Dubai: The draw for the UEFA Champions League group stages was made last night and as ever there will be a host of thrilling matches to look forward to. But, another far more fascinating storyline in emerging - Manchester City are on the verge of signing Cristiano Ronaldo and that means we could see a reunion for Lionel Messi with his old foe as City have been drawn in Group A with Paris Saint-Germain!
If this deal goes through, and it seems likely as the former Man Utd legend has made it clear that he wants to leave Juventus, it would give City a massive edge in this year’s competition.
There are bound to be more twists and turns as the transfer deadline approaches fast but if City do get Ronaldo – arguably the greatest footballer of all time – and with just RB Leipzig and Club Bruges the other two teams in their group, then you can see Pep Guardiola’s men finishing top and going all the way to the final.
Messi who moved to the French capital from Barcelona will be out to stop them but you would have to favour City - who were beaten by Chelsea last season in their maiden final - but only if Ronaldo arrives at the Etihad. Speaking of Barcelona, they face a repeat of their nightmare 8-2 defeat to Bayern Munich in the 2020 quarterfinals in Group E while current titleholders Chelsea face Juventus in Group H.
Liverpool have been drawn in Group B where they will face off with former Champions League winners Porto and AC Milan. Manchester United face Villarreal, who beat them in last season’s Europa League final. Looking at the draw you have to say that six-time winners Liverpool have the hardest group. Aside from Porto and AC Milan they also meet La Liga champions Atletico Madrid. The Reds beat Milan in the famous 2005 final in Istanbul, but the Italians gained revenge in Athens two years later and it will be fascinating to see who comes out on top when they face off again.
Here’s a look at all the groups and the predicted finishing positions of each team:
We’ll get a repeat of last season’s semi-final where Man City beat PSG and if Guardiola doesn’t overthink his team selection and tactics later on in the competition and with potentially Ronaldo in the ranks, then they have to be the favourites to win it. Sure, PSG are bolstered by Messi but I would say Ronaldo is far better.
3 RB Leipzig
4 Club Brugge
This is the hardest group of the lot as it features three former winners – Liverpool, Porto and AC Milan and a side that has lost the final three times – Atletico Madrid who won La Liga last season. Milan may be back in the big time for the first time since 2014 but I feel they will struggle to get out of this deadly group.
This group looks to be wide open on paper at least. Dortmund may have lost Jadon Sancho to Man Utd in a bid to balance their books, but coach Marco Rose will guide them to finish top. Ajax – lead by Erik ten Haag and who won the league by 16 points - have been able to keep their squad together and should come second. Besiktas have bolstered the squad with the arrival of Michy Batshuayi on loan from Chelsea – but he has struggled for goals for some time now.
It looks as if Real Madrid will be boosted by the arrival of Kylian Mbappe from PSG and the French ace should fire them to the top of the group. Inter won Serie A and even though they have lost Romelu Lukaku and coach Antonio Conte, they will have enough to come second.
There are three former winners and a former semi-finalist here but this should be relatively straightforward for Bayern, who beat Barcelona 8-2 last time they met. For the first time since 2003, the Spanish giants will begin a Champions League campaign without Messi but coach Ronald Koeman should just scrape them through to the knockouts.
4 Dynamo Kyiv
Man Utd went out in the group stage last season but they have been bolstered by the arrivals of Raphaël Varane and Sancho and should advance this time around. Villarreal will also advance thanks to the tactical acumen of Unai Emery.
4 Young Boys
This is the weakest group of the lot and although French champions Lille have lost their manager Christophe Galtier, they should advance. RB Salzburg are becoming a regular presence in the group stages and they will also get to the knockouts.
Defending champions Chelsea have been bolstered by the signing of Lukaku and they will finish top while Juventus even without Ronaldo if he leaves for Man City should come second and that’s because Massimiliano Allegri is back and can mastermind victories over the best of them.