Manchester City will face PSG in repeat of semi-final Chelsea face Juventus with Liverpool and Atletico paired Man Utd handed favourable draw with Villarreal, Atalanta and Young Boys Manchester City in talks to sign Cristiano Ronaldo Pep Guardiola was handed a reunion with Lionel Messi as the Champions League group draw set up a series of clashes between its most decorated personalities and clubs.
Manchester City versus Paris Saint-Germain was among a host of glamorous early fixtures in Europe’s premier competition, with the possibility of Messi going head-to-head with the English champions’ latest transfer target Cristiano Ronaldo providing an even more intriguing background to the meeting.
Messi and Guardiola – embedded with the history of Barcelona – must now seek to undermine each others’ European hopes at their current clubs, although both City and PSG are favourites to progress with Germany’s RB Leipzig and Club Brugge of Belgium completing their group.
Theirs will not be the only emotional reunion in the group phase. Liverpool will welcome former striker Luis Suarez back to Anfield, and were given a reminder of one of their greatest nights – the Miracle of Istanbul – by being drawn to play AC Milan.
Milan famously lost to Liverpool in the memorable 2005 final and now face the Merseysiders’ for the first time since they avenged that defeat in the 2007 Champions League final.
Suarez’s latest club, Spanish champions Atletico Madrid, will be poignant visitors to Merseyside. They last travelled to Anfield on the eve of the Covid-19 enforced lockdown in 2020, defeating Jurgen Klopp’s side in the round of sixteen.
The addition of Porto means Klopp must navigate his side through a group which boasts 15 European Cups between the clubs.
“I laughed, to be honest, pretty loud because it is a tough group obviously,” said Klopp. “It’s the Champions League, so that’s how it is, and you have to play the best teams in Europe, and obviously some of them are in our group!”
European champions Chelsea were given a tough early test against Juventus and a trip to face Russia’s Zenit St Petersburg. But with Sweden’s Malmo completing their group, Thomas Tuchel will be confident of a successful start to his side’s Champions League defence.
Manchester United may be the most satisfied of all the English contingent. They were handed a chance to avenge last May’s Europa League final defeat to Villarreal, which they lost on penalties. It was a generally favourable looking group for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer which includes Atalanta of Italy and Young Boys of Switzerland.
Champions League group-by-group verdict Who has been handed the Group of Death? Which manager is most likely to complain about air miles after a midweek trip to Eastern Europe? Should any English clubs be worried about reaching the round of sixteen? Chris Bascombe assesses the winners and losers after today’s Champions League draw in Istanbul.
Group A: Manchester City, PSG, RB Leipzig, Brugge You could hear the jaws hit the floor as the two clubs who have spent most to realise their Champions League dream were paired. Will it be Lionel Messi versus Cristiano Ronaldo? The addition of RB Leipzig makes for a competitive group, but it is difficult to see past the top seeds.
WINNERS: Manchester City
Group B: Atletico Madrid, Liverpool, Porto, Milan The Group of Nostalgia, with 15 European Cups between them. Suarez returns to Anfield. AC Milan recall 2005 and 2007, and Liverpool return to the scene of their 2019 victory. Then poor Porto must be sick of the sight of Jurgen Klopp after losing to the Merseysiders’ in 2018 and 2019. Add that Atletico beat Liverpool at Anfield the day before the 2020 lockdown and this is a group to stir emotions.
RUNNERS-UP: Atletico Madrid
Group C: Sporting Lisbon, Borussia Dortmund, Ajax, Besiktas Erling Haaland is probably already thinking about how many goals he will add in a favourable draw for the Germans. With respect, this is the group many of the favourites will be observing in the hope of meeting the winners’ and runners-up in the round of sixteen. Borussia should sail through, but it will be a fight for second place.
WINNERS: Borussia Dortmund
RUNNERS-UP: Sporting Lisbon
Group D: Inter, Real Madrid, Shakhtar Donetsk, Sheriff Real and Inter will have been wary at the start of the draw and relieved by the end of it. They ensured a glamorous early meeting, but the truth is this is one of those utterly predictable groups. The top seeds will need to implode to fail to make it through. Football romantics can focus on the rise of the Moldovan minnows who have been given a fitting reward for their progress.
WINNERS: Real Madrid
RUNNERS-UP: Inter Milan
Group E: Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Benfica, Dynamo Kiev Let’s make it interesting and predict a major shock. How about Benfica relegating Barcelona to the Europa League? Perhaps it is premature to see a post-Messi disintegration, but the trend is heading that way and this is not the formality it once was for the La Liga giants. Bayern will get through with two games to spare.
WINNERS: Bayern Munich
Group F: Villarreal, Manchester United, Atalanta, Young Boys
United will be satisfied, although the downside of having avoided so many stellar names in the group stage is they are virtually guaranteed to meet a favourite in the first knockout round. Atalanta have recent pedigree in the competition – they made their mark in 2020 and won at Anfield last season – but United have no worries about early elimination.
WINNERS: Manchester United
Group G: Lille, Sevilla, Salzburg, Wolfsburg Let’s call this group ‘interesting’. Sevilla may struggle to find a way of engineering their exit so they can return to the Europa League and continue their dominance of the second tier competition. Salzburg always unearth a couple of gems who will be signed by a Euro giant later in the season, and Wolfsburg are strong fourth seeds. The most unpredictable group.
Group H: Chelsea, Juventus, Zenit, Malmo The European champions will relish the early test against Juventus, and spend the next two days ensuring the trip to Russia does not coincide with the week of a 12.30pm Saturday start in the Premier League. Zenit are the danger for the top seeds, but it could have been much worse for Thomas Tuchel. They should make it through.
Champions League draw – as it happened