Reds welcome Real encounters

Reds welcome Real encounters

Ian Ayre insists Liverpool can cope without the services of Luis Suarez

Daniel Sturridge will be crucial as Liverpool mount their first Champions League campaign since 2009

First published in National Sport News © by

Liverpool are relishing the prospect of hosting reigning Champions League winners Real Madrid after the Reds were handed a glamorous return to the European stage.

Five-times European champions Liverpool will face 10-time winners Real - as well as Basle and Ludogorets, the Bulgarian side who had a fairy-tale win in the play-offs - in Group B while there was a familiar look to the draw for the three other English sides.

Manchester City have perhaps the toughest group - they will face Bayern Munich for the third time in four years - plus CSKA Moscow and Roma in Group E, while Arsenal will play Borussia Dortmund for the second year running as well as Galatasaray and Anderlecht.

In Group G, Chelsea will play German side Schalke for the second consecutive season plus Sporting Lisbon and Maribor - who put out Celtic in the play-offs.

Real Madrid may be a daunting prospect for Brendan Rodgers' side, but Liverpool beat the Spanish giants 5-0 on aggregate in 2009 including a 4-0 hammering at Anfield.

Liverpool chief executive Ian Ayre said the the club were thrilled at the draw, and can cope without Luis Suarez following his move to Barcelona.

Ayre, speaking after the draw in Monaco, said: "You would never not want Luis - Luis is a fantastic player and made a fantastic contribution to Liverpool but so did a lot of other people.

"A lot of the goals that Daniel Sturridge scored were amazingly important for us last season and he will still be there banging them in and we are seeing goals from all over the park last season.

"So I think we are in great shape and will keep developing and improving."

He added: "If you look at Liverpool as a football club this is our competition, we've won it five times and to play someone who has won it 10 times makes it extra special."

Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo - named as the European player of the 2013/14 season - believes the club can become the first to successfully defend the Champions League trophy.

He said: "Why not? Everything is possible. I had the opportunity to do it when I was at Manchester United and now for Real Madrid - the biggest clubs in the world so I am looking forward to getting a second chance."

Manchester City's director of football Txiki Begiristain insisted the club can cope with UEFA's financial fair play sanctions despite being handed the toughest draw in the Champions League.

The Premier League champions have had to cope with a transfer spending limit of £60million plus a fine of the same level and a reduction in their Champions squad size from 25 players to 21.

Begiristain, speaking in Monaco after the draw, said: "It has not affected us in the transfer window, we have signed the players that we wanted. I don't think it will affect us in the final result.

"We knew where we wanted to improve and we got it.

"Last season Bayern were first, we were second and we also played CSKA, but the fourth one was very tough, a very strong team in Roma. All the clubs try to play good football, so it will be an amazing group."

"It's a very tough group, they are all very tough. I think this is the toughest group, all the clubs try to play good football, Roma have done very well."

Chelsea club secretary David Barnard said manager Jose Mourinho had declared himself "happy" with the draw.

Barnard said: "He texted me to say he was happy. Would you rather be in the groups with the other English clubs? You have got to be happy with that."

Horst Heldt, Schalke sporting director insisted however they would be out for revenge.

He said: "Our aim is the same as in recent years: We want to get through the group stage. We still have a score to settle with Chelsea, as we lost both matches to them last season."

Arsenal's club secretary David Miles said: "We know Borussia Dortmund well of course, and we are looking forward to it and hopefully can progress through this group - with the pre-requisite being to aim to finish top of the group.

"There were some tough teams in pot four we should have got and fortunately we steered clear of those."

Barcelona and Paris St Germain should dominate Group F, where they were drawn with Ajax and APOEL from Cyprus, while last season's beaten finalists Atletico Madrid are in Group A with Juventus, Olympiacos and Malmo.

Benfica, Zenit St Petersburg, Bayer Leverkusen and Monaco make up Group C while in Group H Porto, Shakhtar Donetsk, Athletic Bilbao and Belarus side BATE Borisov will battle it out.

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