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Serie A

Grading the 10 biggest signings of the transfer window so far

The wheeling and dealing is well underway across Europe. From best to worst, we grade the biggest signings completed thus far in the summer transfer window.

Erling Haaland ?? Manchester City

The deal: Reported €60-million fee (Read more) ?

A slam dunk. Any of Europe’s top clubs could’ve paid the €60-million release clause in Haaland’s contract with Borussia Dortmund; the fact the Norwegian talent chose Manchester City is a vote of confidence for Pep Guardiola and club management.

City needed a center-forward more than most clubs, and after winning four of the last five Premier League titles, they can now build their next project around Haaland. He’ll just have to find a way to adapt his own direct style of play to Guardiola’s system, which requires strikers to do as much work off the ball as they do on it.

Verdict: A+

Sadio Mane ?? Bayern Munich

picture alliance / picture alliance / Getty

The deal: Reported €32-million fee (Read more) ?

Bayern negotiated the bargain of the window. Signing a player like Mane for €32 million is an incredible piece of business. His contract situation at Liverpool undoubtedly played into Bayern’s hands – he was a year away from free agency and ready to move on – but the fee is impressive nonetheless. The 30-year-old is in his prime, a regular contender for the Ballon d’Or, and a perfect fit for Julian Nagelsmann’s high-pressing tactics. Mane’s coming from a similar system at Liverpool and is an ideal replacement for Robert Lewandowski, if and when he leaves.

Bayern could’ve waited until next summer to sign Mane on a free transfer, but they’d have faced more competition for his signature. They also would’ve been forced to pay the player a significant signing bonus, as is customary for free agents.

In the end, the Bavarians worked out a deal that satisfied all parties.

Verdict: A+

Darwin Nunez ?? Liverpool

The deal: €75-million fee (Read more) ?

By resolving Mane’s situation early in the window, Liverpool gave themselves a head start in the search for his successor. Nunez quickly emerged as the ideal candidate, and while he could cost Liverpool as much as €100 million, the 23-year-old demonstrated over the past two seasons at Benfica why he’s tailor-made for Jurgen Klopp’s aggressive style of play.

Nunez scored 32 goals in 38 appearances in the Primeira Liga and Champions League last season, showing not only a decisive streak but also the humility to track back and work off the ball. While he often drifts to the left, Nunez is a much more natural striker than Mane, and he’ll form a deadly triumvirate alongside Luis Diaz and Mohamed Salah.

Verdict: A

Aurelien Tchouameni ?? Real Madrid

Helios de la Rubia / Real Madrid / Getty

The deal: Reported €80-million fee (Read more) ?

Madrid are back to spending huge sums of cash – they’re just spending it differently. Los Blancos are much happier to pay a premium for up-and-coming talent than they are for the type of household names that comprised the Galactico era. Tchouameni fits into the club’s transfer strategy, and even with a hefty price tag, he arrives as manager Carlo Ancelotti begins to transition from one generation to the next.

Succession planning has become Madrid’s priority in recent seasons, with Vinicius Junior, Rodrygo, and Eduardo Camavinga all joining as teenage prospects. At 22, Tchouameni arrives a little older than the rest, but he’s set to follow the same path. He may not get too much playing time next season – Casemiro, Toni Kroos, and Luka Modric still play leading roles in midfield – but the Frenchman stands to benefit from a more gradual integration into the team. Tchouameni will get to learn from some of the best in his trade and won’t face as much pressure as a typical big-money signing would.

Verdict: A

Gabriel Jesus ?? Arsenal

The deal: Reported £45-million fee (Read more) ?

Arsenal needed an upgrade in attack and found their man in Jesus. Mikel Arteta convinced the Brazilian to join the Gunners amid a sea of opportunities, building off his relationship with the striker from their days together at City. Arteta coached Jesus as Guardiola’s assistant, often staying after training sessions to work on his finishing. The familiarity between the two should help the player adapt to Arsenal’s system.

There’s just one question: Can Jesus carry the load as the main man up top? He hasn’t made more than 22 starts in a single Premier League season, and he scored fewer than 10 goals in four of the last six seasons. Arsenal desperately need a reliable presence at center-forward, and the pressure to score on a weekly basis may become a burden. Jesus will have to continue working with Arteta to get to where the club needs him to be.

Verdict: B+

Kalvin Phillips ?? Manchester City

Tom Flathers / Manchester City FC / Getty

The deal: Reported £42-million fee (Read more) ?

The heir to Fernandinho is a player Leeds United fans frequently dubbed the Yorkshire Pirlo. That’s Phillips, a defensive midfielder built in the mold of Andrea Pirlo who can ping passes and protect the backline in equal measure.

Whether Phillips will have the opportunity to make his mark is another question entirely.

It’s unclear how Guardiola plans to use the 26-year-old. Spending £45 million on a bench player seems excessive. Guardiola could find a way to play Rodri and Phillips at the same time, but that would come at the cost of using a more defensive setup. Phillips is certainly a talented midfielder, and he’ll add value to an already impressive side that features a wealth of talent in the middle of the park, but there’s no guarantee he’ll have the starts he needs to make an impact on a weekly basis.

Verdict: B+

Raheem Sterling ?? Chelsea

The deal: Reported £50-million fee (Read more) ?

City fetched a very good fee for a player who would’ve been out of contract in 12 months. But that doesn’t necessarily mean Chelsea overpaid, either. Sterling is one of the Premier League’s most talented players, and if he can polish his game under Thomas Tuchel, he could become a 20-goal-per-season player.

In making the 27-year-old his first signing as Chelsea co-owner, Todd Boehly adds a player who addresses a need and makes headlines. Tuchel finally has a true left-winger in his ranks, and Sterling has enough pedigree and experience to lead the attack. Though he has a tendency to waste golden opportunities – he’s missed the fifth-most chances of any Premier League player since the start of the 2016-17 season – he’s still scored 10 or more goals in each of the last five seasons.

Verdict: B+

Paul Pogba ?? Juventus

Daniele Badolato – Juventus FC / Juventus FC / Getty

The deal: Free transfer (Read more) ?

Now that Pogba’s back home, maybe he’ll show the world he truly is the player Manchester United thought he’d be when they signed him in 2016 for a then-record €105 million.

Though Pogba has an ally in manager Massimiliano Allegri, who coached him during his first stint at Juventus, the Frenchman arrives with a lot to prove. Despite struggling for form and fitness over the last few seasons, Pogba is again one of Serie A’s highest earners. The 29-year-old hasn’t played competitively since April, and he’s battled the type of muscular injuries that can persist without the right training program.

Verdict: B

Romelu Lukaku ?? Inter Milan

The deal: Reported €8-million loan fee (Read more) ?

Ultimately, Inter Milan found a way to make Lukaku’s wish come true. The Belgian international desperately wanted to leave Chelsea, and the Nerazzurri only had to pay €8 million to re-sign a player they sold a year ago for more than €100 million.

But it feels like nothing more than a band-aid solution. If Lukaku is prolific once again, Inter will have to decide whether to sign him permanently, and Chelsea would most certainly ask them to pay a fee close to his original price. Given the Italian club initially sold him because of financial difficulties, that seems unlikely. His arrival – even on loan – forced Inter to put negotiations for free agent Paulo Dybala on hold.

Inter didn’t even need an upgrade up top. They scored a Serie A-leading 84 goals in 2021-22 with Edin Dzeko, Lautaro Martinez, Joaquin Correa, and Alexis Sanchez sharing striking duties. They may now have to sell standout defender Milan Skriniar to balance the budget.

Verdict: B-

Richarlison ?? Tottenham Hotspur

Tottenham Hotspur FC / Tottenham Hotspur FC / Getty

The deal: Reported £50-million fee (Read more) ?

Richarlison left Everton as a fan favorite. His tireless work off the ball and boundless energy made it easy for fans to root for him. That’s probably why Antonio Conte wanted the Brazilian at Tottenham Hotspur: His workmanlike approach matches the Italian manager’s own never-say-die attitude.

However, the signing itself is problematic for several reasons. Richarlison is a left-sided forward and likes to cut in from the wing. Heung-Min Son plays a similar style of football, and as a natural left-winger, he’s unlikely to give up his place to Richarlison. Conte could deploy Richarlison as a second striker, but that would require a change of formation and force Son out of his best position. And he can forget about replacing Harry Kane up top. That’s a nonstarter.

So Conte will have to either shunt Richarlison onto his off wing or leave him on the bench. That seems like a strange compromise for a £50-million signing.

Verdict: C

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Serie A

4 thoughts from Tuesday's Champions League action

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.

Lars Baron / Getty Images Sport / Getty

“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.

Valerio Pennicino – UEFA / UEFA / Getty

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.

Andrew Powell / Liverpool FC / Getty

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.

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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

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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

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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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