There’s always at least one marquee matchup in the group stage of the UEFA Champions League, and this fall’s highest-profile and most intriguing pairing is perhaps the biggest one yet.
Here’s a quick guide to the most mouthwatering encounters, with the full draw listed below.
Barcelona-Juventus the undisputed group stage highlight
At Thursday’s draw in Geneva, Lionel Messi’s Barcelona and Cristiano Ronaldo’s Juventus both ended up in Group G, meaning that the world’s best two players — perhaps of all time — are scheduled to face off twice before the end of the calendar year. Dynamo Kiev and Hungarian side Ferencvarosi round out the quartet, from which two teams advance to the knockout round. Good luck to them. They’ll need it.
Messi and Ronaldo used to meet in league and cup games several times every season in Spain, or course, before Ronaldo moved from Real Madrid to Italian titan Juve in 2018. Now they’ll meet in the planet’s most prestigious club competition. Both players are sure to be motivated after falling short in the Champions League in 2020, the first time in 15 years that neither star advanced to the final four.
Messi, 33, has four career European titles, all with Barca. The 35-year-old Ronaldo has five: four with Real, and one during his days with Manchester United. This fall’s matchup between Juventus and Barca also features a delicious matchup for American fans.
Weston McKennie, a 22-year-old Texan, is a starting midfielder for Juve, while fullback Sergino Dest, McKennie’s 19-year-old USMNT teammate, was introduced as a Barca player hours before Thursday’s draw following his $28 million transfer from Dutch power Ajax.
PSG, Man United, RB Leipzig will try to survive Group H
It’s not quite the dreaded Group of Death, but it’s close. Paris Saint-Germain, led by Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, are the clear favorites to win Group H following their run to the 2020 final, where they lost to Bayern Munich. But the second-place spot will be hostly contested, too. Up-and-coming Leipzig, which stunned Atletico Madrid last month to reach to the semis for the first time before losing to PSG , will surely have revenge on its mind.
And once-mighty Manchester United, the only team in the group ever to win the Champions League, will be desperate to pull off an upset of either and advance to next year’s knockout stage. The Red Devils are capable, as they showed by beating PSG over two legs in 2019.
As for Turkey’s Istanbul Basaksehir, they’ll probably have some free time next spring.
Bayern gets Atlei; Salzburg meets the champion once again
Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid are the obvious choices to advance from Group A. But then don’t count out Jesse Marsch-led FC Salzburg, which almost made it though last year following hugely impressive performances against Napoli and then-champion Liverpool. Erling Haaland might be gone, but Marsch, one of Europe’s top young managers, has retooled his squad.
Lokomotiv Moscow rounds out that group.
Liverpool, Ajax, Atalanta comprise Group of Death
Group D stands for Death after this trio, all of which have made deep Champions League runs the last two years, got paired together along with Denmark’s Midtjylland.
Ajax isn’t the power it was when it went to the semis in 2019, having sold off most of the top performers from that squad. But they’re still dangerous, as is Atalanta, whose thrilling attacking game took them all the way to the quarterfinals last term. Only two late PSG goals prevented the Italians from going even further.
Premier League champs Liverpool are the fave, though. And Jurgen Klopp’s team has something to prove after being eliminated in the round of 16 last March.
Group A: Bayern Munich , Atletico Madrid, FC Salzburg, Lokomotiv Moscow
Group B: Real Madrid , Shakhtar Donetsk, Inter Milan , Borussia Monchengladbach
Group C: Porto, Manchester City, Olympiakos , Marseille
Group D: Liverpool , Ajax , Atalanta , Midtjylland
Group E: Sevilla, Chelsea , Krasnodar , Rennes
Group F: Zenit St. Petersburg , Borussia Dortmund, Lazio , Club Brugge
Group G: Juventus, Barcelona , Dynamo Kiev , Ferencvaros
Group H: PSG, Manchester United, RB Leipzig, Istanbul Basaksehir
The full match schedule will be announced at a later date.
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