Forget Super League, Champions League has the big names, big games and real competition

By Samindra Kunti

August 27 – Manchester City vs Paris Saint-Germain, FC Barcelona vs Bayern Munich, Inter Milan vs Real Madrid, Chelsea vs Juventus. The Champions League draw paired some of the continent’s biggest clubs in the first group round of the competition, reminding rebel clubs from the Super League that regular European competition is demanding enough. 

Barcelona, Real Madrid and Juventus were allowed to compete in this season’s iteration of the Champions because UEFA’s disciplinary case about their involvement in the Super League is on hold. Even so, in various statements the three clubs have reiterated their belief that the breakaway competition is still the way forward.

For now, they will have to settle for the Champions League. In Group D, Real Madrid will face Inter Milan, one of the clubs that quickly withdrew from the Super League project. Shakhtar Donetsk and debutants Sheriff Tiraspol from Moldova complete Group D’s line-up.  The Moldavians eliminated Dinamo Zagreb in the playoffs to reach Europe’s premier club competition.

FC Barcelona meet Bayern Munich in Group E. The Catalans were a driving force behind the Super League, but will have to navigate a difficult domestic and European season, weighed down by $1.6 billion debts and the tearful departure of club icon Lionel Messi.  They will also face Jorge Jesus’ Benfica and Dynamo Kyiv.

Juventus encounter European champions Chelsea in Group H, a group completed by Sweden’s Malmo FF and Russia’s Zenit St Petersburg, with the city staging the final next year.  Struggling financially, Juventus’ board approved a capital increase of $470 million earlier this week.

The Super League debacle had few winners, except for Paris Saint-Germain, whose president Nasser Al-Khelaifi replaced Juventus strongman Andrea Agnelli as ECA president. In Group A, PSG will renew their rivalry with geopolitical rivals Manchester City, who look to be on the verge of signing Cristiano Ronaldo. The Parisians brought in Lionel Messi to build their Qatari-owned brand even more, but might be forced to sell French star Kylian Mbappe. Even so, they will be confident of going all the way this campaign.

Last season, the clubs met in the semi-finals with Pep Guardiola’s team prevailing before falling in the final against Chelsea. The Champions League remains elusive for either club, but passage from the group is not a given with Leipzig, a club supercharged by the riches of energy drink behemoth Red Bull, and Belgian champions Club Brugge, impressive in last season’s campaign, completing the quartet.

“It is (about revenge),” said Al-Khelaifi. “We lost last year’s semifinal, so it will be a good motivation for our players, our manager and, you know, it will be interesting for the viewers. So it will be big matches.”

Liverpool meet AC Milan in Group B. That clash will inevitably remind supporters of the epic Champions League finals between the two clubs in 2005 and 2007, but since then the English have been in the ascendancy with AC Milan returning to the competition for the first time since the 2013/14 season.

Manchester United had a favourable draw in Group F with a rematch of last season’s Europa League final against Villarreal and fixtures against both Atalanta and Young Boys from Switzerland.

Sporting Lisbon, Borussia Dortmund, Ajax and Besiktas feature in a balanced Group C while Lille, Sevilla, Salzburg and Wolfsburg will all fancy their chances in Group G.

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