Adding to the flavour of home and away 'Battle of Britain' clashes will be the fact that Celtic are coached by Gordon Strachan, who was a player under United boss Sir Alex Ferguson both at Old Trafford and Aberdeen beforehand.

The clubs also met in the Champions League group stages two seasons ago. Celtic edged their home game 1-0 and United won theirs 3-2.

Liverpool, who edged into the pool phase with a 1-0 win over Belgium's Standard Liege on Wednesday, will take on Spain's Atletico Madrid, who looked sharp in knocking out Germany's Schalke 04, as well as Dutch champions PSV Eindhoven and also Marseille of France, whom they met last year, in Group D.

Rafa Benitez's side have made a slow start to the season but have won their opening two Premiership fixtures despite not clicking into top gear.

Heading to Atletico means a trip to his former club for Reds' striker Fernando Torres as the hitman nicknamed El Nino seeks to blow away his old teammates at the Vicente Calderon stadium.

"The important thing is making a good start. We took one point from the first three games last season and we've got to do better," former star Phil Thompson told Liverpool's official website.

But they will be mindful of their Anfield meeting against Marseille last year when the French won 1-0 only to lose the return at the Velodrome as Benitez and company swept them aside 4-0.

Liverpool chief executive Rick Parry told the BBC: "There are no easy games - you just take it as it comes. We are just delighted to be in it."

Marseille chairman Pape Diouf was cautious. "We know it won't be easy but we know Liverpool from p[laying them last year.That could be an advantage for us - but also for them."

England's other participants, 2006 finalists Arsenal, will face a trip to Fenerbahce in Turkey, to Portugal to meet Porto and Dynamo Kiev of Ukraine in Group G.

In Group B, Italian champions Inter Milan will take on seasoned German campaigners Werder Bremen, Greek side Panathinaikos and Cypriots Anorthosis.

Barcelona, champions in 1992 and 2006, will meet Portugal's Sporting Lisbon, FC Basel of Switzerland and Shakhtar Donetsk of Ukraine in Group C.

In Group F, serial French champions Lyon, who have yet to make a major impression in Europe despite their domestic dominance, will meet German counterparts Bayern Munich, Italy's Fiorentina and Romania's Steaua Bucharest.

Lyon coach Claude Puel says he foresees an even hence, tough, group.

"Romanian football has come on a lot and Fiorentina were semi-finalists in last season's UEFA Cup and had a good season in Italy. We'll have to get points pretty much everywhere."

Finally in Group H, record nine-times winners Real Madrid, who have flopped badly since their last success in 2002, must face Juventus, winners in 1985 and 1996, UEFA Cup holders Zenit St Petersburg and Bate Borisov of Belarus.

Ahead of the draw, Chelsea's Petr Cech was earlier voted top goalkeeper of last season's competition while skipper John Terry won the defenders accolade and Frank Lampard was named UEFA midfielder of the year to complete a club treble.

Cristiano Ronaldo got the vote as top striker and top overall player after his 42-goal season haul. The first set of matches will be played on September 16/17.

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