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Group stage: look who is back

Published: Thursday 12 September 2013, 12.35CET
Of the 32 teams in the UEFA Champions League group stage, ten are returning after an absence of one or more seasons. assesses what has changed.
Group stage: look who is back
Napoli were close to eliminating Chelsea in 2011/12, their only previous group stage appearance ©Getty Images
Published: Thursday 12 September 2013, 12.35CET

Group stage: look who is back

Of the 32 teams in the UEFA Champions League group stage, ten are returning after an absence of one or more seasons. assesses what has changed.

Ten of the clubs in the 2013/14 UEFA Champions League group stage are returning to the competiton after an absence of one or more seasons.

Of that number, Real Sociedad de Fútbol have endured the longest wait, their last appearance coming a decade ago. considers the changes that have occurred on and off the pitch during that time and their prospects for the forthcoming campaign.  

Bayer 04 Leverkusen
Appearances: 7
Group A opponents: FC Shakhtar Donetsk, Manchester United FC, Real Sociedad de Fútbol
Last in group stage: 2011/12
Memories of the Werkself's last match in Europe's top club competition – a 7-1 round of 16 second-leg loss to FC Barcelona in which Lionel Messi scored five – are still raw for Leverkusen and their supporters. The man in charge that night at the Camp Nou, Robin Dutt, has long since left, with Sami Hyypiä now in sole command.

The playing personnel is largely unchanged from that chastening evening in Spain, with André Schürrle, who joined Chelsea FC this summer, the most high-profile departure.

Real Sociedad de Fútbol
Appearances: 1
Group A opponents: Bayer 04 Leverkusen, FC Shakhtar Donetsk, Manchester United FC
Last in group stage: 2003/04
La Real's loss to Olympique Lyonnais in the round of 16 a decade ago – despite the best efforts of the likes of Xabi Alonso, Darko Kovačević and Nihat Kahveci – signalled the start of a downturn in the txurri-urdin's fortunes. Relegated in 2006/07, it would take another three years for La Real to return to the Liga, their resurgence aided by a squad of young and talented players, the bulk of whom are coming to fruition in time for this group stage.

FC København
Group B opponents: Galatasaray AŞ, Juventus, Real Madrid CF
Last in group stage: 2010/11
FCK broke new ground for Denmark by reaching the last 16 in 2010/11, emerging from a group featuring Barcelona, FC Rubin Kazan and Panathinaikos FC. A poor start to this season cost coach Ariël Jacobs his job, prompting the club to rehire Ståle Solbakken, the man in charge three seasons ago.

The former Norway midfielder's return and a first league win of the season – 4-1 at Viborg FF on 1 September – has imbued players and fans with fresh optimism heading into a tough section. "We are underdogs, but we can surprise," said midfielder Thomas Delaney.

Group D opponents: FC Bayern München, FC Viktoria Plzeň, Manchester City FC
Last in group stage: 2011/12
Having two seasons ago reached the round of 16, where they lost 5-2 on aggregate to Real Madrid CF, CSKA were humbled by AIK in the UEFA Europa League play-offs five months later. Leonid Slutski's squad has altered little since they were last among the continent's elite.

Vágner Love rejoined the Army Men from CR Flamengo and then left in July for China's Shandong Luneng Taishan FC, while attacking midfielders Steven Zuber and Georgi Milanov arrived this summer along with striker Vitinho.

FC Viktoria Plzeň
Appearances: 1
Group D opponents: FC Bayern München, Manchester City FC, PFC CSKA Moskva
Last in group stage: 2011/12
There have been changes on and off the pitch since Plzeň's last participation. Whereas two seasons ago the Czech side and their supporters had to travel to Prague's Stadión Eden for European matches, the club's Štruncovy sady Stadión will play host to home games following the completion of reconstruction work.

Ten players remain from those meetings with AC Milan, Barcelona and FC BATE Borisov – Roman Pavlík, David Limberský, Radim Řezník, František Rajtoral, Marián Čišovský, Pavel Horváth, Milan Petržela, Daniel Kolář, Michal Ďuriš and Marek Bakoš – while Czech internationals Tomáš Jiráček, Václav Pilař and Vladimír Darida have left to play in the Bundesliga.

FC Basel 1893
Appearances: 4
Group E opponents: Chelsea FC, FC Schalke 04, FC Steaua Bucureşti
Last in group stage: 2011/12
Basel have become a familiar presence in the group stage in recent years, missing out just once since 2009/10. That setback came last season following a play-off loss to CFR 1907 Cluj, although their failure to qualify led to them joining the UEFA Europa League, where they enjoyed a run to the semi-finals.

When they reached the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League in 2011/12 they defeated FC Bayern München 1-0 at home but lost the second leg 7-0. Then Basel had the likes of Xherdan Shaqiri and Alexander Frei in a team coached by Heiko Vogel, who was dismissed last October and replaced by former Swiss international Murat Yakin.

FC Steaua Bucureşti
Appearances: 6
Group E opponents: Chelsea FC, FC Basel 1893, FC Schalke 04
Last in group stage: 2008/09
Steaua's commitment to playing attractive and offensive football endures, even if their squad contains only one player from their last group stage incursion five years ago: forward Pantelis Kapetanos, who rejoined the club on deadline day from CFR.

Under coach Laurențiu Reghecampf, Steaua play a 4-2-3-1 formation as opposed to the 4-4-2 system they deployed while Marius Lăcătuș and, then, Dorinel Munteanu were in charge in 2008. Like they did in the 2011/12 UEFA Europa League group stage, the capital team will stage their European home games at Bucharest's National Arena, which has a capacity double that of the Steaua Stadium.

Olympique de Marseille
Appearances: 8
Group F opponents: Arsenal FC, Borussia Dortmund, SSC Napoli
Last in group stage: 2011/12
After a season in the UEFA Europa League, Marseille are back where they want to be. Élie Baup replaced Didier Deschamps in the summer of 2012 and succeeded in guiding OM to a runners-up finish behind Paris Saint-Germain FC in Ligue 1.

However, with AS Monaco FC having returned to the top flight and signalled their intentions with a flurry of expensive signings, the Mediterranean club have their work cut out to repeat the feat. "They have tanks and bazookas, but we don't only have bow and arrows to fight them," Baup said. With André-Pierre Gignac in form and Mathieu Valbuena as impressive as ever, Marseille are ready to make their mark.

SSC Napoli
Appearances: 1
Group F opponents: Arsenal FC, Borussia Dortmund, Olympique de Marseille
Last in group stage: 2011/12
Coached by Walter Mazzarri and spurred by the goals of Edinson Cavani and Ezequiel Lavezzi, the Partenopei qualified from a difficult section in 2011/12 including FC Bayern München, Manchester City FC and Villarreal CF, before losing to eventual champions Chelsea after extra time in the last 16.

Rafael Benítez succeeded Mazzarri this summer and made a raft of signings, Argentina striker Gonzalo Higuaín the most eye catching of all. "You never know in the Champions League," said Benítez of Napoli's prospects. "In 20 years no team has managed to win it twice in a row. That says it all about how difficult it is."

Club Atlético de Madrid
Appearances: 3
Group G opponents: FC Porto, FC Zenit, FK Austria Wien
Last in group stage: 2009/10
With their ability to successfully reform highlighted by 2010 and 2012 UEFA Europa League wins – when they fielded a different starting XI in each final – Atlético return to the group stage with midfielder Raúl García the sole survivor from the 2008/09 campaign.

Those aforementioned European successes, combined with last term's UEFA Super Cup and Copa del Rey wins, have helped to destroy Atlético's 'fall guy' or 'El Pupas' moniker and Diego Simeone's team enter this season's edition as genuine contenders.

Last updated: 13/09/13 11.29CET

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