Dubai: Barcelona were handed the proverbial ‘group of death’ as they were drawn with German giants Borussia Dortmund, resurgent Italian side Inter Milan and dark horses Slavia Prague in the group stages of the Champions League on Thursday night.
Lionel Messi’s side — who suffered a humiliating reverse against eventual champions Liverpool last season — will be up against it as they square off against a revitalised Dortmund, who are looking to end Bayern Munich’s stranglehold on the Bundesliga.
Inter Milan have invested heavily in the summer transfer window and will fancy their chances, with Romelu Lukaku — and hopefully Alexis Sanchez — from Manchester United to take them into the knockout stages at the expense of one of the favourites.
Defending champions Liverpool will need to negotiate a tricky tie or two against Italian side Napoli, but the knockout stages should be assured as their other opponents are Salzburg and Genk (look ’em up).
English champions Manchester City were handed a very favourable draw on paper at least.
They will face home-and-away ties against debutants Atalanta from Italy, Shakhtar Donetsk and GNK Dinamo in Group C.
Real Madrid will have their mettle tested as they will be up against Paris St-Germain and hot-property Kylian Mbappe, plus upstarts Brugge from Belgium and Turkish side Galatasaray in Group A.
Italian champions Juventus also have a tough time ahead as they face Atletico Madrid — who finished second above neighbours Real in La Liga last season — plus German bridesmaids Bayer Leverkusen and a long trip to take on Lokomotiv Moscow.
Europa League winners Chelsea — who for some reason got a top seed despite only winning Europe’s second tier event last campaign — will be up against 2019 semi-finalists Ajax, Spanish also-rans Valencia, plus tricky opponents in French side Lille.
There is always one group that looks easy and this time around it is looking like Bayern Munich’s lot in Group B. Tottenham Hotspur are a spent force and the German champs will steamroll Greek mob Olympiakos. Red Star Belgrade may cause an upset in that shambles of a group as they seem to have a wave of confidence behind them, but only the German side have a sniff of making the quarter-finals. Mauricio Pochettino and Spurs should be worried as another year without a trophy will damage their reputation as a heavyweight on the big stage.
Oh, and we have Group H. Lyon, Zenit, Benfica and RB Leipzig. How Barcelona or Real would love to be in that mix …
Also on the night, Uefa handed out their players’ of the season awards.
Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk claimed top spot, ahead of Barcelona’s Lionel Messi and Juventus’ Cristiano Ronaldo.
The Liverpool defender was emotional as he claimed the Uefa Men’s Player of the season.
“I need to thank my teammates, without them I would not have achieved what I have achieved. It’s been a long road and it’s part of my journey,” said Van Dijk. “I’m very proud to get this trophy. It’s credit to everyone who has helped me.”
England’s Lucy Bronze has won the award for Uefa Women’s Player of the Year.
Groups for Champions League
Group A: PSG, Real Madrid, Club Brugge, Galatasaray
Group B: Bayern Munich, Tottenham, Red Star Belgrade, Olympiakos
Group C: Manchester City, Shakhtar Donetsk, Dinamo Zagreb, Atalanta
Group D: Juventus, Atletico Madrid, Bayer Leverkusen, Lokomotiv Moscow
Group E: Liverpool, Napoli, RB Salzburg, Genk
Group F: Barcelona, Borussia Dortmund, Inter Milan, Slavia Prague
Group G: Zenit St Petersburg, Benfica, Lyon, RB Leipzig
Group H: Chelsea, Ajax, Valencia, Lille