In an effort to get over their loss in the Champions League final last year, Liverpool was placed in a challenging group, and Robert Lewandowski will undoubtedly make headlines when he plays for Barcelona against Bayern Munich.
AFP Sport examines the prospects for Groups A through D:
A Group (Liverpool, Ajax, Napoli, Rangers)
After a rough start this season, which was not helped by a run of injuries, Liverpool’s previous season’s flirtation with an unprecedented quadruple seems like a distant memory. The Reds have advanced to three of the last five Champions League finals under Jurgen Klopp’s leadership, but have only won the title once after falling to Real Madrid twice.
Following the departure of Erik ten Hag to Manchester United and the ongoing loss of important players, Ajax is going through a moment of transformation. Victor Osimhen is one of the most intriguing young strikers in the league, and even though Napoli came close to winning the Serie A championship before falling short in the end, they still have him.
Rangers, who came back from the Scottish fourth tier after falling into insolvency, are at this point for the first time in 12 years.
Porto and Atletico Madrid square off in Group B for the second year in a row. The Portuguese champions are beginning their 25th group stage campaign, which is second only to Real Madrid and Barcelona (26). While Diego Simeone is in his second decade as the manager of Atletico, Sergio Conceicao has guided Porto to three Portuguese championships in the last five years.
Despite finishing third in the Bundesliga last season with a club-record 80 goals, Bayer Leverkusen is presently at the bottom of the standings after three games without a point.
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Club Brugge, the three-time champion of the Belgian league, has struggled to adjust to the higher level of competition and allowed four goals or more in four consecutive group games last season.
Robert Lewandowski, who switched from Bayern Munich to Barcelona in the summer, will compete against his previous team in Group C (Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Inter Milan, and Viktoria Plzen). Since the prolific Pole left, Bayern has kept up its momentum, and Sadio Mane was recruited from Liverpool to fill the gaping hole.
Barca has invested much in recruiting players in an effort to recapture past success. Barcelona was thrashed 8-2 by Bayern in a one-off quarterfinal in 2020, and the Germans again humiliated them last season as they were eliminated in the group stage.
After the Belgian had a rough time at Chelsea, three-time European winners Inter are hoping that Romelu Lukaku can renew his connection with Lautaro Martinez. Since the Nerazzurri won the 2010 Triple under Jose Mourinho, they have only won one knockout match.
Viktoria Plzen, the defending Czech champions, have made three prior tries but have never made it beyond the group round.
D Group (Tottenham, Eintracht Frankfurt, Sporting Lisbon, Marseille)
Tottenham, which finished second in 2019, was placed in the group that seems to be the easiest to get to. Spurs, who have been revitalized under Antonio Conte, will be confident that they can advance from a group that also contains Europa League champion Eintracht Frankfurt.
For the first time since falling to Real Madrid 7-3 in the 1960 European Cup final, Germany is back at the top table of Europe. However, they have had a sluggish start to the current season, losing the UEFA Super Cup to Real Madrid and going winless in their first three Bundesliga games.
Sporting, who advanced to the round of 16, will be hoping that a meeting between Ruben Amorim and winger Francisco Trincao, who is on loan from Barcelona, could reignite the erratic player’s career. Since reaching the quarterfinals in the league 10 years ago, Marseille has lost 11 of 12 games.