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Five talking points ahead of the Champions League action

Ahead of the opening round of Champions League group stage action, we discuss some of the competition’s major talking points.

Newcastle need strong start

Newcastle are back in the big time after a long absence, returning to the Champions League stage for the first time in more than two decades. If the Magpies are to ensure their return progresses past the initial group stage, they will have to do it the hard way after being drawn in a glamour group featuring Paris Saint-Germain, Borussia Dortmund and AC Milan.

Newcastle’s last visit to the Champions League saw the club lose each of their opening three games, only to become the first team to open with three losses and still progress, a feat only Atalanta (2019/20) have since matched.

Eddie Howe’s team can ill-afford to repeat that slow start this time around, given the calibre of opposition that awaits. Newcastle travel to AC Milan – seven-time winners and semi-finalists last season – in their opening fixture. Howe has avoided the traditional on-field training session for Champions League games at the San Siro, in a bid to avoid potential spies from the Milan camp.

The Rossoneri arrive into the game in a state of disarray, after a 5-1 defeat to bitter rivals Inter Milan at the weekend, a fifth consecutive derby defeat. Newcastle will need to be braced for a potential backlash.

Champions City thriving with old-school tactical tweak

There was a point in Pep Guardiola’s coaching career where it seemed he would do anything to avoid having a centre-forward in his side. From six midfielders, to false nines and more, Guardiola’s demand for control saw football’s most fashionable position pushed to the periphery.

The genius of Guardiola however, is that he is often at the forefront of change. Erling Haaland’s arrival at the Etihad provided Manchester City with a goalscoring talent so good, and so prolific, that his team was now built around the Norwegian. What has transpired is that Guardiola now has two centre-forwards in his team, working in a harmony that looks ominous for challengers in England and Europe.

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Julian Alvarez has started each of City’s first five games of the Premier League campaign and has excelled, providing five goal involvements in those appearances and impressing in a role roving around the more centralised Haaland.

It might not be the traditional big man-little man partnership of decades gone by, but it’s certainly an interpretation of a classic combination that is bearing fruit for the Cityzens. The duo have been directly involved in 11 of the 14 goals City have scored in the Premier League this season, while their contrasting styles appear a fine compliment for one another.

Serbia’s Crvena zvezda arrive at the Etihad on matchday one of the Champions League with the daunting task of stopping Guardiola’s latest attacking creation.

Draw offers opportunity for Arsenal

Arsenal will dine at Europe’s top table for the first time in six seasons this year, after the Gunners ended their Champions League exile with a runners-up finish in the Premier League last season.

Arsenal had competed on this stage for 19 successive seasons under former manager Arsene Wenger, before a long absence from Europe’s elite competition. Their absence meant Arsenal were seeded second for the group stage draw, though the Gunners have been handed a favourable schedule as the club look to book a place in the knockout rounds.

PSV Eindhoven visit the Emirates on matchday one, having beaten Rangers in the play-off round. Arsenal did lose at PSV in last season’s Europa League, but will be confident of opening with a win against the Dutch side on home soil.

Elsewhere in Group B Lens and Sevilla await, two teams who are struggling domestically as the Champions League season begins. Though nothing will be taken for granted, Arsenal have a real opportunity to progress with minimal fuss.

Kane can add to Manchester misery

Arguably the most high-profile fixture of the entire group stage takes place on matchday one, as Bayern Munich take on Manchester United at the Allianz Arena.

The two clubs share nine Champions League crowns between them and the clash has an added narrative after Harry Kane’s move to Germany this summer. Kane had been named as a potential transfer target for Manchester United, but the greater chance of silverware at Bayern – coupled with Daniel Levy’s reluctance to sell to a Premier League rival – saw the 30-year-old move to Munich.

Kane has scored four goals in four Bundesliga appearances this season and will be relishing a reunion with the Red Devils, who have lost three of their opening five Premier League games and have looked vulnerable defensively.

Goalkeeper Andre Onana has failed to convince since signing from Inter Milan during the summer, while there are issues in midfield with Casemiro and Christian Eriksen struggling against dynamic opposition.

The rematch of the classic 1999 final will intrigue, but Bayern have dominated this fixture since that night, losing just one of the subsequent eight meetings.


Appreciating the three teams to win four consecutive Premier League games against Man United

Is the relaunched PSG project capable of challenging?

It’s felt as if Paris Saint-Germain have repeated the same Champions League cycle for much of the past decade. A squad stacked with talent is talked up as the group stage gets underway, before eventually coming unstuck as the tournament reaches its business end.

PSG’s own ‘Galactico’ project failed to turn talent into trophies in Europe, with a clear-out having ensued with both Lionel Messi and Neymar moved on during the summer. Kylian Mbappe has remained (despite announcing his intention to depart in the near future) and will lead a new look side into this season’s competition.

Luis Enrique’s side oversaw a remarkable recruitment drive during the summer, one which saw 13 new faces arrive at the Parc des Princes. Randal Kolo Muani, Ousmane Dembele and Lucas Hernandez all arrived to create an exciting French core, while in Goncalo Ramos, Milan Skriniar and Manuel Ugarte the club completed deals for players courted by Europe’s very elite.

A mixed opening to the Ligue 1 campaign indicates the imports will need time to gel, but PSG can not afford a sluggish start in the Champions League. Drawn in the tournament’s ‘Group of Death’ alongside Borussia Dortmund, AC Milan and Newcastle, PSG’s relaunched team will be tested from the offset.

Read – Iconic Performances: Asprilla’s brilliant treble downs the mighty Barca at St James’ Park

Read Also – Premier League weekend: Five things we learned

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