The quartet of contenders for the main prize find themselves up against many a familiar face, while Europa League hopefuls VfL Wolfsburg and Borussia Mönchengladbach have some mouth-watering international assignments coming up as well.
Tough draws for Bayern and Dortmund
FC Bayern München were certainly done few favours in a draw which pitted them against Manchester City, CSKA Moskva and AS Roma in Group E of the Champions League. Bayern played both City and CSKA at the same stage of last season's tournament, while the matches against Serie A runners-up Roma offer their new Moroccan centre-back the opportunity of a rapid-fire reunion with his former employers. Club president Karl Hopfner meanwhile is in no doubt that, “We've landed in the toughest group of the lot.”
Borussia Dortmund don't appear to have it appreciably easier in Group D, however. Alongside Arsenal FC, World Cup-winning trio Per Mertesacker, Mesut Özil and Lukas Podolski included, die Schwarz-Gelben have Turkish powerhouse Galatasaray SK and Belgium's RSC Anderlecht to contend with. “It strikes me as a really evenly-balanced group. It promises to be very exciting,” reckons sporting director Michael Zorc. That said, new BVB skipper Mats Hummels has made clear that, “We expect to progress.”
Schalke and Leverkusen eye knockout rounds
On paper, FC Schalke 04 look good for a top-two finish in Group G with Chelsea FC, André Schürrle et al, the other obvious favourites. The Royal Blues will certainly not be making the mistake of underestimating either Sporting Lisbon or Slovenian champs NK Maribor, but their goal is likewise clearly defined. “We want to make the knockout phase again," said sporting director Horst Heldt. "We've still got a score to settle with Chelsea after they beat us twice last season. They'll be the favourites in our group again, but we're targeting second place."
Having eased past FC København in the play-off round, Bayer 04 Leverkusen have pitched up alongside SL Benfica, FC Zenit Saint Petersburg and AS Monaco in Group C. “We pulled a top team out the fourth pot in Monaco,” said Bayer sporting director Rudi Völler in response to the draw. “It's going to be tough to qualify, but we're optimistic. We've nothing to lose and we're looking to make the last Round of 16 for the second year running.”
Should the Bundesliga's finest require any added incentive to try and go all the way in Europe's elite club competition this season, it comes with the prospect of a curtain-call in familiar surroundings: Berlin's Olympic Stadium will be the venue for the final on 6 June 2015.
On their impatiently-awaited return to the international arena, VfL Wolfsburg have to negotiate OSC Lille, Everton FC and Russia's FC Krasnodar in Europa League Group H. “It's got a certain Champions League flavour to it. Lille and Everton are big names and Krasnodar will certainly pose quite a challenge as well,” the Wolves' sporting director Klaus Allofs analysed. “It's not going to be easy but taking a look at the other groups, neither are they.”
Europea League final in Warsaw
In Borussia Mönchenglabach's case, that means going up against La Liga outfit Villarreal CF, Apollon Limassol of Cyprus and FC Zürich in Group A. For Foals head coach Lucien Favre, the games against the latter will mark a return to the club he coached up until 2007. “It's great to be going back to Zürich, I had four fantastic years there. It'll be a tough one, FCZ are a quality side,” said the former Switzerland international.
The Bundesliga duo get cracking in their respective groups on Thursday 18 September, the first step along a road which, for two clubs, will terminate at Poland's new national stadium in Warsaw on 27 May next year.