Friday, 3 October 2008

Group stage

I know we've faced three unspectacular opponents, but I do think the management deserve credit for getting us this far. We have played as many UEFA Cup games thus far as we have in the Premier League. Given the boardroom turmoil and injury crisis that hit our strikers, marshalling the squad to this point cannot have been simple.

Our reward for this is to face the UEFA Cup group stage. The last ever time this bizarre stage will be played, 40 teams are divided into 8 groups of five. Each team plays only four matches, and the top three go through. Looking at previous years, it only takes six points to guarantee progress from the group. Five points is almost always sufficient, and teams have been known to qualify with only four.

Looking at the seedings on wikipedia, we are in the third pot of five. Pot One is full of very good teams: Milan, Valencia, Benfica and Hamburg stand out. Pot Two has teams of roughly our standard (perhaps with an exception for Ajax). We are lucky that we cannot draw Pot Four's best teams (Portsmouth and Aston Villa), for obvious reasons. Pot Five contains Steve McClaren's FC Twente, amongst others.

The hardest possible group we could get is probably: AC Milan, Ajax, Man City, Racing Santander and Saint-Etienne. The easiest: CSKA Moscow, Heerenveen, Man City, FC Copenhagen, Zilina.

The draw's on Tuesday.

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