Champions League Is Back:  Group Stage Quick Reunions, Nightmare Groups And An All-British Drama 

“The Chaaaaaaaampions…”

It’s that time of the year again when that famous anthem starts ringing around stadiums of the elite as the Champions League returns.

The group stage of this season’s competition gets under way this week and BBC Sport takes a look at some of the things to watch out for.

Haaland and Lewandowski’s quick reunions

Erling Haaland and Robert Lewandowski
Erling Haaland and Robert Lewandowski will face their former clubs in the group stage

Erling Haaland has taken to the Premier League like a duck to water and needed just four games to hit his first hat-trick for Manchester City when they came from behind to beat Crystal Palace last month.

The Norway international left Borussia Dortmund for City in the summer and the Champions League group-stage draw has ensured he has a quick reunion with his former side. 

City’s first game is at Sevilla this week but next week Dortmund will be the visitors at Etihad Stadium.

Champions League success has eluded City but manager Pep Guardiola is hoping Haaland will continue his super record in European club competitions, having scored 27 goals in 25 appearances for Molde, Salzburg and Dortmund.

Like Haaland, former Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski will also come up against the side he left this summer – in his case, Barcelona.

After hosting Czech side Viktoria Plzen on Wednesday, Lewandowski and Barcelona head to Munich on Tuesday, 13 September. Italian side Inter Milan complete what is comfortably the toughest group in this season’s competition.

Lewandowski scored 67 goals in the Champions League for Bayern, but former Liverpool striker Sadio Mane seems to be doing a pretty good job so far of filling the Poland forward’s boots, having scored five goals in seven appearances in German league and cup games.Champions League

England meets Scotland in Group A

One of the most eye-catching draws of the group stage was in Group A, where 2021-22 finalists Liverpool and Scottish side Rangers will face each other. 

The two sides will meet for the first time in this season’s competition on 4 October at Anfield and then on 12 October at Ibrox.

Rangers’ return to the Champions League for the first time since 2010, while they and Celtic are back in it together for the first time since 2007.

Polish fans gets behind Ukraine’s Shakhtar

Stadion Wojska Polskiego
Shakhtar Donetsk will play their ‘home’ games at Legia Warsaw’s Stadion Wojska Polskiego in Poland

The Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 led to the suspension of all football in the country, but the Ukrainian Premier League returned to action last month and Shakhtar Donetsk are participating in this season’s Champions League.

They have been drawn with the defending champions Real Madrid in Group D, along with RB Leipzig and Celtic.

Shakhtar will play their home games in Poland, at Legia Warsaw’s Stadion Wojska Polskiego, which is almost 1,000 miles away from Donetsk.

They begin their Champions League campaign at Leipzig in Germany on Tuesday night but their first ‘home’ game is against Celtic on Wednesday, 14 September, and they are being well backed by Polish fans after 80,000 tickets for the game were sold in one day .  

Sparks to fly as PSG and Juve meet?

Paris St-Germain, among the favourites to win the Champions League, go up against Juventus.

Both sides will be wanting to get to the business end of the tournament and, like Haaland and Lewandowski, Juventus winger Angel di Maria will have an early reunion with his former side as he returns to the Parc des Princes on Tuesday.

Di Maria’s team-mate and one-time Manchester United target Adrien Rabiot also faces his former club.

Who are favourites to win?

According to data specialists Nielsen Gracenote, Real Madrid are favourites to win this season’s Champions League. 

Gracenote’s Euro Club Index simulations give Real a 21% chance of lifting the trophy next May. Manchester City (20%), Liverpool (19%) and Bayern Munich (10%) are the other main contenders.

There is a 60% chance of Manchester City or one of last season’s two finalists, Real Madrid and Liverpool, winning this season’s competition. 

Simon Gleave, head of sports analysis at Nielsen Gracenote, said: “With the competition not yet under way, Real Madrid, Manchester City and Liverpool already have more than a 90% chance of reaching this season’s Champions League knockout phase. Real Madrid’s chance of negotiating the group phase is as high as 98% before a ball is kicked.

“Along with that trio, Chelsea, Paris St-Germain, Atletico Madrid and Bayern Munich all have more than 80% chance of progressing to the knockout phase.”Gracenote

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