Sep 17, 2013, 9:30 AM EDT
Group A of the 2013-14 UEFA Champions League features one three-time winner, two domestic champions from the previous season and four teams that have all made it to the knockout round of the competition in the new millennium.
How they qualified: Barclays Premier League champion, directly into group stage
Best finish: Winner (1968, 1999, 2008)
Home stadium: Old Trafford / Manchester, England
Coach: David Moyes
Outlook: United has a new look this year, as David Moyes replaced the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson as manager. The immense talent pool at the club remains the same, and its chances in the Champions League should not be affected, even though striker Wayne Rooney is in limbo with regard to his club career at the moment.
How they qualified: Ukrainian Premier League champion, directly into group stage
Best finish: Quarterfinals (2011)
Home stadium: Donbass Arena / Donetsk, Ukraine
Coach: Mircea Lucescu
Outlook: Defeating Shakhtar is always a tricky proposition in European competitions. It is always one of the best coached teams in any competition, with legendary Romanian manager Mircea Lucescu at the helm since 2004. He led the team to winning the UEFA Cup in 2009. While Shakhtar will provide a real test for every team it faces, it will have trouble getting out of this group.
How they qualified: Bundesliga third place, directly into group stage
Best finish: Finalist (2002)
Home stadium: BayArena / Leverkusen, Germany
Coach: Sami Hyypiä
Outlook: In three league matches this young Bundesliga season, Leverkusen has jumped out to an impressive 3-0 record, scoring eight goals and conceding three. After being knocked out in the Round of 32 of the Europa League last year, the team is back in Europe’s premier club competition, looking to break a curse of being close to glory but never quite achieving it, having been runner-up in the Bundesliga five times and in the Champions League once.
How they qualified: La Liga fourth place, defeated Olympique Lyonnais in playoff round
Best finish: Round of 16 (2004)
Home stadium: Anoeta / San Sebastián, Spain
Coach: Jagoba Arrasate
Outlook: Real Sociedad stomped Lyon 4-0 on aggregate in the playoff round to book its place in the group stage. After that performance, nobody will doubt that the club deserves to be here, but question marks remain for a side that has only been back in the Spanish top flight for the past three seasons. Two of those were mid-table finishes before last season’s fourth-place performance.
Manchester United is the clear favorite to take Group A, but the second- and third-place slots are anybody’s to grab. Donetsk is always a pest on the European stage, Leverkusen has had a hot start to its season and Real Sociedad showed in the playoffs that it can thrash teams of the highest caliber. United will be the only team happy with this draw, as it is all but assured a place in the knockout round.
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