Champions League: British chances of success
The Uefa Champions League's power to surprise was illustrated perfectly by the hazards Chelsea negotiated to claim the prize owner Roman Abramovich craved most last season.
On the brink against Napoli, Abramovich sacked Andre Villas-Boas and handed the levers to his right-hand man Roberto Di Matteo to take control of an unlikely journey to success.
Survival against Napoli and victory against Benfica acted only as the starter for the main courses of victory over holders and overwhelming favourites Barcelona - achieved largely without the ball - and ultimate triumph on penalties against Bayern Munich in their own Allianz Arena.
As the journey starts again for holders Chelsea this week, Premier League champions Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal and Scottish champions Celtic will be aiming to go as far as they can.
Here's my assessment of their chances...
Celtic have been handed a group packed with glamour such as Barcelona and Benfica as well as Spartak Moscow. Even the most optimistic of followers may accept the last 16 is an unlikely prospect when faced with such opposition.
Manager Neil Lennon has demanded a big improvement following their surprise 2-1 reverse at St Johnstone on Saturday.
Celtic host Benfica on Wednesday and Lennon wants his team to bounce back in style. "We need to get back on the horse very quickly. There'll be a full house and I'm expecting a big performance from them," he said.
Chelsea beat Bayern Munich 4-3 on penalties to lift the trophy in May 2012. Photo: Getty
Manchester City were dealt a tough hand on their first venture and this season has followed suit, starting with a trip to Real Madrid on Tuesday.
Manager Roberto Mancini flies into Spain with mixed messages from Jose Mourinho ringing in his ears - a subtle reminder of their richer history in one sentence then a concern about Real's vulnerability in the other.
"Real Madrid is like no other club in the world," he said. "There is no other team anywhere that can be compared to Real Madrid - none."
And yet not long after, 'The Special One' was questioning his players after defeat against Sevilla left them eight points adrift of Barcelona in La Liga.
Mancini knows the scale of the task but the Champions League will present a measure of their progress after failing to negotiate a tough group containing the likes of Bayern Munich and Napoli last year, saying: "Real Madrid are one of the best teams in the world. To play the first game away will be very tough but at the same time I think it will be a fantastic game for everyone."
City's new arrivals might not contain the stellar names Mancini might have liked, but Sergio Aguero may return and in Yaya Toure he has a formidable presence with the highest Champions League pedigree from his time at Barcelona.
It is a test for City, as is the rest of the group alongside Borussia Dortmund and Ajax. They may have spent millions once more on reinforcements but Mancini may regard it as a job well done to reach the knockout phase.
Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has not made too many glaring errors in his Old Trafford career - but he admits himself resting players in the Champions League last season was a decision punished by failure to reach the knockout phase for only the third time 17 years.
He insists there will be no repeat this time - although there would be no excuses for a club and manager priding itself on European exploits not navigating a group containing Portugal's Braga, Galatasaray from Turkey and CFR Cluj of Romania.
And in Robin van Persie, Ferguson believes he has the £24m weapon that can now propel United back to the later stages of a competition they won in 2008 and ended as runners-up to Barcelona in 2009 and 2011.
He said: "What gives us even more strength are the combinations I have up front. If you go back to the 1999 season when we won the Champions League as part of the treble I had Dwight Yorke, Andy Cole, Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, they were the four best strikers in Europe.
"I think I'm getting towards that now. I've got Javier Hernandez, Wayne Rooney, Robin, Danny Welbeck and Shinji Kagawa. It's a fantastic collection of players and hopefully I pick the right combinations."
What may undermine United's campaign is a vulnerability in defence that has been exposed at Everton and Southampton already this season - and whether for all Paul Scholes's enduring brilliance he can seriously influence the bigger games in the Champions League.
United start against Galatasary at Old Trafford on Wednesday. The knockout phase will surely be reached - but doubts remain about whether this squad has enough quality to impact as the tournament arrives at the sharp end.
Arsenal will also fancy their chances of emerging from a group with Schalke 04, Montpellier and Olympiakos, but for all the quality added in the shape of Santi Cazorla and Lukas Podolski, their more serious aspirations of silverware will realistically lie away from the Champions League.
Chelsea's challenge will be intriguing because of the shift in tactical emphasis this season. Di Matteo triumphed by preparing his team to keep away from the big punches of opponents and hitting on the counter.
This season, with the addition of players such as Eden Hazard and with Fernando Torres now the main man following Didier Drogba's departure, they seem more willing to trade blows. How they fare will be fascinating to watch, starting against Juventus at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday.
Di Matteo is happy he retains the basis of his Champions League-winning squad but has also added - as well as Hazard - Brazil's Oscar and Marko Marin.
Frank Lampard, a hero of Munich, knows the challenge presented by Juventus, Shakhtar Donetsk and FC Nordsjaelland but is in confident mood.
"It's fantastic to have it in the bank but we can't relax on that if we want to be a club that creates a real mark in Europe," said Lampard. "We've done it once and we want more and it gets more difficult each year.
"Barcelona and Real Madrid are as strong as ever, if not stronger, but we're not looking that far ahead. We have to concentrate on getting out of the group."
Chelsea should do that, as should Manchester United and Arsenal although City and Celtic may end up in a real dogfight.