A Closer Look at CSKA Moscow, Manchester City, and FC Viktoria Plzeň

Harold Cunningham

With FC Bayern getting one of the more favorable draws, the path to the next round may be more interesting than one may think

As far as variety goes, the group that defending champions FC Bayern München drew on Friday is an excellent mixture of the under-achieving, the under-estimated, and the underdog.

There is the treble winner trying to stay on top, the English giant trying to stay for longer than just the group stage, a Russian champion trying to stay Europe-relevant, and a local Czech club trying to stay along for the ride.

While the group looks like a foregone conclusion, the strange tides of the champions league can wash away any predictions. Here's a deeper look at FC Bayern's opponents in UEFA Champions League Group D.

PFC CSKA MoskvaPFC CSKA Moskva Russia

Seasons in the Champions League: 1971/72, 1993/94, 2004/05, 2006/07, 2007/08, 2009/10, 2011/12
Best Finish: Quarterfinals (2009/10)
Record vs. FC Bayern: 0 W, 0 D, 0 L
Key Player: Alan Dzagoev
Key Gain: Georgi Milanov (PFK Litex Lovech)
Key Loss: Uros Ćosić (Pescara)
Most Used Formation (2013/14): 4-4-1-1

Some may scoff at the fact that a team like PFC CSKA Moskva was placed in the same tier as the likes of Juventus, Paris-Saint Germain, and AC Milan. CSKA Moskva embodies the trait most clubs that compete in Europe must have: consistency.

This is not just a consistency in title contention year in and year out, but consistency in European play. One might think that the fact that the Russian club winning the 2005 UEFA Cup has something to do with their high coefficiency, but believe it or not, that trophy is outside the "statute of limitation", or more than five years ago.

Their spending budget has not been the same since Sibneft, or billionare Roman Abramovich's oil comany, ceased being their sponsor in 2006, but they still know how to spend. In fact, major investment in 2011 allowed them to escape the group stage of the 2011/12 Champions League. Now their investments are much more tactical – Kesuke Honda (€6m) in 2010, Ahmed Musa (€5m) and Mário Figueira (€10.5) in 2012 – investing in very young, inexperienced players to build around. That has kept them consistently in the hunt for the Russian Premier League crown, despite the spending of clubs like Zenit St. Petersburg, Anzhi Makhachkala, Lokomotiv Moskva or Spartak Moskva.

They currently sit four points clear in the league, with manager Leonid Slutsky's side grinding out points. Their squad depth, however, is somewhat lacking, and they did not do much in the summer transfer window to change that. Considering FC Bayern has never played the Moscow-based club, unfamiliarity could be on their side, and they could be a tough side to break down on the road. Additionally, all three of CSKA's opponents are probably dreading the trip to the Russian capital, especially in the waning stages of group competition.

A BATE Borisov-esque loss may be in the cards, and both matches will be more of work than walkover. That being said, CSKA Moskva is not a deep enough side to make it to the Round of 16.

Projected Group D Finish: 3rd

Manchester City FCManchester City England

Seasons in the Champions League: 1968/69, 2011/12, 2012/13
Best Finish: 3rd in Group A (2011/12)
Record vs. FC Bayern: 1 W, 0 D, 1 L
Key Player: David Silva
Key Gain: Fernandinho (Shakhtar Donetsk)
Key Loss: Carlos Tévez (Juventus Turin)
Most Used Formation (2013/14): 4-4-2

If Manchester City ever had an opportunity bestowed upon them from the Football gods to make it to the second round of the Champions League, it cannot get much better than 2013. It does not take a Football guru to figure out that Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Khaldoon Al Mubarak and Manuel Pellegrini are salivating at the opening.

Jesus Navas, Stefan Jovetic, Álvaro Negredo and Fernandinho are the latest additions to a five year project to bring the baby blues from a pedestrian British club to one of the best of Europe. Pellegrini now sits at the helm of this expensive endeavor, although Champions League experience is not part of his tool-bag.

Considering their recent rise, the only experience FC Bayern has against the English super-spenders is that from the Champions League Group Stage in 2011. Fortunately for Pep Guardiola, not only did he see a lot of the Manchester City players in his native Spain, but also in the 2013 Audio Cup final, a 2-1 result to the Bavarian Giants.

While success has eluded Manchester City in the past, the English club will only have to face one team from a top-5 UEFA coefficient country – last season, they dealt with Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid CF in the group stage, and FC Bayern and ASS Napoli the season prior. That could be the ticket to a trip to their first Round of 16.

Projected Group D Finish: 2nd

FC Viktoria PlzeňFC Viktoria Plzeň Czech Republic

Seasons in the Champions League: 2011/12
Best Finish: 3rd in Group H (2011/12)
Record vs. FC Bayern: 0 W, 0 D, 2 L
Key Player: Michal Duris
Key Gain: Thomas Wagner (1. FK Příbram)
Key Loss: Vladimir Darida (SC Freiburg)
Most Used Formation (2013/14): 4-2-3-1

Use whatever cliche you'd like: an underdog, a Cinderella, the David taking on the Goliath. All these apply to FC Viktoria Plzeň, not because they are a Czech side in a group of giants, but because they are a small club in a smaller league.

This was a club that struggled with relegation not too long before, and  they were a mid-table side at best for most of the millennium decade. Plzeň's only major trophy was a Czechoslovakian Cup in 1971, which lead to their first and single appearance in European competition before 2010. That was the only time that FC Bayern, fresh off of a DFB Pokal win in 1971, has ever faced FC Viktoria Plzeň, a 7-1 aggregate victory for the Rekordmeisters.

The Viktoriáni then burst onto the seen in 2010/2011, winning their first Czech league title. A debut in the group stage of the Champions League subsequently followed, although they finished third behind FC Barcelona and AC Milan. Now, another arduous qualification for the group stage is on the docket after another Czech title.

This locally-owned club has embraced the tradition of developing local Czech talent; their current roster only lists three international players, one of which has been on the team sheet once this season. They currently sit second behind Sparta Prague in the Czech Liga, although Plzeň has a game in hand.

There is no question that Plzeň's squad will be stretched once again with a three-front battle, and the Cinderella will need to avoid turning into a pumpkin in order to have a chance. Regardless, this is a side that a neutral will have a hard time rooting against.

Projected Group D Finish: 4th

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