The Champions League group stage draw is one of the most highly anticipated events in the football calendar, and Thursday’s event was no exception. Thirty-two teams from across the continent learned their fate, and we at The Sportsman cannot wait to see the action unfold in the coming months.
The segment that immediately catches the eye is Group F, which is undoubtedly this season’s group of death. Barcelona appeared to have one foot in last season’s final after beating Liverpool 3-0 in the first leg of their last-four showdown, only to surrender that lead back at Anfield. Lionel Messi and co. will be desperate to make amends this time around, but they will not be able to ease themselves into the tournament after being drawn alongside Borussia Dortmund, Inter and Slavia Prague.
Liverpool will meet Napoli for the second season in a row as they attempt to become only the second team to retain the trophy in its current format. Carlo Ancelotti’s side will fancy their chances of reaching the knockout phase this time around – they missed out to the Reds and Paris Saint-Germain in 2018/19 – having been paired with Red Bull Salzburg and Genk.
Juventus and Atletico Madrid will also meet for the second season in a row. Atleti won the first leg of the pair’s last-16 clash 2-0 at the Wanda Metropolitano last time out, but Cristiano Ronaldo’s hat-trick turned the tie on its head. Bayer Leverkusen will be looking to spring a surprise by finishing ahead of either the Italians or Spaniards, but Lokomotiv Moscow are rank outsiders.
Last season’s runners-up, Tottenham Hotspur, face heavyweight opposition in the form of Bayern Munich, who have continually fallen short since winning the competition under Jupp Heynckes in 2013. Spurs would probably settle for second spot at the time of asking, with Olympiacos and Red Star Belgradecompleting Group B.
According to the bookmakers, Manchester City are the favourites to lift the trophy in Istanbul next May. They will not be overly concerned by their opponents in Group B, with Shakhtar Donetsk and Atalanta likely to be battling it out for second spot – although Dinamo Zagreb may have something to say about that.
Chelsea’s group looks relatively open. Ajax reached the semi-finals last campaign but have been weakened in the summer transfer market, with Matthijs de Ligt and Frenkie de Jong both moving on to pastures new. They will still be quietly confident of progressing to the last 16, though, and Valencia and Lille will both believe they also have a decent chance of finishing in the top two.
Group G is the one that will have hipsters salivating, as Zenit Saint Petersburg, Benfica, Lyon and RB Leipzig prepare to battle it out for a place in the last 16.
Group A may look predictable, with PSG and Real Madrid the clear favourites to advance, but neither will relish a trip to Galatasaray. The Turkish outfit are likely to struggle away from home, however, while Club Brugge would probably consider third place a success.