Dubai: With Europe’s elite club competition beginning a new campaign, we look at the key issues for this season’s tournament.
The Real question
After the departure of coach Zinedine Zidane and star striker Cristiano Ronaldo following their record third consecutive Champions League title last season, the question now, is whether Real Madrid can still be the same force in Europe? They’ve started with three wins and a draw in La Liga to sit second in Spain, while in the Champions League they have drawn CSKA Moscow, Viktoria Pizen and Roma in Group G. Only Roma, who famously came from 4-1 down away to win 3-0 at home to progress on away goals against Barcelona in last season’s quarter-final, pose any sort of threat.
Juventus drawing Manchester United in Group H sees Ronaldo return to Old Trafford, where he played between 2003 and 2009, on October 23, before United travel to Juve on November 7. Ronaldo has only played against United with Real Madrid in the last 16 of the 2013 Champions League, where he scored the equaliser at home in a 1-1 draw, and the winner away to progress 3-2 on aggregate. He also played in the final of the 2017 Super Cup, which Real won 2-1. Juve will now hope to go all the way with their new signing, having twice finished runners-up in 2015 and 2017.
After their record-breaking Premier League win last season, Pep Guardiola’s side are now turning their attentions to Europe, where there best finish was the semi-finals under former coach Roberto Mancini in 2015/16. Pep is progressively getting them back to that point after successive last 16 and quarter-final finishes, but the truth was they should have gone all the way last season before defeat to Liverpool. The whole club has been set up for Guardiola to replicate what he did at Barcelona and after drawing Lyon, Shakhtar and Hoffenheim in Group F, it’s a nice start to ease them into their run.
Liverpool’s follow up
Not only will everyone be waiting with bated breath to see what Liverpool can do in the Premier League after finishing runners-up to Real Madrid in last season’s Champions League final, but they will also be eager to find out if Jurgen Klopp’s side can replicate their dream run in Europe with a better outcome this time. Summer signings have bolstered their famed forward three and keeper Loris Karius has been offloaded. However, after drawing Napoli, Paris St-Germain and Red Star Belgrade in Group C, they face a genuine battle just to get out of the group this time.
Tottenham’s Group of Death
As if their Premier League season hadn’t started badly enough, with defeats to Watford and Liverpool, Spurs have also been drawn in a horror pool with Barcelona, PSV Eindhoven and Inter Milan in Group B. While the Inter game may remind them of their best ever Champions League run, when they made the quarters under Harry Redknapp in 2010/11, with Gareth Bale getting a hat-trick at the San Siro against Inter in the group stage, they look unlikely to do anything near as good in this current campaign. Be prepared for their failure to spend over the summer to be brought back up in conversation.