AFP Sport takes a look at Champions League Groups E, F, G and H following Thursday’s draw in Istanbul, with Real Madrid beginning their defence of the trophy and the likes of Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain starting to trace their routes to potential glory.
(AC Milan, Chelsea, Salzburg, Dinamo Zagreb)
Champions League winners in 2021, Chelsea will be favourites in a group that looks comfortable on paper for Thomas Tuchel’s side. The financial might of the modern Premier League means that even the Italian champions are unlikely to have the Stamford Bridge side quaking in their boots. The last meeting of these clubs came in the group stages in 1999. Milan failed to qualify from their group last year on their return to the Champions League after seven seasons away, but this draw means they can have no excuses for missing out on the last 16 again.
Salzburg did reach the last 16 last season, losing to Bayern Munich before claiming a ninth consecutive Austrian title. However, they have since lost key players such as top scorer Karim Adeyemi to Borussia Dortmund and both Rasmus Kristensen and Brenden Aaronson to Leeds United.
Croatia’s Dinamo Zagreb have come through three qualifying rounds. Their record at this stage — three wins in their last 33 group games — suggests they will be whipping boys.
(Real Madrid, RB Leipzig, Shakhtar Donetsk, Celtic)
Real should have few problems here, although it shouldn’t be forgotten that they lost at home to Sheriff Tiraspol last season, or that they lost both games against Shakhtar in 2020. This is the third consecutive campaign in which these clubs have been drawn together, and the Ukrainians will attract a lot of attention as they host games in Warsaw due to the conflict in their homeland.
Leipzig have enjoyed some fine European results in recent years and have kept hold of star player Christopher Nkunku, so they should progress, although Celtic will hope to make an impression on their return to the group stage after five years away. Ange Postecoglou’s Scottish champions must turn Celtic Park back into the European fortress it once was if they are to stand any chance of reaching the last 16.
(Manchester City, Sevilla, Borussia Dortmund, FC Copenhagen)
An early reunion between new City striker Erling Haaland and his old club Dortmund catches the eye, but it also detracts from the fact that Pep Guardiola’s side should top Group G comfortably.
Sevilla have continually struggled to cope with the demands of the Champions League despite enjoying so much success in the Europa League, and they lost defensive pillars Jules Kounde and Diego Carlos in the close season.
Dortmund, winners in 1997, have notably sought to strengthen their defence over the summer. They were knocked out in the group stage last season but in 2021 they defeated Sevilla in the last 16 before then losing to City.
Those two should closely contest second place, with Copenhagen expected to make up the numbers in their first group-stage campaign since 2016. They have lost three of their first six games in the Danish Superliga.
(Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus, Benfica, Maccabi Haifa)
PSG against Juventus is a tie that has never been played before in the Champions League. It will be interesting to see how they measure up, with the Parisians looking formidable at the start of this season and Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Lionel Messi in fine form.
Juventus have strengthened a side that came fourth in Serie A last season and lost in the Champions League last 16 three years running. Angel Di Maria, Paul Pogba and Brazilian defender Bremer have come in.
If they fall short, Benfica will be waiting to pounce, just like last season when they reached the knockout rounds at Barcelona’s expense. They named German Roger Schmidt as their new coach after coming third in the Portuguese league last season, since when star man Darwin Nunez has joined Liverpool.
Maccabi Haifa will not expect to go far in their first group-stage appearance since 2009, although the Israelis knocked out Olympiakos and Red Star Belgrade in qualifying.