Porto - Winners under Jose Mourinho, the Portuguese champions are not usually considered amongst the challengers for the title. This year however, they have begun the group stage in impressive fashion, winning 2-0 away in Dinamo Zagreb before defeating the galacticos of Paris St Germain at home. If they can take maximum points form their remaining home games they will be likely to go through as group winners. Their line-up isn't as star studded as it has been in the past, with Hulk leaving for Zenit in the summer, but keeping hold of Joao Moutinho is an excellent piece of business, and their team looks settled and cohesive. If they can top their group ahead of PSG, they will send a clear indication to the rest of Europe that they will be competitive this year.
Dortmund - Two consecutive Bundesliga titles should make Dortmund obvious candidates for the cup, but their performances last year, where they finished bottom of their group, mean that many are unsure of their credentials in Europe. They have been excellent in their opening two games, winning at home to Ajax before drawing away at Manchester City. It will be interesting to see how costly the harsh late penalty they conceded in that game, and indeed Joe Hart's barely believable series of saves, will be in such a tough group, but if they can get anything from their two matches with Real Madrid, they should leave themselves the opportunity to qualify based on the home game against Manchester City. Any team that comes out of the group of death will be rated as a potential contender, and if Dortmund can knock out Manchester City, they will be a threat to anyone.
Malaga - Another team who have had plenty of investment over the past few years, Malaga faced the dark side of rich owners this summer, when financial uncertainty seemed set to block their rise. Santi Cazorla may have left, but Malaga have looked unaffected on the pitch. They qualified for the group stages of the Champions League, and have looked good both in Europe and in La Liga. Consecutive 3-0 wins over Zenit and Anderlecht mean that they sit top of their group, with two matches against the unpredictable AC Milan to come. If they can maintain anything like this form, they will qualify as group winners, and could be a banana skin to any big team in the knockout stages.
Arsenal - Though not an unknown quantity in any sense, Arsenal are not viewed as out and out contenders for the trophy after a few disappointing years culminating in the 4-0 loss to Milan last year. However there is case for saying Arsenal may have as a good a chance as any English side in Europe this year. They have looked the most settled in the league, and the players they have signed all have good experience of European football. Whilst defensive issues may plague Manchester United and Chelsea, and Manchester City may struggle to get through their group, Arsenal have looked good in their opening fixtures, beating Montpellier and Olympiakos. Bigger tests are clearly going to come, but Arsenal have always had a knack for raising their game for the biggest matches. With a better defence this year, maybe they could pull off some unexpected victories.
image: © wonker