Every tournament needs a ‘group of death’ and this year’s Champions League has offered up a particularly mouthwatering draw.
Group F earns that tag this season, featuring Barcelona, Borussia Dortmund and a new-look Inter Milan side, which has been boosted by the arrival of new manager Antonio Conte, star striker Romelu Lukaku and Chilean Alexis Sanchez.
The unfortunate team from pot four to be drawn with these European giants is Czech side Slavia Prague, whose representatives in the audience could only smile after seeing its name added to the group.
Jurgen Klopp will likely go home this evening a happy manager, as defending champion Liverpool was grouped with Napoli – as it was last season – Austrian side Salzburg and Belgium’s Genk.
Liverpool’s towering Dutch defender Virgil van Dijk was awarded both the 2018/19 Defender of the Season and UEFA Player of the Year, beating Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo to the prize.
New Barcelona signing Frenkie de Jong won Midfielder of the Season for his exploits with Ajax, while Messi won Forward of the Season and Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson won Goalkeeper of the Season.
Lyon women’s full-back Lucy Bronze became the first English player to win the UEFA Women’s Player of the Year, beating off competition from inaugural women’s Ballon d’Or winner Ada Hegerberg.
Beaten finalist Tottenham Hotspur, meanwhile, will have to face Bayern Munich, Olympiakos and Red Star Belgrade, the Serbian side that shocked Liverpool in last season’s group stage.
Zinedine Zidane’s return to Real Madrid, where he won a record-breaking three consecutive Champions League titles in his first stint in charge, will give Los Blancos fans hope the club can return to the top of European football.
Real was stunned at the Bernabeu by a precocious Ajax side in last season’s quarterfinal and the signings of Eden Hazard, Luka Jovic and Eder Militao were made to ensure a similar result does not happen again.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s bid for a sixth Champions League title begins against a familiar foe, as Juventus was drawn alongside Atletico Madrid.
Diego Simeone and Atleti must be sick of the sight of the Portuguese star, who has scored a remarkable 25 goals in 33 games against the Spanish side, including an incredible hat-trick in last season’s competition to overturn a 2-0 first-leg deficit in the last 16.
Both these sides have suffered considerable Champions League heartbreak in recent times, losing four finals between them in the last six seasons.
Alongside them in Group D are Bayer Leverkusen and Lokomotiv Moscow.
The first round of matches kick off on September 17 – mark it in your diary to make sure you don’t miss out.
Here is the Champions League group stage draw in full:
- Group A: Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid, Club Brugge, Galatasaray.
- Group B: Bayern Munich, Tottenham Hotspur, Olympiakos, Red Star Belgrade.
- Group C: Manchester City, Shakhtar Donetsk, Dinamo Zagreb, Atalanta.
- Group D: Juventus, Atletico Madrid, Bayer Leverkusen, Lokomotiv Moscow.
- Group E: Liverpool, Napoli, Salzburg, Genk.
- Group F: Barcelona, Borussia Dortmund, Inter Milan, Slavia Prague.
- Group G: Zenit St. Petersburg, Benfica, Lyon, RB Leipzig.
- Group H: Chelsea, Ajax, Valencia, Lille.