The UEFA Champions League draw took place on Thursday, and it treated us with some significant reunions in the group stage. Robert Lewandowski will face his former club Bayern Munich after the German giants were placed with his new club Barcelona in Group C. Those two teams are in the consensus group of death with Inter Milan and Viktoria Plzen joining them. Additionally, Erling Haaland will play for Manchester City against his former club Borussia Dortmund as they were placed in Group G with Sevilla and FC Copenhagen. Angel Di Maria, who recently joined Juventus, is set to face his old club Paris Saint-Germain.
Reigning champions Real Madrid received a favorable draw with RB Leipzig, Shakhtar Donetsk and Celtic while Liverpool, last season's runners-up, are in Group A with Ajax, Napoli and Rangers. The Europa League champions Eintracht Frankfurt may have a favorable chance at advancing from Group D alongside Sporting CP, Tottenham Hotspur and Olympique de Marseille.
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Here are the groups:
Group A: Ajax, Liverpool, Napoli and Rangers
Group B: Porto, Atletico Madrid, Bayer Leverkusen and Club Brugge
Group C: Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Inter Milan and Viktoria Plzen
Group D: Eintracht Frankfurt, Tottenham Hotspur, Sporting Lisbon and Marseille
Group E: AC Milan, Chelsea, RB Salzburg and Dinamo Zagreb
Group F: Real Madrid, RB Leipzig, Shakhtar Donetsk and Celtic
Group G: Manchester City, Sevilla, Borussia Dortmund and FC Copenhagen
Group H: PSG, Juventus, Benfica and Maccabi Haifa
Here are some takeaways from the draw:
1. The consensus Group of Death
Sure, the Lewandowski-Bayern Munich homecoming will headline the group, but expect Inter Milan and Viktoria Plzen to bring tough tests. Inter Milan have gotten stronger with Romelu Lukaku's return from Chelsea and keeping Milan Skriniar will improve their outlook. The third-placed team in the group will certainly be among the favorites to win Europa League and there's a chance that all four teams could win their domestic leagues by the end of the season, which should keep everyone on their toes. It seems unlikely to imagine a scenario where Sergino Dest finds his way into Xavi's plan by the time the group stage arrives. USMNT fans might be dreaming of a scenario where the young American is up for the challenge against teams of this stature on one of the biggest stages.
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2. Pulisic gets the best draw for an American
Chelsea and AC Milan are the expected favorites to advance from a group that also includes RB Salzburg and Dinamo Zagreb. Salzburg were strong last season, but the departures of Brenden Aaronson (Leeds United), Karim Adeyemi (Borussia Dortmund), Mohamed Camara (Monaco) and Rasmus Kristensen (Leeds United) certainly leave holes in the Red Bull pipeline. Chelsea have had a rough start to the season, but they should right the ship sooner than later. A good draw will give them more times to work the kinks out. It's also a notable pairing considering Chelsea have sold Fikayo Tomori and Olivier Giroud to Milan and are currently linked with Rafael Leao.
3. Shakhtar and Real Madrid, together again
Real Madrid and Shakhtar Donetsk are no strangers to each other. This is the third consecutive season where these two have managed to share the same group. Shakhtar have not advanced in the previous two tries, but did manage to sweep Real in 2020. Would the third time be the charm for the Ukrainian outfit? With RB Leipzig and Celtic in Group F, anything could happen. That also bodes well for Cameron Carter-Vickers as he'll look to anchor Celtic's defense against the reigning champions. For the first time since the 2007-08 season, we will have two Scottish participants in the group stage as Celtic and Rangers will push to advance from their groups.
4. An American derby in Group H
Alongside PSG and Benfica, Weston McKennie and Juventus will face goalkeeper Josh Cohen and Maccabi Haifa. The Israeli side reached the group stage after winning their final playoff over Red Star Belgrade on a late own goal after the two teams scored nine goals across the two legs. Facing Juventus will be a different level of competition. For Cohen, this could be one of the biggest moments of the 30-year-old's career squaring off with McKennie and Juventus.