Paris (AFP) – The Champions League group stage starts on Tuesday. Bayern Munich will start defending the cup they won in Lisbon in August. AFP Sport picks some of the storylines to see over the next few weeks:
– Messi gegen Ronaldo –
They are the two greatest players of their generation with 11 Ballons d’Or and the two best goalscorers in the history of the Champions League. Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo will now renew their individual rivalries when Barcelona and Juventus meet in Group G.
They haven’t posed since the Portuguese superstar left Real Madrid for Juventus in 2018.
Ronaldo is currently self-isolating after testing positive for Covid-19 and must pass a negative test before being allowed to face Barca in Turin on October 28th. The return to Camp Nou takes place on December 8th.
Both teams should emerge from a group with Dynamo Kiev and Ferencvaros but both Messi and Ronaldo run out of time to win the Champions League again. Messi, 33, has appeared in four victory campaigns while Ronaldo, 35, has won five times.
– Will Man Utd get out of their group? – –
Manchester United kick off their season at Paris Saint-Germain with a replay of their dramatic round of 16 in 2018-19, as the Red Devils made strides thanks to a controversial late penalty.
That was arguably the high point of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s reign as Old Trafford manager. It was his 14th win in 17 games as a caretaker and soon after he got the job permanent. But United went to Barcelona in the quarterfinals and didn’t qualify for last season’s Champions League.
Solskjer’s first full campaign brought United back to the top of Europe in third, but serious doubts remain about his leadership skills and they’re in a tough group, with last season’s semi-finalists RB Leipzig and Turkish champions Istanbul Basaksehir as as well as PSG.
The knives will fail for the Norwegian if they do not reach the knockout phase.
– Playing Haaland again? – –
Erling Braut Haaland was the star of last season’s Champions League before competition was disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.
The Norwegian caused a sensation for Red Bull Salzburg in the group stage and scored eight goals. After moving to Borussia Dortmund in the winter, he scored two more goals in the defeat against PSG in the last sixteen, although Dortmund lost overall.
Haaland scored 44 club goals in total last season before turning 20 in July. He already has 11 for club and country this season and Dortmund hopes that he can help them out of a group with Zenit Saint Petersburg, Lazio and Klub Bruges.
– Atalanta: Dark horses no longer –
Atalanta’s quarter-finals, where they suffered an excruciating loss to PSG, would have been heartwarming, even if their hometown of Bergamo hadn’t been destroyed during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
Gian Piero Gasperini’s side qualified for the last 16 despite losing their first three group games, beating Valencia 8-4 overall in their first Champions League season. They also finished third in Serie A, to return to the European elite club competition.
But Atalanta is no longer a surprise package and probably the favorite to emerge from their group along with Liverpool and ahead of Ajax and Danish champions Midtjylland. Will they continue to thrive even though they are no longer the dark horses?
– The debutants –
Atalanta may not be the new boy anymore, but this is the first time that four teams are making the group stage.
The most interesting newcomers are Rennes, who finished in the best third place ever a year after winning the French Cup in France. In Julien Stephan they have one of the best young coaches in Europe, while midfielder Eduardo Camavinga is possibly the hottest youngster in world football. However, they are in a difficult group with Chelsea, Sevilla and another newcomer to Russian side Krasnodar.
Midtjylland will have a tough time against Liverpool, Atalanta and Ajax. After Basaksehir broke the domination of the Istanbul giants in Turkey, he hopes to cause problems for PSG, Manchester United and Leipzig.
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