Europe’s Elite Learn Their Champions League Opponents
Real Madrid, the defending champion and winner of five of the last 10 Champions Leagues, will face RB Leipzig, Shakhtar Donetsk and Celtic in this year’s competition after the draw was held in Istanbul on Thursday evening.
With the top two from each of the eight groups advancing to the round-of-16 knockout stage, most of the biggest teams in Europe seemed to be in strong position to advance. (The third-place teams drop into the second-tier Europa League; fourth-place teams are eliminated.)
Big-spending Paris St.-Germain, with Neymar, Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappé, will continue its quest for a first Champions League title against Juventus, Benfica and Maccabi Haifa. While most of the field is made up of familiar names who return to the competition year after year, Maccabi Haifa of Israel is returning to the group stage for the first time since 2009-10.
Manchester City, another big-spending team that is a favorite despite its lack of previous titles, will face Borussia Dortmund, from whom they bought the star striker Erling Haaland in June, along with Sevilla and F.C. Copenhagen.
Barcelona is still spending plenty of cash despite its financial woes. One of the stars it signed over the summer was Robert Lewandowski, a striker for the perennial German champion Bayern Munich. Those teams will meet in the Champions League, in a group with Inter Milan and Viktoria Plzen.
As for the three remaining English teams, they all look to have good chances to advance. Liverpool, last season’s runner-up, will face Ajax, Napoli and Rangers. The two big Glasgow teams, Celtic and Rangers, are in the group stage together for the first time since 2007.
Chelsea will take on AC Milan, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic still seeking a first Champions League title in the twilight of his career, plus Red Bull Salzburg and Dinamo Zagreb.
And Spurs will face Eintracht Frankfurt, Sporting Lisbon and Marseille.
The final group, which many pundits saw as the weakest one, consists of Porto, Atlético Madrid, Bayer Leverkusen and Club Brugge.
One wrinkle for Shakhtar Donetsk of Ukraine is that it is scheduled to play its home games in Poland because of the ongoing war. (Russian teams have been banned from European competition entirely.)
The group stage will run on a compressed schedule from Sept. 6 to Nov. 2, covering nine weeks rather than the usual 13 or so because of the World Cup in Qatar in late November.
The Champions League Final will be played on June 10 in Istanbul, which was to have hosted the 2020 and then the 2021 final, but lost both because of the coronavirus.