By Sahil Jaidka
GROUP E will see Chelsea begin the defence of their crown as the best side in Europe after the Blues lifted the Champions League trophy last season.
This year the Stamford Bridge club have been joined by Italian giants Juventus, Shakhtar Donetsk and FC Nordsjælland in what many have described as an easy passage to the last-32 for the Premiership giants.
However, if Di Matteo’s men take their eye off the ball, there is no doubt progression to the next round of the competition could easily be halted.
Chelsea kick-off their campaign against Juventus – a side they met in the last-16 in 2009. It was the London club who were victorious that year, winning 1-0 at home after a 2-2 draw at the Juventus Stadium.
However, the Italians have been boosted this season with the signings of Mauricio Isla, Lúcio, Paul Pogba and Martín Cáceres who will pose a huge threat to the current Champions, not only in game one, but also for top-spot.
Ukrainians Shaktar also meet FC Nordsjælland in the opening round of fixtures and the former will be favourites going into the tie.
The home side have signed Anton Kanibolotskiy and Marko Dević this season as they aim to record another domestic league title after last year’s triumph.
But the Donbass Arena side will also be hoping to progress further than last season in Europe’s most illustrious club tournament, after they were knocked-out at the group stages. Having recently gone unbeaten for the 19th league match in a row, there is a real chance this season Mircea Lucescu’s side can beat Juventus into second spot.
Debutants in this competition, FC Nordsjælland however should not be taken lightly. The Danish outfit, led by Kasper Hjulmand, only reached the play-off’s last season, but after recording another league championship, there will be real optimism in the Farum Park ranks that their European adventure could continue well into 2013.
Coming into the tournament on the back of an unbeaten run which stretches back to March 2012, the club have also strengthened by bringing in the likes of Morten Nordstrand, Thomas Villadsen, Anders Christiansen, Joshua John and Kamal Issah, who along with the rest of the squad, make their individual Champions League debuts in gameweek one.
Overall, it is clear to see that Chelsea are favourites to progress in top-spot from group E. Juventus and Shakhtar Donetsk should battle it out for second spot, with the Italians the hot-tip for that. Which will see the latter and FC Nordsjælland compete to earn the third place Europa League place