After being pitted in last year's 'Group of Death', Bayern Munich can breathe a sigh of relief: the draw for the Champions League (CL) group stage has been kind to last year's beaten finalists. They will be joined in Group F by Spain's Valencia CF, LOSC Lille of France and FC BATE Borisov of Belarus. On paper, the group should play out according to the respective rankings of the teams, which would see Bayern as group winners and Valencia accompany them through as runners up.
Valencia, third last year in Spain's La Liga for the third consecutive season, finished a gigantic 39 points behind champions Real Madrid and have clearly benefitted from Spain's receiving four CL places: they haven't progressed past the CL group stage in the last five seasons. Entering his first season as Valencia coach is former player Mauricio Pellegrino, who missed the decisive penalty in Bayern's last Champions League success: the final in 2001. He has been very active in the transfer market with the main capture being defensive midfielder Fernando Gago from Real Madrid and the biggest loss Jordi Alba, scorer in the Euro 2012 final for Spain, moving to Barcelona.
Lille, French double winners in 2011, finished last term in a respectable third place in LigueUn and reached this year's CL after seeing off FC Copenhagen in the final qualifying round. Unfortunately, their recent success has brought attention to the club and cost them several key players, the most notable being Belgian play-maker Eden Hazard to CL winners Chelsea. Coach Rudi Garcia is also a former player but will be aiming to improve on last year's CL showing when the club finished bottom of the group with only one win to their name.
Perennial Belarusian champions BATE will switch their home games from Borisov to the national stadium in Minsk. They played in the CL last season, drawing creditably against then Italian champions AC Milan but losing 4-0 and 5-0 to Barcelona, finishing bottom of the group with only two points. Their squad mainly constitutes Belarusians, many of whom feature in the national team, the most notable being former VfB Stuttgart and Arsenal winger Alexander Hleb.
Bayern, who are desperate to wrestle back the Bundesliga title from Borussia Dortmund this season, will take extra comfort from their group when compared to that of their domestic rivals, the German title holders drawn against Real Madrid, Manchester City and AFC Ajax in the 'Group of Champions'.
Anything other than Bayern winning the group in comfortable fashion will be a major shock, not just in Bavaria but across Europe. Jupp Heynckes can already start planning for the knockout stages after the arrival of the final piece of the jigsaw, new signing EUR40 million man Javi Martinez, added to an already star-studded squad.