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Champions League Narratives: Looking at the major talking points from the group stage draw

The UEFA Champions League group stage draw has been made for the 2021/22 season, with the Premier League’s representative quartet learning their fate for this season’s tournament.

Manchester City and Liverpool have been handed difficult-looking groups in what shapes as a fascinating draw for Europe’s elite, whilst Chelsea head into the competition as defending champions after last season’s success under Thomas Tuchel.

Following the draw for the group stages, we look back at some of the major talking points and sub-plots as Europe’s elite sides prepare for another Champions League campaign.

Man City meet Messi in UCL Group of Death

Each season possesses the proverbial ‘Group of Death’ and despite strong competition this season, Group A represents the most challenging.

Last season’s runners-up Manchester City will meet PSG in a huge clash between two of world football’s wealthiest superpowers, having clashed at the semi-final stage in 2020/21.

That fixture will see Pep Guardiola renew acquaintances with Lionel Messi, whose shock summer move to PSG from Barcelona has raised realistic hopes that then Parisians can finally conquer Europe this season.

 

City were strongly linked with a move for Messi last summer as murmurs of his Barcelona unrest first surfaced, but will now come face-to-face with the six-time Ballon d’Or winner in his new Parisian colours.

RB Leipzig – semi-finalists two seasons ago and conquerors of Manchester United last season – will look to make life uncomfortable as arguably the two tournament favourites meet in the tournament’s infancy,

Club Brugge will be bidding to more than just make up the numbers in a daunting group.

Suarez makes Anfield return, Istanbul reunion in Group B

It was widely believed that being seeded second in this season’s competition was an advantage pre-draw, though Liverpool will be disputing that sentiment after being handed a testing group.

Jurgen Klopp’s side will face Spanish champions Atletico Madrid, Porto and AC Milan, the latter the toughest of the fourth seeds as the Rossoneri make their return to the Champions League stage this season after a prolonged absence.

The clash with Atletico – who eliminated the Reds in the last 16 in 2019/20 – will see a reunion with a former fans’ favourite as Luis Suarez returns to Merseyside.

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Suarez was cast aside by Barcelona last summer before inspiring Atletico to title success last term and Liverpool will be well aware of the threat posed by the Uruguayan, who scored 82 goals in just 133 appearances during a three-and-a-half year spell with the Reds.

Expect plenty of Istanbul nostalgia ahead of two meetings with AC Milan, in what is remarkably the first competitive meeting between two of European football’s royalty outside of a Champions League final, having lifted one trophy apiece following clashes in 2005 and 2007.

Haaland primed for another spectacular season

Erling Haaland’s impact on the Champions League has been nothing short of extraordinary since scoring a hat-trick on his tournament debut whilst still a teenager at Red Bull Salzburg.

The forward’s move to Borussia Dortmund has seen him continue cement his status as one of Europe’s best centre-forwards, scoring 62 goals in just 63 appearances for the Bundesliga side – including finishing as the leading scorer in last season’s Champions League.

Haaland became the youngest ever player to win UEFA’s Champions League Forward of the Season following his performances last term, and the 21-year-old will be eyeing another prolific campaign ahead of a straightforward looking Group C.

Dortmund meet Ajax, Sporting Lisbon and Besiktas as the club bid to improve on last season’s quarter-final showing, with Haaland looking to extend his phenomenal record of 20 goals in just 14 Champions League appearances.

Debutants Sheriff handed glamour ties

Amongst the names of Europe’s elite in this season’s draw sit FC Sheriff Tiraspol, who have become the first Moldovan side to reach the group stages after defeating Dinamo Zagreb in the play-offs.

The reward for the minnows is glamorous trips to the San Siro and Bernabeu, having been drawn to face Inter Milan, Real Madrid and Champions League regulars Shakhtar Donetsk in Group D.

Inter arrive into the tournament as Italian champions after ending an 11-year wait for the Scudetto, though have since allowed both Romelu Lukaku and Achraf Hakimi to depart for European rivals.

Real Madrid reached the last four last season despite a period of transition, though look set to be boosted by the superstar arrival of Kylian Mbappe from Paris Saint-Germain.

Messi-less Barcelona face Bayern acid test

Barcelona’s close-season has been one of turmoil as the crippling extend of the club’s financial issues has been revealed, the departure of Lionel Messi the headline news from a turbulent period.

Ronald Koeman will have his work cut out as Barcelona face Bayern Munich in Group E, the last meeting between the sides having been that stunning 8-2 win for the Bavarians during the 2020 quarter-final, a scoreline that remains one of the most astonishing in Champions League history.

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Bayern will start amongst the favourites for the trophy after being crowned champions in 2020 and should make light work of a group also containing Dynamo Kyiv and Benfica.

Julian Nagelsmann reached the semi-finals whilst manager of Leipzig two seasons ago and now, boasting one of the most talented squads in the game, will be hoping to bring a seventh Champions League title to Bavaria this season.

Europa League finalists rematch in Group F

Manchester United somehow contrived to exit last season’s Champions League group stage, despite beginning their campaign with successive wins over qualifiers PSG and RB Leipzig.

The drop into the Europa League provided the Red Devils with an avenue to silverware, but their hopes of a first major trophy under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer were ended in the final following a shoot-out defeat to Villarreal in Gdansk.

The draw for this season’s Champions League group stage pairs the teams together in a rematch of that clash, though United will be confident of progress despite a tricky-looking draw.

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Atalanta have shown in previous seasons that they can pose huge problems with their firepower, with Young Boys the fourth seeds after winning the Swiss Super League by a staggering 31-point margin last season.

Group G all to play for in even match-up

Group G has been widely declared as the weakest group amongst the draw, with Lille and Sevilla perhaps representing the weakest sides from Pot one and Pot two respectively.

Lille’s title success last season shocked Europe, but the Ligue 1 side have since lost manager Christophe Galtier and key figures in Mike Maignan and Boubakary Soumare.

Sevilla will be confident of progress to the latter stages, though both Wolfsburg and Red Bull Salzburg will have hopes of reaching the knockout rounds in perhaps the most even draw in the tournament.

Champions Chelsea can challenge again

Chelsea’s run to success in last season’s Champions League came as a shock, with the west Londoners undergoing a remarkable renaissance following the appointment of Thomas Tuchel.

Despite finishing fourth in the Premier League, the Blues proved a formidable proposition in Europe and beat domestic rivals Manchester City to be crowned as the continent’s finest side for a second time.

The holders arrive into this season’s tournament in even stronger position than 2021, having secured the club record arrival of Romelu Lukaku from Inter Milan.

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Tuchel’s side will face Juventus – perhaps without Cristiano Ronaldo following his request to leave – in what will prove a challenging clash in Group H, whilst also meeting Russian champions Zenit and Swedish minnows Malmo.

Few will expect Chelsea to have many problems in reaching the last 16, where their defensive strength and marquee centre-forward arrival could make an impact in the latter stages again.

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