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As the defending Champions look to retain their coveted holy grail, here is an in-depth look at their group stage rivals...

ANALYSIS
By Debjit Lahiri


Shakhtar Donetsk


Performance in last year's tournament: Won the Ukrainian Premier League but were ousted at Group Stage finishing last in a very close Group G, consisting of the likes of FC Porto, APOEL and Zenit St. Petersburg.

How they qualified this year: Finished champions of the Ukrainian Premier League last season and thus achieved automatic qualification.

The Manager

Mircea Lucescu is one of the most experienced managers around and his more than three decades of managerial career would have to come handy, if Shakhtar are to qualify out of this group. The former Romanian international has had notable stints with the likes of Inter Milan, Galatasaray, Besiktas and has been associated with his current club since 2004. Although he has two UEFA Cup triumphs under his belt, once with Galatasaray and once with Shakhtar in 2009, his Champions League exploits are only restricted to three Quarter final appearances with Inter Milan, Galatasaray and his current club.

Formation and Tactics

4-2-3-1

Jadson's departure has left a void in the Shakhtar line-up but Henrikh Mkhitarayan's stupendous form of late has meant that the Ukrainian champions have not quite missed the now Sao Paulo man.

Shakhtar, however, will have a settled back four from last season, where as Andriy Pyatov will take up the custodian's role.

Up front, Willian, who has been in midst of interests from several top clubs this summer, should be filling in at left wing while either of Eduardo or Douglas Costa should be doing the same in the right. Mkhitaryan plays the all important role of central attacking midfielder, and Adriano completes the line up by being the lone man forward.

Expectations:

Shakhtar
should be hoping to upset Group favourites Chelsea and Juventus in order secure a passage through to the next round, and one feels they would have their chances, given Chelsea's inconsistent run of late and Juventus making a come-back at the big stage after a considerable amount of time.

  Man to Watch - Henrikh Mkhitaryan

Voted the player of the last season by Shakhtar fans and named among UEFA's Top 100 players (2012), the Armenian attacking midfielder has had a massive impact with the club since his arrival in 2010, having netted 24 times in his 51 appearances. And he, once again, has had a blistering start to the season, with an impressive tally of 11 goals in just 8 appearances so far and not to forget the flurry of assists he has made to go with it! The 23 year old is currently the top scorer in the Ukrainian Premier League.


Juventus


Performance in last year's tournament: Did not feature in the Champions League but won the Serie A, and went undefeated throughout the season.

How they qualified this year: Champions of Italy and hence the automatic qualification.

The Manager

Antonio Conte masterminded Juventus' 'Invincible' season last year as the Bianconeri picked up their 28th League title and once again established their place among Europe's elites. However, the 43 year old has been in centre of a notorious match fixing allegation recently, which has meant he would be serving a 10 month touchline ban. His shrewd tactical sense has evoked comparisons with a certain Jose Mourinho, and it remains to be seen whether he could live up to the latter's reputation at this very tournament, so be it from the background.

Care-taker trainer Massimo Carrera will be on the bench in the absence of Conte and given the start Juventus has had this season, one feels Carrera is indeed coping up well to the situation.

Formation and Tactics

3-5-2

Juventus will operate with a three man defense and a five man midfield that would revolve around ace playmaker Andrea Pirlo.

The duo of Claudio Marchisio and Arturo Vidal should act as the connecting link between the front two, comprising of Mirko Vucinic and either of Alessandro Matri or Sebastian Giovinco, and the deep lying midfielders.

While Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini could be the likely faces of the proposed back 3 of Juventus, Gianluigi Buffon will be in all certainty the last line of defense.

The key to Juventus' line up is their stability; given the team hasn't gone through much of a transition in the summer window, compared to some of their other rivals in the group.

Expectations:

Juventus should be comfortable qualifiers from the group, barring any upset. However, with the team they have at their disposal, they would like to go all the way this time around.

  Man to Watch - Andrea Pirlo

The star man of Euro 2012, Andrea Pirlo would once again be the key to their success this season. The engine in the midfield, Pirlo would be responsible in orchestrating Juve's play from the centre. His immaculate passing and vision was instrumental for both his club side and the national team last season, which also saw him finish fourth in 2012 UEFA Best Player of the Year award, and once again Conte's men would be relying on this evergreen legend.


 
FC Nordsjaelland


Performance in last year's tournament: Did not feature in last year's edition.

How they qualified this year: Champions of the Danish Superliga and became the first Danish team to automatically qualify for the Champions League.

The Manager

A relatively inexperienced manager, Kasper Hjulmand was initially the assistant manager for the club from 2008-2011, having been previously involved with Lyngby BK. In June 2011, he was named the successor of Morten Wieghorst in FC Nordsjælland, where he led them to their first Danish Superliga title.

Formation and Tactics

4-2-3-1

The Danish champions plays an attacking 4-2-3-1 formation with Enoch Adu and captain Nicolai Stockholm pulling the strings from the midfield and Kasper Lorentzen leading the line. Tobias Mikkelsen would be missing from the right wing after his move to German outfit Greuther Furth and first choice centre back from last season Andreas Bjjeland would also require replacement, after his move to FC Twente. 

Expectations:


The ultimate minnows, they would be looking to utilize this experience among Europe's elites. Realistically, it is unlikely that the mere 21 year old club would make it to the next round but we can of course expect a good showing by them, especially since they have nothing to lose.

 
  Man to Watch - Nicolai Stokholm

The captain has been an influential figure in the midfield for the Danish champions last season and he would again be the key in leading the inexperienced outfit at the biggest stage of all.

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