‘Group of Death’ challenge for Manchester United
Manchester United’s return to the Champions League has been rewarded with a tough-looking draw for the group stage.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side are alongside last season’s beaten finalists, Paris Saint-Germain, as well as semi-finalists RB Leipzig.
United reached the Europa League semi-finals last season, losing to eventual winners Sevilla, but qualification for European football’s main competition was imperative, not just for the club’s finances, but also their global reputation.
The draw, though, has not been kind and United will have to beat two of last season’s success stories if they are going to finish in the top two and avoid being back in the Europa League after Christmas.
PSG will be among the favourites to win the Champions League, while Leipzig are also dangerous despite the sale of top goalscorer Tino Werner to Chelsea over the summer. Istanbul Basaksehir are the other team in Group H.
There was also a tricky test for Liverpool, who will face last season’s surprise package Atalanta, as well as Ajax and Danish side Midtjylland. The good news for them is that although Ajax reached the semi-finals of the competition in 2019, they have since sold most of their key players and are in a rebuilding phase.
Atalanta will also no longer have the benefit of surprise after unexpectedly reaching the quarter-finals last season.
Chelsea manager Frank Lampard will be relatively happy with his team’s draw after they were placed alongside reigning Europa League holders Sevilla, French club Rennes and Russian club Krasnodar. Given the amount of money — around pounds 250 million — spent to improve the squad over the summer, owner Roman Abramovich will expect Lampard to make smooth progress from the group while also maintaining an interest in the Premier League title race.
Manchester City will also be relatively pleased with their opponents in Group C alongside Porto, who have once again lost key players this summer to wealthier rivals, French club Marseille and perennial Greek champions Olympiakos.
Like Lampard, City manager Pep Guardiola has had a testing start to the new season, but will be expected to make easy work of the group as he looks to win the trophy City’s owners crave more than any other in what could well prove to be his final year as manager. The draw also paired Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, with Barcelona and Juventus drawn in the same group.
Fans will be allowed entry into international matches in Europe from next week, where local laws allow.
It follows a successful pilot scheme at the Uefa Super Cup in Budapest on September 4. Spectators will now be limited to 30 per cent of stadium capacity, but no away supporters will be permitted.