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Champions League Draw; Who are the Favourites?

Monaco played host to the Champions League Group Stage draw on Thursday evening, with the six play-off winners joining the 26 clubs who had already qualified. Whilst Manchester City are the only Premier League team in the competition who also competed last year, Manchester United, Arsenal and Newcastle return to the best club competition in the world for the 2023/2024 season.

The English clubs had mixed fortunes at the Grimaldi Forum. Two clubs will be delighted with relatively straightforward draws, another faces a historic reunion with a long-time European rival, and the fourth will enjoy a blockbuster return to the Champions League.


Manchester City

The European Champions are one of the sides with a favourable draw. The treble winners will be tested by German side RB Leipzig, but are less likely to struggle against Red Star Belgrade or Young Boys in Group G.


This will be the third consecutive season where City have faced RB Leipzig. The champions obliterated the Germans last season, winning 7 - 0 at the Etihad in the second leg of a last-16 tie having drawn 1 - 1 in the away leg.


In 2021/22, City won 6 - 3 at home in what was the highest-scoring game of the entire tournament. Pep Guardiola's side won despite a hat-trick for Chelsea striker Christopher Nkunku. As was the case last season though, the trip to the Red Bull Arena was a far tougher test; Dominic Szoboszlai scored in a 2 - 1 win for Leipzig in December 2021.

As for the other two sides in Group G, Manchester City have never played either of them. It's fairly remarkable given that all three clubs are European regulars, but City will face both Red Star Belgrade and Young Boys for the first time in their history. Red Star are the Serbian champions and whilst they are certainly deserving of a Champions League place, they won't pose much of a threat to Pep's team.


The same however cannot be said for Young Boys, who are notorious for causing a shock or two, specifically in the group stages. In the last four years they have beaten Juventus, Bayer Leverkusen and most famously, Manchester United.

It's not a shoo-in then for Manchester City, no group is easy in the Champions League. But they certainly couldn't have asked for a much better group than the one they've been given. Leipzig will provide a test, especially in Germany, but the Champions shouldn't struggle in Group G.



Manchester United

Like their Manchester rivals, United will be heavy favourites against the Pot 3 and 4 teams in Group A, with Danish side Copenhagen coming out of Pot 3 and Turkish side Galatasaray drawn from Pot 4. However, Manchester United were in Pot 2, and their Pot 1 opponents are Bayern Munich.

Despite choosing Bayern Munich over Manchester United in the Summer, Harry Kane will play Champions League football at Old Trafford this season. But this fixture means so much more than that.


The 1999 Champions League final was perhaps the most dramatic of them all. Bayern Munich led the game 1 - 0 after 90 minutes and yet lost. Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer both scored in stoppage time for the Red Devils, securing their first European Cup since 1968, their first title of the Champions League era.

Since that glorious night in Barcelona though, Bayern have eliminated Manchester United in all three knockout stage meetings, and Manchester United have never won in Munich.


That doesn't necessarily have to change for Erik Ten Hag's side to reach the knockout stages, but certainly will if they are to finish above Bayern Munich. The German champions are ruthlessly clinical and are extremely unlikely to drop points against either Galatasaray or Copenhagen.


Winning the group will be tough for Manchester United, but as long as they can find some consistency, they shouldn't have too many problems making their way into the last 16.



Arsenal

The Gunners have been absent from the Champions League since a disastrous elimination to Bayern Munich in 2017 but will be favourites to win Group B on their return to the competition.

Arsenal will face Sevilla, PSV Eindhoven and RC Lens in a group that wouldn't look far out of place in the Europa League.


In fact, Arsenal did face PSV Eindhoven in their Europa League group last season, losing in the Netherlands having already won 1 - 0 at home through a Granit Xhaka goal.

PSV made it through to the group stages this season after thrashing Rangers 7 - 3 on aggregate in the play-off round and have a very different squad to the one that finished second to Arsenal in the Europa League group last year. Key players such as Cody Gakpo (Liverpool), Xavi Simons (PSG, Leipzig on loan) and Noni Madueke (Chelsea) have all since moved on.


It's been a little longer since the Gunners took on RC Lens. The French side, who finished just one point behind Paris Saint Germain in Ligue 1 last season, lost both games to Arsenal in the 2000 UEFA Cup semi-final the last time the sides met.


Seven players have left Lens over the Summer however, causing the French side to take just one point from their first three league matches this season.

The main threat to Arsenal in Group B would appear to be Sevilla, but that may not actually be the case. The Europa League title holders are the only team in La Liga to lose their first three games, and face Atletico Madrid this weekend in their fourth.


It's a period of transition for Sevilla, with lots of incomings and outgoings over the past three transfer windows making consistency hard to come by. The Spanish side also have a famous record of finishing third in their Champions League groups and dropping down to the Europa League.


In terms of personal history, Arsenal and Sevilla have met only two times, both meetings in the group stages of the 2007/2008 Champions League. Sevilla won 3 - 1 at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan and won the group, despite losing 3 - 0 to Arsenal at the Emirates.

Overall it's a fairly straightforward group for the Gunners. They're fortunate in that PSV have lost several key players and both RC Lens and Sevilla have had nightmare starts to their seasons. The combination of these factors should allow Mikel Arteta's side to progress.



Newcastle United

Group F is THE group in this year's Champions League. Most years there's a group of death of some description, but usually with three big teams. This year however, Newcastle United, in Pot 4 because of their lack of recent European experience, join Paris Saint Germain, Borussia Dortmund and AC Milan in what might be the most exciting group of the past decade.

It's difficult to know where to start with this one, partly because Newcastle have never played a competitive game against any of their group stage opponents.


Paris Saint Germain are the Pot 1 team in the group having won France's Ligue 1 for the 9th time in 11 years. They boast an outrageous collection of attacking talent, chief among which is Kylian Mbappe. Whilst Newcastle are a fantastic defensive unit, they'll realistically have to outscore PSG rather than shut them out if they are to beat them.


AC Milan are a more defensive team, preferring to sit deep and play on the counter. They made it all the way to the semi-finals last season, where they were eliminated by roommates Inter Milan in an exhilarating tie.

Whilst PSG are of course a fantastic side, Milan's playing style may actually prove more difficult for Newcastle to cope with. As a team, Newcastle are not especially and when frustrated can come unstuck.


Both Arsenal and Manchester City beat Eddie Howe's side last season through clever game management rather than necessarily outclassing the Toon Army on the pitch. Milan are as masterful at game management as you'd expect a top Italian side to be.


But by far the most difficult test for Newcastle will be against Borussia Dortmund. St James' Park is intimidating for a 3 pm Premier League kick-off, so for a Champions League night it will literally be bouncing. But Borussia Dortmund have what is probably the best atmosphere in Europe at the Signal Iduna Park in front of their glorious Yellow Wall.

Newcastle's atmosphere at St James' is their biggest weapon in Group F, one which may well work on PSG and AC Milan. But Dortmund do it better than anyone, meaning they'll be largely immune to Newcastle's hostile crowd.


On top of that, the Germans play outstanding football. Erling Haaland, Jadon Sancho and Jude Bellingham are just three of the stars to have left the club in recent years, but Dortmund spent the money intelligently, and were agonisingly close to winning the Bundesliga last season.

Newcastle aren't exactly favourites to win the group or even to reach the knockout stages, but they'll certainly have some European nights to remember.


Trips to the Princes Park, Signal Iduna Park and San Siro along with three glorious nights under the lights at St James' Park will make it a special group for them, however far they get. Even a third-place finish and a run in the Europa League would be an excellent experience for a growing side, and perhaps even a chance at a European trophy.





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