The Champions League group stage concludes this week. Below, we dissect the biggest talking points from Tuesday’s action in Europe’s premier club competition.
Mignolet made the Club Brugge surprise possible
The departures of head coach Alfred Schreuder, playmaker Charles De Ketelaere, and towering frontman Bas Dost indicated Club Brugge was a team in transition. Many predicted the Belgian side would flounder in Group B. But the reality was very different. Club Brugge progressed with a six-point cushion in second place, while Atletico Madrid finished bottom following Tuesday’s 0-0 draw at Bayer Leverkusen.
And no player deserves more credit for Club Brugge’s feat than Simon Mignolet.
The 34-year-old added a spectacular swat at Patrik Schick’s 54th-minute header to his acts of heroism during an excellent European campaign. He previously produced 12 saves across both fixtures against Atletico without conceding and has generally been a reassuring presence between the sticks for Carl Hoefkens’ outfit.
He’s helped Club Brugge recalibrate their expectations.
“I don’t think we should be disappointed with the performance today,” Mignolet said after Brugge finished second following the final round of fixtures in their quartet. “Porto have been on a good run and were probably the best in the group.
“But our five clean sheets still mean something. We are advancing to the next round, and that’s the most important thing.”
Mignolet appeared to cower under the bright lights of Anfield during his six-year stay with Liverpool. His performances were so troubling that fans regularly called for him to be dropped, even when there were unconvincing options in reserve, such as Brad Jones and Adam Bogdan. He returned to Belgium in 2019 with his tail between his legs.
He’s unrecognizable as the stoic leader of Club Brugge, where he’s been key to ensuring his side made a mockery of pre-tournament predictions with their straightforward path into the knockout rounds. Mignolet’s resurgence is undoubtedly one of the standout stories of the Champions League season.
Spurs need to be so much better
There was a moment that summed up Tottenham Hotspur’s lack of ambition in the first half.
Usually, a player with Heung-Min Son’s counter-attacking ability lurks outside or on the edge of the box during an opponent’s corner kick, waiting to retrieve a loose ball and burst upfield. Instead, the ball spilled to Son deep inside his own box, and he smashed it as far away as he could, allowing Marseille goalkeeper Pau Lopez to restart another attack for the hosts.
There wasn’t much else Son could’ve done. The South Korean forward and his teammates were crammed into their own area.
And in the rare occasions Spurs ventured into Marseille’s defensive third, they were ruinously negative and uninspired. It’s disappointing to see attackers as gifted as Son and Harry Kane stifled by Antonio Conte’s frustratingly unadventurous game plan.
Conte – who watched from the stands after his red card during Spurs’ previous Champions League outing – and his backroom staff would likely gesture toward Group D’s final standings if anyone questioned their approach to games. First place in such a competitive quartet is commendable, especially when the Italian’s thin squad has recently dealt with costly injuries. A 2-1 win away at the raucous Stade Velodrome is always a fine result.
But playing like that in the competition’s knockout rounds isn’t sustainable. Spurs don’t possess the defensive quality to hold out the best Champions League teams – Chancel Mbemba was given too much space to shape himself for his first-half header. And, unlike when ex-Arsenal left-back Sead Kolasinac somehow missed a golden opportunity at the back post in the 87th minute, they’ll be punished in critical moments.
Being conservative might be the best way to manage this Tottenham team when it has so little creativity in midfield. Still, there has to be a way to pair deep defensive and midfield lines with more freedom for Son and Kane.
Right now, Spurs’ best players are being wasted.
The Champions League roller coaster
Going into Tuesday’s action, Marseille had permutations aplenty. The French club could finish in any four Group D spots, depending on their own result against Tottenham and the concurrent fixture between Eintracht Frankfurt and Sporting CP. The margin between a place in the Champions League knockout stage and being eliminated from European competition was slim. A wild ride was a distinct possibility.
They rode the roller coaster.
When Mbemba scored just before halftime to give Marseille a 1-0 lead, they were in line to advance. They dropped to third in the table when Spurs equalized early in the second stanza, out of the Champions League but still good enough to salvage a Europa League place. Then, following the heart-wrenching Kolasinac miss, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg’s 95th-minute rocket condemned Igor Tudor’s team to fourth place. Just like that. So long, Europe.
Sporting, too, fell victim to the wild emotional swings that only the Champions League can deliver. The Portuguese side won its first two group stage matches, only to finish third and miss the round of 16. As if to twist the knife, their bitter Portuguese rivals, FC Porto, lost the first two games of their Champions League campaign but rebounded emphatically to top Group B.
Admittedly, this tournament has flaws. The group stage has developed into a procession for some of the continent’s wealthiest teams. But when it delivers, the drama remains unmatched.
Anguissa flourishing this season
Liverpool’s struggles this season are down to a variety of factors – there’s no singular solution for Jurgen Klopp. However, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the club’s deteriorating midfield is playing a huge role in the Reds’ inability to sustain their recent high standards.
In Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa, Liverpool got a firsthand look at someone capable of rectifying the issues plaguing Klopp’s midfield. The Napoli standout, enjoying the best season of his career for Luciano Spalletti’s high-flying side, has a unique blend of skills that would perfectly provide what the Merseyside outfit is currently missing.
The flourishing Anguissa, 26, is press-resistant and good in tight areas like Thiago Alcantara but offers more box-to-box coverage. He’s a feisty tackler like Fabinho but provides more attacking drive and scoring ability. He’s dynamic in possession like Naby Keita but can actually stay fit. The Cameroonian is the type of do-it-all player who can impact the game in different ways, including those that don’t show up on the stat sheet. In that way, he’s not dissimilar from prime Georginio Wijnaldum, a player who would help Liverpool immensely right now.
Even in a match that Napoli lost – their first defeat of the season in all competitions – Anguissa caught the eye at Anfield. The signs were there at Fulham, despite the team around him floundering. Now, in the right system, it’s all coming together.
Transfer window preview: 50 players who could move in January
With the January transfer window set to open on Sunday for most of Europe’s top leagues, we’re teeing up the wheeling and dealing by presenting 50 high-profile players who could be on the move in the coming weeks. It’s notoriously difficult to make opulent signings during the January window, but the mid-season World Cup could reinvigorate the transfer activity after putting a host of players on display. Cristiano Ronaldo and Cody Gakpo may have already decided on their next clubs, but dozens of other stars could also be on the move between now and Deadline Day.
Note: Estimated transfer values provided by transfermarkt.com.
Alexis Mac Allister (Brighton & Hove Albion)
Age: 24 | Position: Midfielder | Estimated value: €42M
A vital member of Argentina’s victorious World Cup side, Mac Allister thrust himself into the spotlight with consistently industrious performances in Qatar. Dealing from a position of strength, Brighton would demand a sizable fee.
Moises Caicedo (Brighton & Hove Albion)
Age: 21 | Position: Midfielder | Estimated value: €38M
Caicedo’s aforementioned teammate’s showing at the World Cup has somewhat distracted from the fact that the all-action Ecuadorian footballer remains the most desirable midfielder in Brighton’s ranks. He is destined for stardom.
Christian Pulisic (Chelsea)
Age: 24 | Position: Forward | Estimated value: €38M
Pulisic remains open to leaving Chelsea in search of more consistent playing time, with Manchester United tipped as a potential suitor. The American phenom, who showcased his leadership qualities at the World Cup, has plenty to offer.
Hakim Ziyech (Chelsea)
Age: 29 | Position: Winger | Estimated value: €20M
In what will be a common theme for several players on this list, the World Cup helped reinvigorate Ziyech, who – like Pulisic – has struggled for minutes at Chelsea. His creativity was vital during Morocco’s historic run in Qatar.
Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace)
Age: 30 | Position: Winger | Estimated value: €32M
Zaha is running out of time to secure the big transfer he’s long been mulling. The crafty winger is set to become a free agent this summer and could decide to run down his contract and join a club of his choosing in six months.
Caglar Soyuncu (Leicester City)
Age: 26 | Position: Center-back | Estimated value: €22M
Having lost his starting place at the heart of Leicester’s backline, Soyuncu is eyeing a fresh start elsewhere. The pugnacious Turkish defender has been linked with Atletico Madrid, a fit that almost seems too perfect.
Youri Tielemans (Leicester City)
Age: 25 | Position: Midfielder | Estimated value: €40M
Tielemans has seemingly been a fixture of lists just like this since the moment he arrived at Leicester. The Foxes are in a tricky place with the impending free agent. Tumbling toward the drop zone, can they afford to sell him in January?
Aaron Wan-Bissaka (Manchester United)
Age: 25 | Position: Right-back | Estimated value: €18M
After finding himself stapled to the bench early in Erik ten Hag’s tenure, Wan-Bissaka is getting a consistent run of minutes after the World Cup. But that may change when Diogo Dalot returns, which could facilitate a loan move.
Djed Spence (Tottenham Hotspur)
Age: 22 | Position: Right-back | Estimated value: €13M
Spence has four Premier League minutes to his name this season after joining Tottenham from Nottingham Forest. Four! Antonio Conte clearly doesn’t think he’s ready to contribute at this level, and he can’t continue to rot on the bench.
Joao Felix (Atletico Madrid)
Age: 23 | Position: Forward | Estimated value: €55M
Has there ever been a more glaring case of a talented player joining the wrong club at the wrong time? Felix’s career has stagnated since his mega-money move to Atletico Madrid. It’s time for both sides to move on.
Rodrigo De Paul (Atletico Madrid)
Age: 28 | Position: Midfielder | Estimated value: €40M
De Paul benefitted greatly from the World Cup after a tough start to the team’s campaign. Atletico and the combative midfielder now have options: Trust that his success in Qatar will translate or parlay it into an expensive transfer.
Memphis Depay (Barcelona)
Age: 28 | Position: Forward | Estimated value: €20M
Robert Lewandowski’s arrival and immediate success finding the net have limited Depay’s chances this season. He came close to leaving Barcelona in the summer and will again be a prominent name in January.
Borja Iglesias (Real Betis)
Age: 29 | Position: Striker | Estimated value: €25M
Only Lewandowski has scored more La Liga goals so far this campaign than Iglesias, who is being viewed as a potential option to replace Felix at Atletico Madrid. Betis, chasing European football, would likely play hardball, though.
Ivan Fresneda (Real Valladolid)
Age: 18 | Position: Right-back | Estimated value: €1M
Exciting young full-back Fresneda is catching the eye at Real Valladolid this season, with clubs in Spain and beyond starting to circle. If the teenager does indeed move in January, it will be for more than his humble valuation.
Yunus Musah (Valencia)
Age: 20 | Position: Midfielder | Estimated value: €25M
Ascending young midfielders like Musah are always in extremely high demand. It’s simply a matter of when the American footballer will leave Valencia, not if. Various Premier League clubs are apparently contemplating a bid.
Samuel Chukwueze (Villarreal)
Age: 23 | Position: Winger | Estimated value: €20M
Chukwueze, the electrifying Nigerian winger who always looks to make something happen with the ball at his feet, has only made five starts for Villarreal this season – a surprisingly low figure for someone of his skill level.
Rick Karsdorp (AS Roma)
Age: 27 | Position: Right-back | Estimated value: €9M
A public dispute with manager Jose Mourinho means the writing is on the wall for Karsdorp’s Roma career. Likely available for a modest fee in January, various full-back-needy clubs could come calling for the Dutchman.
Nicolo Zaniolo (AS Roma)
Age: 23 | Position: Forward | Estimated value: €30M
Speculation about Zaniolo’s future will be rife until he officially signs a new long-term contract with Roma. Serious knee injuries have blighted the versatile Italian player’s career, but his talent is undeniable and hypnotic.
Sofyan Amrabat (Fiorentina)
Age: 26 | Position: Midfielder | Estimated value: €25M
Few players benefitted from the World Cup like Amrabat, who enhanced his reputation tenfold with a series of commanding performances. The driving force behind Morocco’s magical run, Amrabat is ready for the next step.
Milan Skriniar (Inter Milan)
Age: 27 | Position: Center-back | Estimated value: €60M
A contract impasse between Skriniar and Inter has Paris Saint-Germain on high alert. The French club – admirers since last summer when it tried and failed with hefty bids for the imposing Slovakian star – will come calling again.
Adrien Rabiot (Juventus)
Age: 27 | Position: Midfielder | Estimated value: €25M
Rabiot, another soon-to-be free agent, is enjoying the best year of his career. Juventus manager Massimiliano Allegri adores him like few others and may not sanction a sale, even if it likely means losing him for nothing this summer.
Weston McKennie (Juventus)
Age: 24 | Position: Midfielder | Estimated value: €21M
If Juve intend to bring in any reinforcements in January, they’ll need departures to offset those arrivals. McKennie is the most likely candidate, especially as Paul Pogba nears returning, which will only add more midfield competition.
Wilfried Singo (Torino)
Age: 22 | Position: Right-back | Estimated value: €14M
Singo has flashed his enormous potential on multiple occasions. The Ivorian footballer, who thrives in a wing-back role where he can charge forward, is exactly the type of player that modern attack-minded clubs want roaming the flanks.
Jeremie Frimpong (Bayer Leverkusen)
Age: 22 | Position: Right-back | Estimated value: €25M
Bayer Leverkusen desperately want to retain Frimpong until the summer, but as other clubs miss out on targets and get desperate late in the window, a massive offer for the blossoming right-back could change their mind.
Raphael Guerreiro (Borussia Dortmund)
Age: 29 | Position: Left-back | Estimated value: €20M
Left-back remains a position of need for many top teams across Europe. Finding a player capable and experienced like Guerreiro, who wouldn’t break the bank, is a rarity that could facilitate several offers.
Youssoufa Moukoko (Borussia Dortmund)
Age: 18 | Position: Striker | Estimated value: €30M
Dortmund need to act very fast to secure Moukoko’s future. The teen sensation, a free agent this summer, is the subject of serious Premier League interest as contract talks between the German club and player stall.
Yann Sommer (Borussia Monchengladbach)
Age: 34 | Position: Goalkeeper | Estimated value: €5M
With David De Gea’s future unclear, Manchester United are working to sign Sommer, the Swiss stalwart who has been at Gladbach for nearly a decade. Whether that deal happens now or after the season remains to be seen.
Ramy Bensebaini (Borussia Monchengladbach)
Age: 27 | Position: Left-back | Estimated value: €20M
Bensebaini, whose contract with Gladbach expires at campaign’s end, presents another prime opportunity for clubs looking to bolster their left-back ranks. Dortmund, who may need to replace Guerreiro, are interested in the Algerian player.
Randal Kolo Muani (Eintracht Frankfurt)
Age: 24 | Position: Striker | Estimated value: €37M
Kolo Muani only joined Eintracht Frankfurt this year as a free agent after his contract expired with Nantes. Brilliant business by the Bundesliga club in hindsight, as the French striker is now worth a pretty penny.
Ritsu Doan (Freiburg)
Age: 24 | Position: Winger | Estimated value: €15M
Doan, the diminutive Japanese winger who can also play in a more central role, bolstered his profile at the World Cup with memorable goals against Germany and Spain. Freiburg will turn a healthy profit whenever he moves on.
Josko Gvardiol (RB Leipzig)
Age: 20 | Position: Center-back | Estimated value: €75M
Don’t let Lionel Messi posterizing him at the World Cup fool you. Gvardiol is destined for a gargantuan transfer very shortly. The Croatian center-back will anchor the backline of a top club for years to come.
Azzedine Ounahi (Angers)
Age: 22 | Position: Midfielder | Estimated value: €15M
The world learned this winter what Angers fans have been shouting from the rooftops: Ounahi is a burgeoning star. One of the game’s silkiest dribblers, the Moroccan No. 8 was perhaps the one true “breakout” player in Qatar.
Benoit Badiashile (AS Monaco)
Age: 21 | Position: Center-back | Estimated value: €40M
Chelsea are reportedly closing in on a deal worth around €40 million to sign Badiashile. The Frenchman has a seductive profile for a central defender: He’s wildly athletic, comfortable on the ball, and, crucially, left-footed.
Terem Moffi (Lorient)
Age: 23 | Position: Striker | Estimated value: €15M
Only Kylian Mbappe and Neymar have more Ligue 1 goals this season than Moffi, the Nigerian striker powering Lorient’s unlikely push for a European place. A transfer to a mid-table Premier League club could be on the cards.
Lovro Majer (Rennes)
Age: 24 | Position: Attacking midfielder | Estimated value: €22M
It was impossible to shake the feeling that Majer deserved more playing time for Croatia at the World Cup. He seemed capable of making something happen every time he touched the ball. Suitors will have noticed that, too.
Elsewhere in Europe (and beyond)
Edson Alvarez (Ajax)
Age: 25 | Position: Defensive midfielder | Estimated value: €35M
Versatility is a valued trait in world football, and Alvarez’s ability to play both in midfield and central defense makes him hugely desirable. The Mexican international nearly joined Chelsea – Ajax can’t hold on to him forever.
Mohammed Kudus (Ajax)
Age: 22 | Position: Attacking midfielder | Estimated value: €20M
Kudus already exploded onto the scene with superlative performances in the Champions League this fall, and the Ghanaian footballer further enhanced his reputation at the World Cup. Ajax have unearthed yet another gem.
Enzo Fernandez (Benfica)
Age: 21 | Position: Midfielder | Estimated value: €55M
Benfica played this one perfectly. Beating the competition to Fernandez in the summer – for a modest fee, at that – will net the club a monstrous profit after his excellent World Cup. Chelsea are working hard to sign the Argentine midfielder.
Goncalo Ramos (Benfica)
Age: 21 | Position: Striker | Estimated value: €30M
Anybody who replaces Ronaldo for Portugal and then immediately scores a hat-trick will garner attention. Truth is, Ramos has been filling the net all season for Benfica. The club could be swimming in cash come Feb. 1.
Josip Juranovic (Celtic)
Age: 27 | Position: Right-back | Estimated value: €9M
Juranovic looks destined to leave Celtic after the Scottish giants apparently signed his replacement in the form of Canadian international Alistair Johnston. The unwearying Croatian footballer gave a standout performance at the World Cup.
Tajon Buchanan (Club Brugge)
Age: 23 | Position: Winger | Estimated value: €12M
Buchanan, who has devastating pace and trickery, has worked hard to build the defensive side of his game, and he showed at the World Cup that he excels in both phases. Italian clubs are keeping tabs on the Canadian winger.
Dominik Livakovic (Dinamo Zagreb)
Age: 27 | Position: Goalkeeper | Estimated value: €14M
Livakovic made more saves (24) than any goalkeeper at this year’s event in Qatar and punctuated his performance by turning aside four penalties across Croatia’s shootouts. Any club in need of a netminder should be calling Dinamo Zagreb.
Andries Noppert (Heerenveen)
Age: 28 | Position: Goalkeeper | Estimated value: €5M
A surprise starter at the World Cup, Noppert made the most of his chance, helping the Netherlands reach the quarterfinals. A big transfer would cap a dramatic rise for the giant shot-stopper, who was in the Dutch second tier two years ago.
Age: 21 | Position: Defensive midfielder | Estimated value: €25M
Real Madrid’s eye-watering Endrick signing has overshadowed everything happening at Palmeiras right now. But another ascendant Brazilian star is generating interest, with Arsenal closely monitoring Danilo.
Mykhailo Mudryk (Shakhtar Donetsk)
Age: 21 | Position: Winger | Estimated value: €40M
Mudryk’s future will likely be one of the hottest topics of the January window. The winger is Arsenal’s primary target this month, but Shakhtar are apparently holding firm in their €100-million valuation. This one could take a while.
Pedro Porro (Sporting CP)
Age: 23 | Position: Right-back | Estimated value: €25M
Tottenham are keen on adding Porro, who manager Antonio Conte views as an ideal fit at right wing-back. But the apparent existence of a Manchester City buy-back clause in his Sporting contract could complicate matters.
Selim Amallah (Standard Liege)
Age: 26 | Position: Midfielder | Estimated value: €6.5M
Stop us if you’ve heard this one already, but Morocco’s inspiring fourth-place finish at the World Cup helped fire Amallah into the public spotlight. The midfielder featured in all seven matches for the Atlas Lions.
Harry Souttar (Stoke City)
Age: 24 | Position: Center-back | Estimated value: €6M
Souttar almost missed the World Cup entirely due to injury, but the towering Australian center-back recovered in time to deliver some stellar performances for the Socceroos. The likes of West Ham and Wolves are interested in his services.
Andrey Santos (Vasco da Gama)
Age: 18 | Position: Midfielder | Estimated value: €10M
Chelsea’s strategy of snapping up enticing young players from all over the world continues unabated. The Blues are seemingly on the verge of signing Santos for €12.5 million, adding him to a growing list of promising teenagers.
Age: 30 | Position: Attacking midfielder | Estimated value: €9M
Isco, once one of the most enchanting attacking midfielders in the world, is now looking for a new club after Sevilla released him earlier this month. How much gas does the former Real Madrid star have left in the tank?
Ranking the 20 best deals of the summer transfer window
With the summer transfer window slamming shut Thursday night, theScore ranks the 20 best moves made across the game’s top leagues.
20. Dean Henderson ?? Nottingham Forest
Details: Signed from Manchester United on season-long loan
Forest’s best signing barely cost a penny. Henderson arrived on loan from Manchester United, and he relished the challenge of replacing colorful shot-stopper Brice Samba in goal after a season spent largely on the bench. Henderson immediately showed his worth, saving two penalties in his first five Premier League matches with the club. The 25-year-old also leads all ‘keepers in saves with 25 thus far. One of Forest’s most vocal leaders, Henderson has emerged as the club’s most valuable signing out of 20 other offseason arrivals.
19. Gleison Bremer ?? Juventus
Details: Signed from Torino for initial €41M fee
Juventus needed this one, both from an on-pitch perspective and, perhaps more importantly, as a reminder of the club’s status after a pair of subpar seasons. Almost immediately after losing Matthijs de Ligt to Bayern Munich, the Bianconeri turned around and nabbed Bremer, 25, right from under the nose of bitter rivals Inter Milan, who had been haggling with Torino for six months on the deal. In a clear statement of intent, Juve swooped in and worked quickly. The brawny Brazilian center-back and Serie A’s top defender in 2021-22 instantly becomes the anchor of Juventus’ backline.
18. Matthijs de Ligt ?? Bayern Munich
Details: Signed from Juventus for initial €67M fee
Bayern saved De Ligt from a problematic situation. The Dutchman never seemed to fit at Juventus, whose conservative style of play clashed with the defender’s ball-playing approach. After three underwhelming seasons in Italy, the 23-year-old felt he needed a change in scenery to realize the potential he looked likely to achieve as a teenager with Ajax. Bayern may have paid a steep price, but a talented defender exists in De Ligt. Julian Naglessman’s more progressive tactics will coax the best out of him.
17. Oleksandr Zinchenko ?? Arsenal
Details: Signed from Manchester City for reported £30M fee
Zinchenko has always believed in himself. He was bought from Russia for around €2 million in 2016 – a true under-the-radar signing – but proved he was more than a loan-market pawn. He once resisted a move to Wolverhampton Wanderers to establish himself as a popular squad member at Manchester City. But the time was right for Zinchenko to seek new pastures, and he’s quickly become one of Mikel Arteta’s leaders while greatly boosting his manager’s options through his versatility and strong tactical know-how.
16. Brenden Aaronson ?? Leeds United
Details: Signed from Red Bull Salzburg for reported £24.7M fee
With his high-energy style, Aaronson has made a quick impression in the Premier League. He’s highly effective off the ball, winning possession over a third of the time he pressures an opponent, and then he wisely infiltrates space when his teammates are trying to attack. In addition to helping Leeds’ frontline tick, the American is disciplined and works diligently defensively when required. With each passing week, he’s strengthening his case to start in the United States’ World Cup opener against Wales in November.
15. Wesley Fofana ?? Chelsea
Details: Signed from Leicester City for reported initial £70M fee
That’s a lot of money, especially given Fofana has started just nine Premier League matches since suffering a broken leg last summer. Nevertheless, the Frenchman is still only 21 and was often the leader of Leicester City’s defense, despite regularly partnering with the vastly experienced Jonny Evans at the back. He has the potential to be one of the best center-backs on the planet, so his transfer fee could eventually look like a bargain. Remember when everyone scoffed at Virgil van Dijk’s £75-million price tag?
14. Lorenzo Insigne ?? Toronto FC
Details: Signed on free transfer from Napoli
It was a move that instantly went down as one of the best in Major League Soccer history. Toronto FC managed to tempt the Napoli captain and Italy regular to BMO Field with plenty of cash. The winger has already shown he’s committed to entertaining his new fans, and he’s spearheading a late dash for the postseason with four goals and two assists over eight outings. His arrival also paved the way for Federico Bernardeschi to join the club. In the long run, Bernardeschi could leave an even greater legacy in Ontario than Insigne.
13. Casemiro ?? Manchester United
Details: Signed from Real Madrid for reported potential £70M fee
United committed to at least four years with 30-year-old Casemiro on the payroll. That’s a hefty transfer fee. But, at long last, the Red Devils addressed their long-term problem area in defensive midfield by recruiting a five-time Champions League winner. There’s no question the battle-hardened Brazilian will give Erik ten Hag’s side a sturdier spine and lift standards in the dressing room.
12. Ivan Perisic ?? Tottenham Hotspur
Details: Signed on free transfer following expiration of Inter Milan contract
Perisic is the archetypal Antonio Conte wing-back. The Croatian initially had a rough relationship with Conte at Inter Milan due to his lack of interest in playing the position. However, Perisic flourished at wing-back and was a crucial member of Inter Milan’s Scudetto-winning side in 2020-21. At 33, he still offers plenty of energy, regularly provides an end product, and gets stuck in defensively.
11. Romelu Lukaku ?? Inter Milan
Details: Signed from Chelsea on season-long loan
Inter made tons of money on Lukaku and somehow got him back a year later for a relative pittance. After selling the Belgian international to Chelsea for €115 million, the Nerazzurri reacquired him in June on a season-long loan deal, paying a reported €8 million to sign him for the season. Inter led Serie A in scoring last season with 84 goals and didn’t need help up front. But the club couldn’t turn down the opportunity to re-sign a player who tormented the league’s best defenders just a couple of years ago.
10. Sven Botman ?? Newcastle United
Details: Signed from Lille for reported initial £35M fee
John Terry and Vincent Kompany, the players who would become Chelsea and Manchester City’s defensive stalwarts, were already in place when the clubs’ lucrative takeovers happened in 2003 and 2008. With respect to the likes of Jamaal Lascelles and Federico Fernandez, Newcastle didn’t have that luxury when their takeover was completed last October. So, in came 22-year-old Botman, a 6-foot-4 defender who relishes duels with attackers and is comfortable distributing the ball higher up the park. He could be a fixture in the Magpies’ backline for the next decade.
9. Paulo Dybala ?? Roma
Details: Signed on free transfer from Juventus
Roma needed to make a statement. So when Dybala, one of the most recognizable players in Serie A, became available on a free transfer, the Giallorossi made their move. Thousands gathered in the streets to welcome the 28-year-old in August, chanting his name and leaving the player visibly moved. Dybala needed some love as well. Injuries and a lack of form cost him a contract extension with Juventus and, temporarily at least, a place in Argentina’s national team. Now he has a chance to repay Roma for their faith in him.
8. Raheem Sterling ?? Chelsea
Details: Signed from Manchester City for reported £50M fee
Sterling was defined for a long time by his misses more than the numbers he actually racked up for Manchester City. That was unfair. Not only is Sterling a serial winner of trophies – four Premier League titles, five League Cup successes, and an FA Cup in seven seasons at the Etihad Stadium – he’s also trumped the goals tally of Chelsea’s top scorer in each of the last five campaigns. Diego Costa is the last Blues player to outdo Sterling in the goals column.
7. Darwin Nunez ?? Liverpool
Details: Signed from Benfica for initial €75M fee
Liverpool found the perfect replacement for Sadio Mane. A high-energy forward who plays with a chip on his shoulder, Nunez attacks the channels like Mane and favors the same left side that the Senegalese international dominated over six decorated seasons on Merseyside. Nunez can set the tempo, and while he can also go overboard, his style of play allows him to keep up with Jurgen Klopp’s demands. The 22-year-old is also willing to track back and win possession in the defensive third. Once he harnesses his potential, he’ll become a crowd favorite.
6. Antonio Rudiger ?? Real Madrid
Details: Signed on free transfer following expiration of Chelsea contract
In some ways, Rudiger is a throwback defender. He won’t stand out for his incisive passing from the back, but he’ll leave his imprint in tackles and aerial duels. “He’d eat the striker,” his former Borussia Dortmund youth coach, Peter Hyballa, told theScore in 2020. For Real Madrid to get Rudiger for nothing is, quite frankly, outrageous after he enjoyed successes in the Champions League, Europa League, FA Cup, UEFA Super Cup, and FIFA Club World Cup in west London.
5. Robert Lewandowski ?? Barcelona
Details: Signed from Bayern Munich for reported €45M fee
Barcelona finally have a replacement for Luis Suarez. Two years after ushering the Uruguayan star out of the building, the Blaugrana secured the services of Lewandowski from Bayern in a move that threatens to shift power in Spain. The 33-year-old is a cold-blooded finisher and perennial Ballon d’Or contender, and he’s easily the most important of Barcelona’s seven summer signings, if not the most expensive. Barcelona haven’t had this much star power since Suarez, Lionel Messi, and Neymar last led the line in 2017.
4. Gabriel Jesus ?? Arsenal
Details: Signed from Manchester City for reported £45M fee
Jesus played in every position across Pep Guardiola’s frontline – even impressing at wing-back against Real Madrid – and his off-the-ball work was often sublime. But he can be the main man in attack at Arsenal rather than a rotation player and give himself a better chance of reclaiming the No. 9 jersey for Brazil’s World Cup campaign. Jesus already has three goals and three assists in five Premier League outings.
3. Aurelien Tchouameni ?? Real Madrid
Details: Signed from AS Monaco for reported €80M fee
Madrid planned for Casemiro’s departure before it even happened. After missing out on Kylian Mbappe, Los Blancos turned their attention to midfield, adding Tchouameni to a group of youngsters who will one day take the baton from their older teammates. Tchouameni, though, is as ready as they come. He shares the same defensive characteristics as Casemiro and offers the same amount of protection to defenders behind him. Tchouameni is also exceptional in the air, making him a threat on set pieces and a sure bet to win duels with just about anyone in the middle of the pitch.
2. Sadio Mane ?? Bayern Munich
Details: Signed from Liverpool for reported €32M fee
In any other summer, Bayern’s deal for Mane would go down as the best business of the window. The Bavarians moved quickly to sign the 30-year-old, pouncing as soon as he indicated he wanted to leave Liverpool. Mane’s contract with the Reds was winding down, his cycle in England was ending, and Bayern were preparing for Lewandowski’s exit. Everything about the move made sense. The Germans managed to snag one of the best wingers in the game at a reasonable price, and he needed no introduction to Nagelsmann’s high-pressing tactics. As a disciple of Klopp’s gegenpressing, Mane arrived in Bavaria in the best possible shape.
1. Erling Haaland ?? Manchester City
Details: Signed from Borussia Dortmund for reported €60M fee
The striker that everybody wanted moved for €60 million. Yes, that’s sixty million euros, which is less than what Newcastle paid for Alexander Isak and only slightly more than what Richarlison cost Tottenham Hotspur. Leeds-born Haaland has already scored nine times in five Premier League outings for Manchester City, averaging a goal for every 11 touches of the ball. He’s added a new dimension to City’s attacks now that they have a target man up front – they can be more direct, rather than just playing short, pretty passes.
Analysis, predictions for every Champions League group
The matchups are set. With the Champions League group stage draw officially in the books, it’s time to dissect the quartets. Here’s what to expect ahead of the competition’s big kickoff on Sept. 6.
Following a poor return of two points from three matches to begin their Premier League title bid, this group could be exactly what Liverpool needs.
Ajax, like Liverpool, won all six of their group matches in 2021-22, but this team is under construction. Erik ten Hag left for Manchester United, taking defender Lisandro Martinez with him while making repeated attempts to bring Antony along, too. The Dutch giants have spent an unprecedented amount to replace Martinez, Sebastien Haller, Ryan Gravenberch, and others, but it could take time for Alfred Schreuder’s team to gel.
Rangers’ first competitive meetings with Liverpool promise to be fiery, but finishing above both their foes south of the border and Ajax – against whom they’ve lost all four matches – may be a step too far for Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s tactical expertise. Napoli also have a good chance of progressing after a strong Serie A start and Khvicha Kvaratskhelia’s form helped quell fans’ initial concerns over the club’s transfer activity.
Key question: Are Liverpool really in crisis? The Reds have three matches against Bournemouth, Newcastle United, and Everton before their Champions League campaign begins, giving Jurgen Klopp an opportunity to improve morale while the injury list (hopefully) shrinks.
Prediction: Napoli and Ajax fight until the final day for that coveted second spot.
With the dogged, defensive Atletico Madrid the most successful team this group has to offer in the modern era, there’s a chance the 24 matches played between these sides won’t draw too much attention.
It could be close, though.
Pot 4’s selection, Club Brugge, aren’t a lock for last place. Young attackers Andreas Skov Olsen and Ferran Jutgla already have six goals between them over the first five games of the Belgian season, while Cyle Larin – scorer of 26 goals over two Turkish Super Lig seasons with Besiktas – still awaits his first start after his summer switch.
FC Porto rarely just make up the numbers. The Portuguese powerhouses have competed in the knockout stages of the Champions League or Europa League in each of the past 16 seasons. Porto can also take encouragement from Bayer Leverkusen’s results in Germany: a humiliating DFB-Pokal elimination to third-tier Elversberg ahead of three straight Bundesliga defeats.
Key question: Will Atletico Madrid be more positive in their play? Sorry, stupid question.
Prediction: Bayer Leverkusen fall arse-backward into the Europa League despite some impressive performances from Club Brugge.
Pray for Viktoria Plzen.
The Czech minnows, playing in their first group stage since 2018, were thrown alongside Bayern Munich, Barcelona, and Inter Milan – a trio with 14 European titles between them – for six lucrative yet terrifying fixtures this fall.
While the group’s obvious headline is Robert Lewandowski’s reunion with his former employers, Barcelona could be forgiven for entering their scuffles with Bayern Munich with some trepidation. Barca have won only two of their last 13 European fixtures against Bayern, including the catastrophic 8-2 hammering at the Camp Nou in 2020 and two wholly uninspiring 3-0 setbacks in last season’s group stage.
Inter Milan broke a 10-season curse when they finally advanced to the round of 16 last term, and Romelu Lukaku has looked comfortable on his return to the Nerazzurri. They’re the third-best team in this group, but they’re a solid outfit that could frustrate and upset the two Bs.
Key question: Barcelona president Joan Laporta has been busy this summer despite Barca’s dire financial situation – but how long will it take Xavi to make this dysfunctional club appear functional?
Prediction: Bayern continue to work wonders in the transfer market, with Sadio Mane quickly proving an excellent replacement for Lewandowski. It’s hard to look past the Bavarians for first place.
There’s a distinct Europa League feel to this quartet. But given that three of the 10 perfect group stage campaigns in Champions League history were recorded last season (Liverpool, Ajax, Bayern Munich), is parity such a bad thing?
Eintracht Frankfurt are making their first appearance in the continent’s premier competition since the 1960 European Cup final. The reigning Europa League champions may find it difficult following the departure of talisman Filip Kostic, especially when facing Antonio Conte’s Tottenham Hotspur. The Italian tactician has molded a well-balanced team that has an outside chance of challenging for the Premier League title.
Marseille will be looking for improvement after finishing their last two campaigns (2013-14 and 2020-21) bottom of their group. Sporting CP, meanwhile, cannot be underestimated after reaching the knockout rounds ahead of Borussia Dortmund last time out.
Key question: Conte’s Champions League record of 12 wins, 11 draws, and 11 defeats in charge of Juventus, Chelsea, and Inter Milan isn’t great. Can he fix it?
Prediction: Tottenham’s squad depth might be the best it’s ever been, and that should allow them to ease out of the group while the rest squabble over second place.
Do any Red Bull Salzburg and Dinamo Zagreb fans think they can get out of this group?
AC Milan and Chelsea are the obvious Group E heavyweights, and their tussles should ultimately decide who finishes top. Their matchup is a long time coming: The last time these two teams met was in 1999 when Oliver Bierhoff and Dennis Wise scored in a 1-1 draw at the San Siro.
One of the biggest Milan-Chelsea subplots could revolve around Rafael Leao. The outrageously talented attacker has been linked with the Blues for much of the summer, and he’s due for a breakout season in Europe after his introduction was hampered by Milan’s group stage elimination in 2021-22. His phenomenal surges in speed and dribbling ability helped him bag 11 goals and eight assists during the Rossoneri’s Scudetto-winning campaign. He was named Serie A’s most valuable player.
Key question: How will Thomas Tuchel’s side fit together? It’s been a period of upheaval at Stamford Bridge as Todd Boehly took ownership of Chelsea from Roman Abramovich and proceeded to play Football Manager in his boardroom. The Blues’ business has been frantic, to say the least.
Prediction: It’s time for Milan to finish atop a Champions League group for the first time since 2007.
|3||Red Bull Salzburg|
Taking on Shakhtar Donetsk is a good omen for Real Madrid. This is the fourth time Los Blancos have been drawn with the Ukrainians in the group stage, and they’ve gone on to win the Champions League on two of the previous three occasions.
Anything less than first place in Group F would be a disappointment for Carlo Ancelotti’s reigning champions.
The true battle could be between RB Leipzig and Celtic. The former will be widely fancied to emerge from this group, but a woeful start to the Bundesliga season and questions over the effectiveness of their previously unstoppable counterattack hang over Domenico Tedesco’s side. Celtic, on the other hand, are perfect in the Scottish Premiership and still have a feel-good factor under manager Ange Postecoglou.
Key question: How will Shakhtar fare? The team will play its home matches in the Polish capital of Warsaw due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and is reeling after clubs preyed on their foreign players, like Manor Solomon and Tete. This is a big ask.
Prediction: Celtic cause an upset, giving Leipzig a spring slate of Thursday night games.
The images of Phil Foden and Erling Haaland’s secretive post-match conversation in April 2021 led to predictions that the Norwegian marksman would join Manchester City that summer. Those forecasts were only a year out.
Haaland will meet his old Borussia Dortmund teammates during the group stage, pitting two attack-minded teams against one another for a pair of must-watch affairs. Liverpool-linked Jude Bellingham was excellent when City and Dortmund last locked horns and will be desperate for a long Champions League run in what could be his final season in Germany.
Europa League savants Sevilla have had an unimpressive start to the campaign but will be hoping the addition of five-time Champions League winner Isco can offer the know-how that could sneak them into second. Viktor Claesson has been in excellent form for FC Copenhagen, but a finish better than fourth would be a huge surprise for the Danish side.
Key question: Will Haaland be as deadly? The new Manchester City striker netted a remarkable 15 goals in 13 Champions League outings for Dortmund, but early evidence indicates Pep Guardiola will use him as both a scorer and creator.
Prediction: Unless Sevilla director of football Monchi works his magic in the remainder of the summer transfer window, Manchester City and Dortmund will be punching their tickets to the knockout rounds.
Lionel Messi has only failed to score against five teams he’s faced in the Champions League: Atletico Madrid, Inter Milan, Rubin Kazan, Udinese, and Benfica.
It will be fairly impressive if Benfica remain on that list after two group stage outings against Paris Saint-Germain, but there’s little chance Jan Vertonghen and Nicolas Otamendi can also keep Kylian Mbappe, Neymar, and PSG’s supporting cast of attackers subdued.
But Benfica should be confident of taking points away from Juventus and, of course, Israeli upstarts Maccabi Haifa. Not all is well at Juve: The midfield continues to be a problem, and a glaring lack of creativity makes Massimiliano Allegri’s men a rather uninspiring watch.
Key question: How long has Allegri got? The aforementioned issues in Turin could cost the manager his job soon, even after his hugely successful first spell in charge.
Prediction: Replacing Darwin Nunez’s goal output won’t be easy, but the way Benfica swept FC Midtjylland and Dynamo Kyiv aside in their qualifiers was extremely promising. They can reach the knockout rounds.
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