Here we'll bring you the lowdown on the teams involved.
| AC Milan
| Real Madrid
Last season at home: Third, Serie A; Round of 16, Coppa Italia.
Last season in Europe: Champions League Round of 16
Coach: Massimililano Allegri since June 2010
Playing style: Style over substance.
Strength: Plenty of players with great technique on the ball and can hold possession.
Weakness: Lack of physicality and stamina in midfield.
Key men: Ronaldinho, Alexandre Pato, Alessandro Nesta
Realistic Objective: Champions League Semi-finals.
Starting XI (4-3-3): Amelia; Zambrotta, Thiago Silva, Nesta, Antonini; Flamini, Pirlo, Boateng (Seedorf); Pato, Borriello, Ronaldinho.
Last season at home: La Liga runners-up
Last season in Europe: Champions League last 16
Coach: Jose Mourinho since June 2010
Playing style: Organised attacking football
Strength: Good mix of young and experience world class players led by a renowned coach
Weakness: Defensive lapses, overhauled line-up
Key men: Cristiano Ronaldo, Gonzalo Higuain, Xabi Alonso, Iker Casillas
Realistic Objective: Champions League winners
Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Casillas - Sergio Ramos, Pepe, Carvalho, Marcelo - Xabi Alonso, Khedira - Oezil, Canales, Ronaldo - Higuain
Last season at home: Eredivisie runners-up; Winners, KNVB Beker
Last season in Europe: Europa League round of 32
Coach: Martin Jol since summer 2009
Playing style: Attacking, possession football
Strength: A lethal, irresistible attack
Weakness: Defensive lapses
Key men: Maarten Stekelenburg, Luis Suarez, Gregory van der Wiel
Realistic Objective: Surviving Champions League Group Stage
Starting XI (4-3-3): Stekelenburg; Van der Wiel, Alderweireld, Vertonghen, Anita; De Zeeuw, De Jong, Enoh; Suarez, El Hamdaoui, Emanuelson
Last season at home: Third, French Ligue 1; Quarter-finalists, Coupe de France; Third round, Coupe de la Ligue
Last season in Europe: N/A
Coach: Jean Fernandez since 2007
Playing style: Defensively tight, counter-attacking
Strength: Organisation, strong from set pieces
Weakness: Lack of flair/squad depth
Key men: Ireneusz Jelen, Benoit Pedretti, Valter Birsa
Realistic Objective: Europa League qualification
Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Sorin; Hengbart, Coulibaly, Mignot, Grichting; Pedretti, Ndinga; Oliech, Le Tallec, Birsa; Jelen.
It’s hardly surprising, given the teams already in their group, that the representatives from Auxerre looked somewhat shell-shocked when their name was drawn out alongside Milan, Real Madrid and Ajax. With 20 European Cups between them, Auxerre’s three opponents boast some of the greatest pedigree the continent has to offer.
Despite the horror that naturally accompanies being drawn in a group full of such famous names, some context should be considered before sinking into complete resignation. Sure, Jose Mourinho’s Madrid side will be one of the teams to watch this campaign having added more big names to an already star-studded squad. However, such superlatives can no longer be applied to the names of Milan and Ajax.
The Italian giants may be the most recent winner of the Champions League to be drawn in Group G, but they have fallen a long way very quickly. While rumours persist regarding a potential move for Barcelona’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the squad remains patchy and ageing. Without the arrival of the Swede, new coach Massimiliano Allegri faces a huge fight to replicate the third place finish obtained by his predecessor Leonardo. That, in his first job at a truly huge club, is a quite some task.
A similar contrast can be found in the case of Ajax. Victims not only of the rise of the Bosman ruling, but also of the decline in the financial power of the Dutch game, the last time the side from Amsterdam lifted the trophy in 1995 they were a fearsome prospect. Nowadays they have regained some stability under the smart tutorship of Martin Jol, but are no longer in the hunt for the big prize.
Auxerre themselves will, on reflection, probably relish the challenge that the draw presents. Having scraped into the Champions League places at the end of last season, they were then handed a tough play-off draw with Zenit St. Petersburg. They came through on both occasions though, and are made of tough stuff under their experienced coach Jean Fernandez.
It’s probably fair to say that Milan represented one of the weakest sides from Pot 1, while Real Madrid were amongst the strongest in Pot 2. This provides an intriguing contest at the top of the group, which you would expect to be contested by the two top seeds. Their European pedigree certainly caught the eye last year with Franco Baresi not being the only one to describe the tie as ‘The Derby of Europe’. Milan’s 3-2 victory in Madrid was without doubt one of the most memorable ties of last season‘s tournament. We can only hope for more of the same.