Champions League draw 2022: Barcelona to face Bayern Munich and Man City to meet Dortmund

Robert Lewandoski and Haaland are set for a quick return to their former clubs

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A Uefa Champions League divided into two distinct parts begins in 11 days time, with, for the first time ever, a World Cup sandwiched in the middle.

The challenge for those aspiring to win club football’s most watched competition, its most coveted trophy, will be to pace themselves through the unprecedented schedule.

The challenge for the World Cup, meanwhile, is to match the elite standards on display at the summit of the club game.

Less than three weeks before Qatar meet Ecuador in the opening of the group phase of the international showpiece in late November, fans worldwide will have been watching matches as glamorous as Bayern Munich against Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain versus Juventus, or Chelsea taking on AC Milan, to name just three of the pairings that emerged in Thursday’s group-stage draw.

Group A: Ajax, Liverpool, Napoli, Rangers

Liverpool hardly need an extra motive for reaching, and winning another Champions League final, having lost the last one narrowly, but nor are they a club that ever resists an invitation to feel nostalgic. The venue for the 2023 final stimulates that impulse.

Istanbul’s Ataturk Stadium was the site of the most extraordinary of comebacks in a final this century: trailing 3-0 at half time Liverpool went on to beat AC Milan on penalties.

Seventeen years on, Jurgen Klopp’s team, winners of the competition in 2019, are plunged into a group of other resonant venues. Naples’ San Paolo and Glasgow’s Ibrox generate the sorts of atmosphere that Anfield regards as uniquely rousing in an English context.

Ajax can also count on terrific support, although fans in Amsterdam fear that the summer departures of players from the spine of the side – goalkeeper, Andre Onana, defender Lisandro Martinez, midfielder Ryan Gravenberch and striker Sebastien Haller – as well as coach Erik ten Hag, leaves them vulnerable in Europe.

Forecast: Liverpool through, with Napoli.

A dejected Mohamed Salah after Liverpool lost to Real Madrid in last season's Champions League final in Paris. Reuters

Group B: Porto, Atletico Madrid, Bayer Leverkusen, Bruges

Brace yourselves for a wildly combative pair of matches likely to decide who finishes top of Group B. That’s B for bruising, if last season’s precedent is any indication of what happens when Atletico Madrid meet Porto.

The all-Iberian encounter in which the two were contesting one spot in the knockout phase last December finished with three red cards, and the touchline around the rival benches turned into a brawling zone.

Porto, who have started the defence of their Portuguese league title with three wins out of three, and Atletico, who have made a mixed start to La Liga, should feel more confident of approaching the last group fixtures under less make-or-break circumstances this time, especially as Leverkusen have embarked on their season so poorly. Bruges, though, can cause some alarms.

Forecast: Atletico and Porto to progress.

Referee Clement Turpin shows a red card to Atletico Madrid's Yannick Carrasco, second right, during the Champions League group match against Porto last season. AP

Group C: Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Inter Milan, Viktoria Plzen

A consensus quickly formed among the executives gathered for the group-phase draw that the toughest pool is Group C.

A few club officials were privately smiling, too, keen to see Barcelona’s bold, extravagant rebuild - the club have spent more than €170m on new players, money raised by selling off stakes in future income – put to the test just as manager Xavi – who is starting a European Champions League campaign for the first time as a manager – is still bedding the newcomers in.

He must do so against a Bayern unbeaten for 28 group games, a Bayern who effectively battered Barcelona into third place at this stage last season, and a strong, capable Inter Milan.

It is a poignant draw for Barcelona’s stellar recruit Robert Lewandowski, up against the Bayern where he set goalscoring records. It is a daunting set of expeditions for Viktoria Plzen, facing opponents who boast 14 European Cups between them.

Forecast: Bayern and Barcelona to claim top two spots.

Barcelona striker Robert Lewandowski will take on former club Bayern Munich in the Champions League this season. Getty

Group D: Eintracht Frankfurt, Tottenham Hotspur, Sporting Lisbon, Marseille

Antonio Conte, back in the Champions League as a manager for the first time since December 2020, has a point to make. His impact on Tottenham, who he joined last season, has been largely positive, and the fact that Spurs are in Europe’s premier club competition counts as a managerial triumph.

In Europe, however, he has underachieved through his period of great success in Italian and English domestic leagues. He twice suffered group-stage elimination in the Champions League at Inter, did so with Juventus and only reached the last 16 while at Chelsea.

His chances of taking Spurs to the knockouts look enhanced by a relatively mild set of assignments between September and November, although Eintracht, the Europa League holders, are capable of ambushing the best, and Marseille and Lisbon are tough places to go.

Forecast: Spurs and Eintracht to go through.

Tottenham manager Antonio Conte will be looking to improve his record in the Champions League. EPA

Group E: AC Milan, Chelsea, RB Salzburg, Dinamo Zagreb

It has been a while since AC Milan presented themselves at a Champions League draw as aristocrats, but in Istanbul, where they lost a memorable European Cup final in 2005, they stood proud among the seeded clubs.

The seven-time winners of the competition are Italian champions for the first time since 2011, and hopeful of better than their fourth-placed finish in last year’s group stage.

Two Chelsea exes, Olivier Giroud and Fikayo Tomori, were vital in last season’s annexing of the Serie A title, and those two will have felt grateful at times to have avoided the off-field turmoil at Stamford Bridge. But this is still a Chelsea recognisable as the 2021 European champions, with the resources to comfortably handle Milan and the upstart energy of Salzburg.

Forecast: Chelsea and Milan to make the last 16.

AC Milan striker Olivier Giroud is set to go up against former club Chelsea. Reuters

Group F: Real Madrid, RB Leipzig, Shakhtar Donetsk, Celtic

Nobody wisely bets against Real Madrid in the competition they have conquered twice as often as the next best European Cup club, less so after the extraordinary series of comebacks they pulled off on the way to last May’s 14th triumph.

The champions have said goodbye to a doyen of their recent run of successes in Europe – Casemiro, who has joined Manchester United, won five Champions Leagues – but they have imported some of his steel in the signings of Antonio Rudiger and Aurelien Tchouameni.

They can be lax in the group phase, too, as the last two campaigns show, and if Celtic or Shakhtar, the club representing Ukrainian football’s determination to continue in spite of the ongoing war, can eke out points against the champions, they could make Leipzig’s route to the next round tricky.

Forecast: Madrid and Leipzig to progress.

Summer signing Antonio Rudiger will add steel to reigning champions Real Madrid's team. AFP

Group G: Manchester City, Sevilla, Borussia Dortmund, FC Copenhagen

Is this Manchester City’s year, at last? Armed with a phenomenal centre-forward for the first time since Sergio Aguero was at his peak, the 2022/23 version of City can look like the best equipped yet to win them a first European Cup.

Erling Haaland, the brilliant new weapon in their attack, will have an early opportunity to remind his former club, Dortmund, of the special appetite he has for Champions League goals. He may relish taking on a Sevilla defence that has lost its central totems, Jules Kounde and Diego Carlos, to the summer transfer market.

The contest for the second qualifying place, between Dortmund and Sevilla, behind group-favourites City, should be a contest to relish. Copenhagen can complicate it but their prospects of leapfrogging the Spanish or German club look slim.

Forecast: City to progress, with Sevilla.

Erling Haaland is the type of attacker Manchester City have been lacking in recent seasons. Reuters

Group H: Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus, Benfica, Maccabi Haifa

It will be eight years, in May, since Lionel Messi won the last of his four European Cups. Kylian Mbappe turned down the chance to join Real Madrid, the club who has won more of them than any, earlier this year.

The chances of those two greats of the sport, at opposite ends of their careers, winning the Champions League in tandem are running out now that Messi is in his 36th year. On the evidence of the season so far, Messi looks determined to seize the moment, Mbappe and PSG ever more impatient to break their Champions League duck.

Their initial task is not that straightforward, with Juventus anxious to arrest a decline in domestic and Champions League status and Benfica keen to remind that, if the league titles have been elusive lately, European pedigree is part of their DNA.

Forecast: PSG and Juventus to make the last 16.

Paris Saint-Germain will be hoping Lionel Messi can inspire them to Chamions League glory. AFP
Updated: August 26, 2022, 4:59 AM