Barcelona have been placed in a tough pool alongside Inter and Borussia Dortmund, but Manchester City should cruise through to the last 16
As ever, the draw for the Champions League group stage has thrown up some mouth-watering match-ups.
However, while some coaches and players will be happy with how things panned out, others will be less pleased with their pools.
Below, Goal takes a look at the winners and losers from Thursday’s draw in Monaco.
Winner: Pep Guardiola
For the third time in three Champions League seasons, Pep Guardiola has been drawn alongside Shakhtar Donetsk.
Two seasons ago, Shakhtar managed to bloody Manchester City’s noses in the group stage with a win in Ukraine, it was a different proposition last term when City won the games against the Miners by an aggregate 9-0 margin.
On paper, Shakhtar will be providing the stiffest opposition but have lost manager Paulo Fonseca. Dinamo Zagreb are grossly untested at this level while Atalanta, who are easy on the eye, are featuring in the Champions League for the first time.
Pep and City could make the knockouts using only their B team.
It’s a familiar foe for Jurgen Klopp in the shape of Carlo Ancelotti, whose Napoli side managed to overcome the eventual winners in the group stages last season when it looked like their form wouldn’t be good enough to go all the way.
Liverpool held on, however, in the home leg thanks to some impressive goalkeeping from Alisson Becker and secured a sixth title in Madrid against Tottenham.
While Paris Saint-Germain and Red Star also had to be negotiated at this stage last year, it’s a huge step down in quality this time around to Salzburg and Genk.
It looks more like a Europa League group for Liverpool as those two sides have won only one Champions League match between them. Both are very good sides on their own domestic level but will come nowhere close to Liverpool’s mammoth standards.
Winner: Cristiano Ronaldo
Juventus have spent big in order to reclaim the trophy they won for the last time in 1996 and will have to come through a difficult-looking group to ensure their bid stays on track.
New signings like Matthijs de Ligt, Aaron Ramsey and Adrien Rabiot have the kind of quality needed to kick Juve on to the next level. But their main hopes will again rely on Cristiano Ronaldo, the only player to score for Juve after the group stage last season and whose hat-trick against Atletico Madrid in the last 16 preserved their status in the competition. He has 126 goals in all in the Champions League and has always enjoyed his outings against Atleti.
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While Joao Felix and Leverkusen’s Kai Havertz are among Europe’s most promising talents, Ronaldo will find enough gaps to add to his monumental total and keep Juve on course for the knockouts.
Lokomotiv have some familiar faces in Joao Mario, Grzegorz Krychowiak and Benedikt Howedes but Ronaldo and Juve should possess too much offensive firepower for that to be a problem.
Barcelona have been given an awkward draw with Borussia Dortmund and Inter for company. Slavia Prague, who make up the numbers, will be lucky to pick up a point.
Dortmund have carried out some surgical tweaks on their squad over the summer, bringing in the likes of Mats Hummels and Julian Brandt, and have one of the best emerging talents in world football in Jadon Sancho up front.
Inter, meanwhile, look to have improved dramatically thanks to the quality of their signings, headed up by Manchester United’s Romelu Lukaku. Both of those teams will be expecting to challenge the hegemony in their respective domestic leagues, where Bayern Munich and Juventus have reigned supreme.
A trip to Signal Iduna Park or to the San Siro is not one to be relished in any circumstance and Barca will be unable to afford any off-days. Two wins will also be essential from their two games against Slavia Prague.
Frank Lampard will be coming up against an Ajax side with fine European pedigree. They navigated their path through the Champions League second qualification rounds last season and were a hair’s breadth from making the final.
They are back this year and, despite the losses of Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs de Ligt, are looking strong again. The likes of David Neres, Hakim Ziyech and Dusan Tadic will ensure difficulty for an opposition side, Chelsea included.
A young and inexperienced Blues squad will also face trips to Valencia and Lille, the French side at which Arsenal’s Nicolas Pepe flourished last season. It will be by no means easy for Chelsea to top the group with pitfalls around every corner.
Maybe Neymar will line up opposite Eden Hazard when PSG clash with Real Madrid in the group stage, maybe he won’t. There is still a long way to go in terms of the Brazilian’s future and any deal with Barcelona is likely to go down to the wire next week.
But if he does see Hazard next to him in the glare of the Bernabeu lights he might well ponder what might have been had Real and Zinedine Zidane opted to chase him with the zeal they put into the Hazard deal.
As it stands, Neymar is trapped in the golden handcuffs, with a transfer fee and wages over his head that make him practically unattainable. It’s no secret that he would jump at the chance to leave PSG but that eventuality is in the balance at the minute.
For whatever reason, Real looked elsewhere. Perhaps they do have designs on going back to PSG with a world record bid sometime soon but even then, it’s unlikely to be Neymar in their sights.
It will be France’s World Cup-winning golden boy Kylian Mbappe, whose destiny might end up being the one that Neymar covets most.