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Serie A

Ajax show Juventus that winning requires more than individual quality

All this time, Juventus thought they needed someone the caliber of Cristiano Ronaldo to reach the next stage of their evolution. But in two matches, Ajax showed them that another way exists.

Ajax were everything Juventus weren’t in the Champions League quarterfinals, using the full length of the pitch and all 11 players to dismiss another favorite. They played with a ferociousness and collective mentality that the Bianconeri couldn’t match.

Usually, it’s a choice between one or the other, but Ajax managed to beat the seven-time defending Serie A champions with a combination of substance and style, a formidable one-two punch that left the Italians without breath and response. Ajax moved in quick sequences, making two or three touches in a flash and regularly ducking out of tight situations. Not even a team as defensively conscious as Juventus could track them.

Ajax didn’t bother man-marking Ronaldo; they had bigger plans in mind. They had their own game to execute, and in the end, Juventus had to adapt to them.

Tullio Puglia – UEFA / UEFA / Getty

Manager Massimiliano Allegri can downplay it all he likes, but the fact is that his Juventus lacked the personality and determination of his Dutch opponents. Juventus played too much of this season with the handbrake on, and on many of those occasions, they relied on individual brilliance to get them across the line.

That didn’t work in the Champions League.

Few teams win trophies playing as poorly as Juventus have this season. They’re the champions of winning without playing well, but that only lasts so long.

Imagine what Juventus could achieve if they were conditioned, and more importantly, allowed to play like they did in the second leg of their last-16 encounter against Atletico Madrid. Staring down a 2-0 deficit on aggregate, Juventus threw away the shackles and embraced the challenge. They pressed like they hadn’t all season and left Diego Simeone’s Atletico – the team that never dies – in a heap.

But that was merely an anomaly. Juventus only played that way out of necessity, which, considering the attacking talent at the club’s disposal, is a shame.

Ajax can’t afford that luxury. They have quality, just not enough to sit around and wait for someone to win the match for them. So they attack in bunches, knowing they’re better as a team than individuals. The end product hasn’t always been there, but the commitment to their football has given them a chance to win. They wouldn’t have the same success if they hoofed the ball forward in the hopes that Hakim Ziyech – the talented winger whose foolhardy shots are his only letdown – scored all the goals.

“What impresses me the most isn’t the work rate or the technical ability, both of which are exceptional,” Juventus legend Alessandro Del Piero said Tuesday, according to ESPN’s Gabriele Marcotti. “It’s the way they fill the pitch, their understanding of space and time, their tactical nous … all at such a young age.”

It’s not even about playing pretty football. The important distinction to make is that Ajax understand how to attack and make an opponent vulnerable. It’s about finding solutions to problems on the pitch – and that takes some creativity and cojones.

The Old Lady hardly stoked the imagination in this competition or in Serie A. They came into Tuesday’s match with the third-most crosses attempted and the most long balls played in the top five European leagues. If someone didn’t get on the end of those hopeful balls, nothing would happen. Ronaldo and Mario Mandzukic can’t be expected to convert every single one of those passes.

Ronaldo wasn’t even the problem here. He did what he could, converting his side’s only two real chances against Ajax over the two-legged affair. Juventus signed him to deliver on the big stage, and that’s what he did. They just didn’t get the same performance from the rest of the team.

Juventus don’t have to entertain the masses to be more successful, but they can’t expect to progress if they continue to do the bare minimum. That’s worked in Serie A because teams give them too much respect. It’s a different game entirely in Europe, where 180 minutes of football can change anything. Ajax went for it – and they were the ones rewarded.

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Serie A

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

DeFodi Images / DeFodi Images / Getty

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

Harriet Lander – Chelsea FC / Chelsea FC / Getty

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

Tottenham Hotspur FC / Tottenham Hotspur FC / Getty

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

Xinhua News Agency / Xinhua News Agency / Getty

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

Soccrates Images / Getty Images Sport / Getty

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

NurPhoto / NurPhoto / Getty

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.

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Serie A

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.

Group A

John Powell / Liverpool FC / Getty

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.

Position Club
1 Liverpool
2 Napoli
3 Ajax
4 Rangers

Group B

Soccrates Images / Getty Images Sport / Getty

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.

Position Club
1 Atletico Madrid
2 FC Porto
3 Bayer Leverkusen
4 Club Brugge

Group C

NurPhoto / NurPhoto / Getty

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.

Position Club
1 Bayern Munich
2 Barcelona
3 Inter Milan
4 Viktoria Plzen

Group D

Tottenham Hotspur FC / Tottenham Hotspur FC / Getty

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.

Position Club
1 Tottenham Hotspur
2 Sporting CP
3 Eintracht Frankfurt
4 Marseille

Group E

Steve Mitchell – EMPICS / PA Images / Getty

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.

Position Club
1 AC Milan
2 Chelsea
3 Red Bull Salzburg
4 Dinamo Zagreb

Group F

Soccrates Images / Getty Images Sport / Getty

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.

Position Club
1 Real Madrid
2 Celtic
3 RB Leipzig
4 Shakhtar Donetsk

Group G

Matt McNulty – Manchester City / Manchester City FC / Getty

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.

Position Club
1 Manchester City
2 Borussia Dortmund
3 Sevilla
4 FC Copenhagen

Group H

ANP / Getty Images Sport / Getty

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.

Position Club
1 Paris Saint-Germain
2 Benfica
3 Juventus
4 Maccabi Haifa

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Serie A

Champions League draw: Familiar faces, foes headline loaded groups

The road to Istanbul has been paved. The draw for the 2022-23 Champions League group stage was completed Thursday, as the 32 clubs involved learned their opponents for the opening round of the competition.

Group A

1 Ajax Netherlands
2 Liverpool England
3 Napoli Italy
4 Rangers Scotland

Instant analysis: As last season’s defeated finalists, Liverpool will be expected to once again make a deep Champions League run. The Reds face a challenging group, though, with Napoli and Ajax both talented and capable of staging upsets. Rangers, meanwhile, will bank on raucous support from their Ibrox faithful to ensure their return to the Champions League group stage is a memorable one after a trying 12-year absence.

Group B

1 FC Porto Portugal
2 Atletico Madrid Spain
3 Bayer Leverkusen Germany
4 Club Brugge Belgium

Instant analysis: Atletico Madrid should be relatively pleased with this outcome, considering some of the other possibilities. FC Porto and Bayer Leverkusen are no pushovers, but Diego Simeone’s battle-tested side will be expected to grind out the results in typical Atleti fashion and reach the knockout stages once again. Club Brugge have taken some big hits in the transfer window, but they still have an outside chance of advancing.

Group C

1 Bayern Munich Germany
2 Barcelona Spain
3 Inter Milan Italy
4 Viktoria Plzen Czech Republic

Instant analysis: Get the popcorn ready. Robert Lewandowski returns to Bayern Munich sooner than he ever expected, as the new Barcelona talisman will meet his former side shortly after his summer transfer. Barca will look to exact some revenge after they fell to Bayern in a pair of 3-0 losses during last season’s group stage. The proverbial Group of Death is topped off by Inter Milan, arguably the most dangerous team in Pot 3 for Thursday’s draw. Viktoria Plzen, the Czech champions, have a mountain to climb here.

Group D

1 Eintracht Frankfurt Germany
2 Tottenham Hotspur England
3 Sporting CP Portugal
4 Marseille France

Instant analysis: Is this the year Antonio Conte finally puts some of his past Champions League struggles behind him? He couldn’t have asked for a much better outcome to get that ball rolling. Tottenham should be the class of the quartet, but given Conte’s history and the relatively equal status of the other three teams in the group, how this will play out is anyone’s guess. Eintracht Frankfurt, the Europa League holders, Sporting, and Marseille should all have eyes on the knockout stage.

Lukas Schulze – UEFA / UEFA / Getty

Group E

1 AC Milan Italy
2 Chelsea England
3 Red Bull Salzburg Austria
4 Dinamo Zagreb Croatia

Instant analysis: AC Milan and Chelsea, two clubs familiar with one another at the boardroom level from their recent confirmed and reported transfer dealings, headline an intriguing section. Red Bull Salzburg made some waves last season before finally succumbing to Bayern Munich, so the two Group E heavyweights will need to be on high alert against the Austrian outfit. But everyone will want to keep an eye out for Dinamo Zagreb’s Mislav Orsic, who has a flair for the dramatic in European competition.

Group F

1 Real Madrid Spain
2 RB Leipzig Germany
3 Shakhtar Donetsk Ukraine
4 Celtic Scotland

Instant analysis: Familiarity was a key element of Thursday’s draw; reigning champions Real Madrid, the 14-time European Cup winners, will lock horns with Shakhtar Donetsk for the third consecutive season. Carlo Ancelotti’s men will likely be most wary of the threat posed by RB Leipzig. Meanwhile, Celtic, back in the group stage for the first time in five years, have every chance to sneak into second place and reach the knockout phase.

Group G

1 Manchester City England
2 Sevilla Spain
3 Borussia Dortmund Germany
4 FC Copenhagen Denmark

Instant analysis: So, about those familiar faces. Erling Haaland, still pretty fresh off his big move to Manchester City, will be back at the Westfalenstadion when his new team meets his former club, Borussia Dortmund. Europa League savants Sevilla will aim to translate their success from the sister competition onto the main stage, while FC Copenhagen were surely hoping for a more generous outcome from the football gods.

Group H

1 Paris Saint-Germain France
2 Juventus Italy
3 Benfica Portugal
4 Maccabi Haifa Israel

Instant analysis: By the time Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus meet, a pair of Argentines may have swapped the French capital for Turin. Angel Di Maria left PSG for Juve this summer after seven seasons, and Leandro Paredes could soon join him. That’ll be the standout match in Group H, but Benfica, even without Darwin Nunez, will provide a stern test, especially for a Juventus team that remains unsettled. Don’t discount the Portuguese club’s chances of advancing. Maccabi Haifa’s dramatic playoff victory to reach the group stage will likely be the highlight of their European campaign.

Champions League schedule

This season’s tournament kicks off in just 12 days, with the final slated for June 10, 2023, at the Ataturk Olympic Stadium.

In a change facilitated by the upcoming men’s World Cup, the entire group stage of the Champions League will be completed in the space of nine weeks to accommodate the tournament in Qatar, which starts Nov. 20.

  • Matchday 1: Sept. 6-7
  • Matchday 2: Sept. 13-14
  • Matchday 3: Oct. 4-5
  • Matchday 4: Oct. 11-12
  • Matchday 5: Oct. 25-26
  • Matchday 6: Nov. 1-2

The full fixture list will be revealed by UEFA at a later date.

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