Benfica (By Andy Brassell)
The team: Quite simply, Benfica put Portuguese football on the map in European club competition. During the golden era of Eusebio, Mario Coluna and Bela Guttmann in the 1960s, the Eagles won the European Cup twice, in '61 and '62, against Barcelona and Real Madrid. They lost three more finals before the turn of the decade. In fact, Benfica have lost seven European finals (five in the European Cup, two in the UEFA Cup/Europa League) since then, fuelling the legend of the Guttmann curse; the legendary Hungarian coach famously said that Benfica would never win another European trophy "for 100 years" after he quit in a row over bonuses after the '62 final.
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Even though the heartbreak continued with last season's Europa League final loss to Chelsea, Benfica's fans have been given something to believe in again since the arrival of Jorge Jesus in 2009. A wild-eyed presence gesticulating beneath a shock of long white hair on the touchline, he has brought the swagger back to a previously sleeping giant. In four seasons, Jesus' record in Europe reads one final, one semifinal and one quarterfinal in the Europa League and one quarterfinal in the Champions League.
What's more is that Jesus has done it with magnificent style. Benfica may have won the league just once since his arrival (in 2010) but they play the sort of football that their fans demand: attacking, entertaining and daring, with goals galore along the way.
Star man -- Lazar Markovic: It seems ludicrous for a 19-year-old with less than 50 league appearances under his belt at his previous club to be heralded as the key to his new side's hopes, but Markovic is no average teenager. Already acknowledged as a playmaker of outstanding potential after the Eagles nipped ahead of Chelsea to sign him from Partizan Belgrade in the summer, Markovic has looked supremely confident since his arrival in Lisbon. A match-turning cameo as substitute on the opening day against Gil Vicente, Markovic followed it up with a sensational solo goal to rescue a point in the derby at Sporting. Quick, a great dribbler and blessed with genuine vision, he could be one of the stars of the group stage.
Benfica have become almost as good as their rivals Porto at selling their stars for top dollar, but the near-£40 million asking price for midfielder Nemanja Matic has proved too rich even for Europe's finest this summer. All the better for Jesus, as the Serbia international would have been very difficult to replace. Matic's fine form in the sentinel role made light of the exits of Axel Witsel and Javi Garcia last season, with his bite in the tackle added to an uncommon technical quality.
The Portuguese side are lucky to have potential goalscorers all over the pitch but while many will focus on Oscar Cardozo, it was Lima who was top scorer last season, with 30 in all competitions. The Brazilian is pacy and makes intelligent runs into the channels too –- and is thus more suited to the current side than the more considered Cardozo.
Verdict: On paper, it looks good for Benfica. The squad is even stronger than it was last year, with a raft of quality additions and the expected departures of Matic, Cardozo and Ezequiel Garay failing to materialise. Benfica should qualify behind group favourites Paris Saint-Germain -- the only question is whether they have recovered their nerve after the stoppage-time losses against Porto and Chelsea that cost them the Liga and Europa League last season. If they can shake off those disappointments, they could do well in the latter stages, but early league form has been patchy.
Paris Saint-Germain (By Ian Holyman)
The team: For a club that only came into being in 1970, Paris Saint-Germain have an enviable European pedigree. After knocking out Real Madrid en route to the 1992-93 UEFA Cup semifinal, where they fell to Juventus, PSG claimed the 1995-96 European Cup Winners' Cup and were runners-up in the same competition to Barcelona the following season.
Their appearance in the last eight of the Champions League in 2012-13 was their first at that stage of the competition since 1995, and Laurent Blanc has been told he must at least emulate the achievement of his predecessor, Carlo Ancelotti.
Blanc has only two seasons of Champions League experience as a coach, failing to get out of the group stage with Bordeaux in 2008-09 before his side fell to Lyon in the last eight the following term. That campaign was notable for Les Girondins notching up two group-stage wins over eventual runners-up Bayern Munich.
The former international centre-back will be expected to produce similar performances this season, with PSG's big-spending owners demanding style and success. With a penchant for eye-catching football, Blanc has the right ideas, but the early-season signs are that the squad are struggling to put them into action.
Star man -- Thiago Silva: Handed the captain's armband by Ancelotti despite speaking only the most rustic French, Silva showed the doubters exactly why the Italian had picked him in the two legs of the last-eight encounter with Barcelona. Inspirational, the Brazilian made the €42 million PSG paid AC Milan for him in summer 2012 look a steal.
Though his playing time may be limited, 18-year-old midfielder Adrien Rabiot should get opportunities to enhance a burgeoning reputation. Last season, he became PSG's youngest-ever Champions League player, and has been told by Blanc that he will get his chance. Manchester City, who signed him to a six-year deal in 2008 only to let him go six months later, may live to regret it.
Verdict: The objective upon Blanc's appointment in late June was clear -- the quarterfinals, minimum. The knockout stages already beckon following the draw, which, having served up Anderlecht, Benfica and Olympiakos, could have been harsher. With the addition of Edinson Cavani, Blanc not only has greater firepower than his predecessor but also increased options, and there is little doubt the potential to win the competition is there.
Olympiakos (By Kevin Palmer)
The team: Olympiakos became the first Greek side to play in the European Cup when they took on AC Milan in 1959, and have enjoyed their share of success in Europe's top competition in the years since -- most notably reaching the Champions League quarterfinals in 1998-99, losing to Juventus in a tight tie.
The reigning Greek champions may look like rank outsiders, but they have a good record of navigating a route through to the knockout stages, with their most recent appearance in the last 16 ending in defeat against Bordeaux in 2010.
They are coached by former Spain international Michel, who has been in charge since last March but has struggled to implement the passing style he was keen to promote and has been forced to modify his approach to get the best out of the squad. Previously in charge at Getafe and Sevilla, Michel played more than 400 games for Real Madrid between 1982 and 1996, winning six league titles.
He took that success from the pitch to the touchline when he guided Olympiakos to a league and cup double last season, and now he has his sights set on success in the Champions League.
"We appreciate that we have a chance to make a statement for Greek football in the Champions League and that is a duty we have to try and embrace," he said. "It will not be easy for us in this competition, but we have our ambitions."
Olympiakos should draw inspiration from their promising Champions League performances last season, when they notched up victories against Arsenal as well as two wins against French champions Montpellier, only for two narrow defeats to Schalke to ultimately cost them a place in the knockout stages.
Star man -- Javier Saviola: The uncertainty surrounding the future of leading scorer Rafik Djebbour propelled Olympiakos into the transfer market ahead of their Champions League return, and they certainly signed a stellar name in former Barcelona and Real Madrid forward Saviola. Is he past his best? We are about to find out.
"I am very happy to be here, and I have a lot of desire and motivation to achieve great things this year," Saviola said. "Clearly, the Champions League is the big target for everyone at this club, and we have to try and prove we are ready to compete at that level. There was no doubt for me that this was the right move."
Verdict: Olympiakos will be encouraged by their placing in Group C and their impressive performances in the past two Champions League campaigns, especially on home soil. If they can make their Karaiskakis Stadium a fortress, Michel, Saviola & Co. can realistically aim for a place in the knockout stages.
Anderlecht (By Kevin Palmer)
The team: Belgium's persistent representatives in European competition since they made their debut in 1955, Anderlecht have enjoyed some glorious moments, defying the odds against some of Europe's biggest teams. Winners of the Cup Winners' Cup in 1976 and 1978, and of the 1983 UEFA Cup, they also lost a dramatic final in the same competition to Tottenham the following year.
Their most noteworthy run in the European Cup came in the 1980s, when they reached the semifinals in 1981-82 season, losing to Aston Villa, and 1985-86, when they lost to Steaua Bucuresti. They made their Champions League return last season after a six-year absence, but managed only a solitary win against Zenit St Petersburg, finishing bottom of their group.
Coach John Van den Brom is a former Netherlands international who preaches a passing style. His 4-2-3-1 lineup demands high-energy performances from his players, and he is confident that last season's Belgian champions can take that domestic success into the Champions League.
"We would have signed up for this draw," Van den Brom said after being thrown into a group alongside Benfica, Paris Saint-Germain and Olympiakos. "I was eager to get Benfica, as you always look at the team against whom you think you have the most chances. We played a friendly in Greece against Olympiakos not so long ago, and I feel we have an opportunity against them, but PSG will be a tough test. They have some great players and may be the favourites for the group.
"We want to get to the knockout stages, not just compete in the Champions League. The draw is already positive, and then we can say what will be possible for us. The experience from last year will help us and, together with the talent we have available, we'll try to get more than we did then."
Star man -- Aleksander Mitrovic: Still a teenager, the rising star arrived at Anderlecht during the summer with a big reputation to live up to after impressive performances for Partizan Belgrade earned him a call-up to the Serbia national team.
He was linked with a move to Arsenal, and it's safe to assume the interest in his services will increase if he makes his mark in the Champions League. Jose Mourinho was highly impressed with Mitrovic after watching him in a high-pressure World Cup qualifier against Croatia in September, telling reporters after the game that "this boy has everything required to be a major star."
Verdict: They may be outsiders in Group C, but Anderlecht are hardly squaring up to the type of genuine European heavyweights that will frighten them into submission. They will be a threat on home soil.
More previews: Group A -- Group B -- Group D