Champions League 2014-15: Group B preview

Sports Mole takes a closer look at the four teams that make up Group B of this season's Champions League.

REAL MADRID

Previous European Cup/CL best: Winners: 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1966, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2014

Manager - Carlo Ancelotti: As a player, Ancelotti won the European Cup on two occasions with AC Milan, while he led the Italian side to two Champions League titles during his time as manager. The Italian also secured the illusive La Decima for Los Blancos last season. One thing is for certain, Ancelotti knows this competition inside out.

Key Player - Cristiano Ronaldo

Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid celebrates scoring his goal during the UEFA Champions League Quarter Final first leg match between Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on April 2, 2014© Getty Images

The Portuguese sensationally netted 17 goals in the Champions League last season, breaking the record for the most goals scored in a single European campaign. Since arriving at the Bernabeu, Ronaldo has scored 255 goals in 250 appearances, including 52 strikes in 51 matches in Europe. He will again be the player to beat in the scoring charts.

Sports Mole says: No team has defended the Champions League in the modern era, but many believe that Madrid are the best equipped to achieve that feat. They have lost key players this summer in the shape of Angel di Maria and Xabi Alonso, but reinforcements have arrived and they are once again expected to be the team to beat. In truth, they should top this particular group, but will be wary of the threat provided by Liverpool.

Did you know?: As well as winning a record 10 European Cups, Madrid also hold the record for the most semi-final appearances in the competition (25).


LIVERPOOL

Previous European Cup/CL best: Winners: 1977, 1978, 1981, 1984, 2005

Manager - Brendan Rodgers: The Northern Irishman is one of the most inexperienced managers in the competition this season. The 41-year-old did not step into the management game until 2008, taking charge of Watford and then Reading before moving to Swansea City in 2010. Rodgers took charge of Liverpool in 2012 and led the Reds to second place in the Premier League last season.

Key Player - Raheem Sterling

Liverpool's Raheem Sterling celebrates after scoring his team's fifth goal against Norwich during their Premier League match on December 4, 2013© Getty Images

Still just 19, Sterling is now seen as a key player for Liverpool. The Englishman has netted 12 times in his last 40 appearances for the Merseyside outfit, while he was arguably his country's best player at the 2014 World Cup. The teenager has no European experience of any sort, but has the type of explosive speed and skill that will cause problems to the opposition at this level of football.

Sports Mole says: Liverpool have won the competition on five occasions, the last of which came in 2005 in what was an incredible final against AC Milan. The Reds also faced Milan in the final of the 2007 competition, but lost 2-1. They secured their spot for the 2014-15 campaign after finishing second in the Premier League last season. Drawing the holders was hardly ideal, but they will be pleased with the third and fourth teams that came out of the hat. They might have to play second fiddle to Madrid, but should finish as runners-up.

Did you know?: Only Real Madrid and AC Milan have won more European Cups than Liverpool.


BASEL

Previous European Cup/CL best: Quarter-finals: 1974

Manager - Paulo Sousa: On May 28 of this year, Sousa took charge of Basel having departed Maccabi Tel Aviv. The 44-year-old brings with him serious experience in this competition. In fact, the Portuguese has won the competition as a player on two occasions, with Juventus in 1996 and Borussia Dortmund in 1997. His playing career also included spells with Benfica and Inter Milan, while he has already managed the likes of Swansea City and Leicester City.

Key Player - Marco Streller

Basel's Marco Streller is congratulated by team mates after scoring his team's second goal against Chelsea during their Champions League group match on September 18, 2013© Getty Images

The 33-year-old is currently in his second spell with Basel having departed the Swiss club for Stuttgart in 2004. Since returning in 2007, he has scored close to 100 league goals during a period which has brought seven league titles. Streller also netted the winning goal away to Chelsea in the opening group game of the 2013-14 campaign, while he scored 12 times in 37 games for Switzerland between 2003 and 2011.

Sports Mole says: Basel just missed out on the knockout stage of the competition last season after finishing third in Group E behind winners Chelsea and second-place Schalke 04. They beat Chelsea home and away, however, and will take confidence into this particular group. Their best-ever showing in the European Cup came in the 1973-74 competition, when they made the quarter-finals, but they did make the round of 16 in the 2011-12 competition.

Did you know?: Basel have been in the Champions League more times than any other Swiss club (four), while they are the only Swiss club to have ever qualified directly for the group stages of the Champions League.


LUDOGORETS

Previous European Cup/CL best: Group stage: 2014-15

Manager - Georgi Dermendzhiev: Like Liverpool boss Rodgers, Dermendzhiev is also sampling the group stages of the Champions League for the first time this season. As a player, he spent the majority of his career with Bulgarian side Yantra Gabrovo, retiring in 1987. He acted as assistant at Ludogerets between 2011 and 2014, but was handed the managerial position earlier this year.

Key Player - Roman Bezjak

Ludogorets Razgrad's Roman Bezjak celebrates with teammate Yordan Minev after scoring against Lazio during their Europa League match on February 20, 2014© AFP

The 25-year-old, who is a full Slovakian international, has been a regular scorer for his team over the last couple of seasons. The striker joined Ludogerets from Celje in 2012 and has scored 27 times in 74 games, including 20 in 51 matches last season. Bezjak also scored six times as Ludogerets reached the round of 16 in the Europa League last season.

Sports Mole says: In truth, it is a big ask for Ludogerets to qualify from this group or indeed finish third and secure a spot in the Europa League – a competition where they reached the last-16 last season. They beat F91 Dudelange, Partizan and Steaua Bucuresti to make the group stages, but have been drawn alongside two powerhouses of European football. This campaign might be a learning experience more than anything for the Bulgarian club.

Did you know?: Ludogorets are just the second Bulgarian team after Levski Sofia to reach the group stages of the Champions League.


Group B fixtures

Tuesday, September 16
Liverpool vs. Ludogorets
Real Madrid vs. Basel

Wednesday, October 1
Basel vs. Liverpool
Ludogorets vs. Real Madrid

Wednesday, October 22
Ludogorets vs. Basel
Liverpool vs. Real Madrid

Tuesday, November 4
Basel vs. Ludogorets
Real Madrid vs. Liverpool

Wednesday, November 26
Ludogorets vs. Liverpool
Basel vs. Real Madrid

Tuesday, December 9
Liverpool vs. Basel
Real Madrid vs. Ludogorets

Prediction: 1. Real Madrid 2. Liverpool 3. Basel 4. Ludogerets


Daniel Sturridge celebrates scoring Liverpool's first against Borussia Dortmund on August 10, 2014
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1Manchester CityMan City65102121916
2Manchester UnitedMan Utd65101721516
3Chelsea6411125713
4Tottenham HotspurSpurs6321105511
5Liverpool63211211111
6Watford6321910-111
7Newcastle UnitedNewcastle53026429
8Huddersfield TownHuddersfield62315329
9Burnley62316519
10West Bromwich AlbionWest Brom52214408
11Southampton622245-18
12Arsenal521278-17
13Everton6213411-77
14Swansea CitySwansea612337-45
15Stoke CityStoke6123510-55
16Leicester CityLeicester6114912-34
17Brighton & Hove AlbionBrighton511347-34
18West Ham UnitedWest Ham6114613-74
19Bournemouth6105411-73
20Crystal Palace6006013-130
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