PARIS, FRANCE - AUGUST 11: Zlatan Ibrahimovic (C) of Paris Saint-Germain FC is challenged by Jacques Romao (L) and Mathieu Coutadeur (R) of FC Lorient during the Ligue 1 match between Paris Saint-Germain FC and FC Lorient at Parc des Princes on August 11, 2012 in Paris, France. (Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)
Earlier this evening, we took a look at pot two. Now, we're going to look at pot three. Pot three features no teams from England, so we'll be able to be drawn together with any of the teams in this pot. We can't, however, be drawn together with two teams from the same federation. As an example, if we draw a Russian team in pot two, we couldn't draw one from pot three as well.
Unlike pot two which featured a fairly similar pool of talent throughout the pot, pot three has a pretty wide variety of talent to be drawn with. There are a few clubs in pot three which should pose little to no threat to a club like Chelsea, and there are a few legitimate contenders to take this season's Champions League crown. With that in mind, let's take a look at how pot three shook out.
Juventus - Juventus have been notably absent from the Champions League for the last several years. One of the traditional powerhouses of Italy (and probably the only top team in the league this season), Juve have pounced upon the financial struggles of clubs like Inter and AC Milan to build a club that managed an unbeaten season in Serie A last year. The reigning champs again look strong, and I'd expect them to challenge for a 29th domestic title this season.
Anyone familiar with the Italian national team will likely recognize most of the Juve roster. Andrea Pirlo and Gianluigi Buffon are still fantastic, and Sebastian Giovinco may be the shortest sort of decent player on earth (although he's now injured). Notable non-Italians in the roster include Stephan Lichtsteiner and Arturo Vidal.
Juve have been extremely active this summer as well, adding several talented players to add depth to the squad. Paul Pogba, Lucio, Marin Caceres, Kwadwo Asamoah, and Mauricio Isla should all be significant contributors to the Juve squad this year. Milos Krasic and Eljero Elia are the only notable departures, and I'm not sure I'd count either as particularly important to the Italian champs. They still lack an elite striker, but they've been pushing hard in the transfer market and may yet add one by Friday. Without question, Juve are a much better squad than the one that won Serie A last season.
Paris St. Germain - PSG haven't done anything in the Champions League worth noting, but they were much improved last season and finished second in Ligue 1 to qualify. They've stumbled out of the gate this season, but I don't think anyone expects those struggles to last for too long.
PSG return a number of recognizable names, as Alex, Nene, Javier Pastore, and Jeremy Menez all return to the squad. They also had Thiago Motta and manager Carlo Ancelotti, so there are were more than a few recognizable names there already.
Without a doubt, PSG have improved greatly over the summer. There haven't been any significant departures from the French club, but they've added a little bit of competition for places. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva, Lucas Moura, Ezequiel Lavezzi, and Marco Verratti have all joined papa Carlo in Paris. With PSG being so unpredictable, I wouldn't assume they are done spending for the summer yet either. They seem determined to add enough talent to seriously push for the Champions League this season, so another big buy before Friday is certainly possible.
Ajax - Ajax used to be one of the real powerhouses in Europe, but they haven't been a significant threat to win European silverware for years. The Dutch giants again won the Eredivisie last season, although they again had a very early exit in the Champions League. They've had a nice start to their Eredivise campaign, and you'd expect them to contend for another title this season.
Ajax don't generally have as much star power as most, but they usually have a few talented youngsters floating around just auditioning for Europe's elite. Christian Ericksen certainly qualifies as such, and he's been linked to any number of top clubs throughout Europe. Longtime target Gregory Van der Wiel also remains in Amsterdam, and at this point I'd assume he'll be there until January.
Ajax are certainly a selling club, so we generally don't expect to see big additions through the market. It was true this year as well, but Nicklas Moisander could be an interesting name to watch. Ajax lost two big names to the Premiership this year, as Jan Vertonghen and Vurnon Anita left for Spurs and Newcastle respectively. There's still a off chance we see Van der Wiel depart this week, as he's in the last year of his deal.
Olympiacos Piraeus - The Greek giants have a long history in Europe, and actually did fairly well last season in a tough group including Arsenal, Olympic Marseille, and Borussia Dortmund. They'd go on to finish third in that group, reach the last sixteen of the Europa League, and win yet another Greek Superleague title. They've opened this season with a win, and should contend yet again.
One of Olympiacos best remaining players, Avraam, will likely miss the entire group stage with a ligament injury. They still have Vasilis Torosidis and Rafik Djebbour though, and both Giannis Fetfatzidis and David Fuster are useful parts in the midfield.
The club haven't had an overly notable transfer window, but they have seen their best player, Kevin Mirallas, depart for Everton. They've spent that money bringing in Paulo Machado and Leandro Greco that should play key roles for the club this season.
RSC Anderlecht - Anderlecht have come close on a number of occasions, but this is the first time in a number of years that they've managed to break through the qualifiers and into the group stage of the Champions League. They've had some relative success in the Europa League though, so they sit in pot three for the draw. They won the Juliper League last season, and they should be in a strong position to challenge for the title yet again. They currently sit second after five rounds of fixtures.
Anderlecht return the nucleus of the squad that won the title last season. Matias Suarez is probably their most dangerous player, but he's out until mid November. They will have Chiekou Kouyate, Lucas Biglia, Dieumerci Mbokani, Guillaume Gillet, and Roland Juhasz at their disposal though, and there's always the younger Lukaku (Jordan) to watch out for.
You rarely ever see big name transfers into the Juliper League, and this year was no exception for the champs. Cyriac is a potentially exciting addition to the squad, but outside of him I didn't see anything that caught my eye. They likely didn't need to do too much buying though, as they didn't sell anyone of note yet either. As always, there's still a few days left so all of this could change.
Spartak Moscow - Spartak gained entry to the qualifying stages of the Champions League by finishing second in the Russian Premier League. They've been one of the better teams in Russia for the last handful of years, and they do have a respectable record in Europe. They'll again be contenders for the title in Russia, and the switch to the Fifa calender may help them if they reach the knockout rounds.
Spartak return the majority of their second place squad from last year, really losing only one valuable part. Emmanuel Emenike and Welliton will spearhead the attack, while Dmitri Kombarov and Aiden McGeady will feed them balls from the wings and midfield. They also have Nicolas Pareja in the defense, and he's definitely solid back there.
Spartak made a few key moves over the summer as well. Marcos Rojo was allowed to depart the club, but they brought in Juan Insaurralde to replace him. They've also added Kim Kallstrom and Romulo to bolster the center of the midfield. Romulo is certainly worth noting, as he was fantastic in the Olympic games for Brazil.
Galatasaray - The Turkish club club hasn't been in the Champions League for quite a while, but they'll be returning to Europe's elite competition after winning the Super Lig last season. After two weeks of play, Galatasaray are in a giant pile at the top of this season's Super Lig, and should be a legitimate contender yet again.
Gala return several big names from last season. Emmanuel Eboue, Selcuk Inan, Fernando Muslera, and Milan Baros all played important roles in the squad last season. Felipe Melo did as well, and he's now a member of the club on a permanent basis.
The Turkish champs didn't rest on their laurels this summer after winning the league last season. They had no key departures, but brought in Burak Yilmaz, Hamit Altintop, Nordit Amrabat, and Dany Nounkeu. It was an excellent summer already for the club, and it may still get better.
Lille - Lille are a team we should all be quite familiar with by this point. After surprisingly winning Ligue 1 two seasons ago, Lille managed to finish third in their domestic league and qualify for the Champions League yet again. They have a very different squad than last year, so it will be interesting to see how they perform this season.
Lille have had a busy transfer window, but they've still got a trio of very good players returning from last season's squad. Midfielder Dmitri Payet and center back Aurelien Chedjou will be key components this season if Lille wish to advance beyond the group stage. Mathieu Debuchy also remains with the French club, though with his contract up at the end of the season he may well move on by Friday. What happens with Debuchy will go a long way in determining just how dangerous Lille will be.
We all know the big stories out of Lille's player movement already. Eden Hazard moved to Chelsea, and he's been awesome. Salomon Kalou went the other way, and he'll now be a first choice starter with a real chance to show his quality. Marvin Martin was the big buy for Lille, but they had to return the useful Joe Cole to Liverpool. It's a different squad than last year, and they certainly lack the superstar they had in Hazard. They should still be quality though, so they'll be worth keeping an eye on.
Steve's take on pot three - Pot three has two teams that just scream trouble. Juventus and PSG are both very good opponents, and I wouldn't feel like I was overstating things to say that both could be considered serious contenders for the Champions League title just by looking at their squad sheets. Drawing either of them would give us a pair of very high profile games, but it would make the task of winning a group much more difficult. Those of you looking for marquee games should be pulling for these clubs, those of you looking for an easy draw should be hoping we steer clear of both.
After the two big clubs, there are a trio I'm a little wary of as well. Lille, Spartak Moscow, and Galatasaray are all clubs with enough talent to be real trouble in any given game, although I think it would take some help from Chelsea for any to challenge for a group win. I don't feel any of the three are any better than the crop in pot two though, so none of the three would be terrible draws.
Ajax is a big name, but frankly they are a club that Chelsea should handle with relative ease now. Anderlecht and Olympiacos are definitely the weakest opponents in this group, and I'd be pretty ecstatic to draw either of them. As long as we avoid Juve and PSG I'll be happy though, so bring on any of the other six as far as I'm concerned.
Who would you like to see Chelsea draw from pot three?
Juventus (34 votes)
Paris St. Germain (30 votes)
Lille (62 votes)
Ajax (31 votes)
Olympiacos (59 votes)
Anderlecht (188 votes)
Spartak Moscow (11 votes)
Galatasaray (29 votes)
444 total votes