- As Madrid seek 4th straight title
Reigning FIFA World footballer of the year, Cristiano Ronaldo will return to Old Trafford in the Champions League this season after his new club, Juventus drew Manchester United in the same group during Thursday’s ballot in Monaco.
This is as hostilities begin in the group stage with first round of games holding on September 18 and 19, 2018.
Also headlining the competition are holders Real Madrid, who begin their title defence and bid for a fourth consecutive Champions League crown in a kind-looking Group G, featuring Roma, CSKA Moscow and Czech side Viktoria Plzen.
And the Club’s Director of Institutional Relations, Emilio Butragueno, told Spanish television that; “We want to defend our title for one more year.”
For Ronaldo, who shunned the Monaco event despite being nominated for an individual award, the six years he spent at United saw him winning the Champions League in 2008, before leaving for Real Madrid in 2009.
He will come up against his compatriot Jose Mourinho, under whom he played during his time at Real, while United midfielder Paul Pogba can also look forward to facing his former team, Italian Old Ladies in Turin.
While both sides will be favourites to progress to the last 16 from Group H, they will have to be wary of Valencia, with the Spaniards returning to the group stage for the first time in three years. However, Swiss champions, Young Boys, group-stage debutants, seem the minnows here.
“It’s a manageable group, but it all depends on us. Our destiny is in our own hands,” said Juve CEO Giuseppe Marotta.
Thursday’s draw ceremony at Monaco’s Grimaldi Forum, a stone’s throw from the Mediterranean Sea, threw up several other fascinating groups, with last season’s beaten finalists Liverpool set to have their work cut out alongside the Paris Saint-Germain of Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, as well as Napoli, in Group C.
A meeting between Liverpool and PSG means a confrontation between two German coaches, Jurgen Klopp and his successor at Borussia Dortmund, Thomas Tuchel.
“I expected a difficult group, we have a difficult group and that’s what the Champions League is all about,” Klopp told UEFA.
Carlo Ancelotti, who became coach of Napoli in the close season, will return to the French capital, where he led PSG to the title in 2013. That group is completed by a famous old name in 1991 European Cup winners Red Star Belgrade.
Barcelona and Tottenham Hotspur will face each other in a tough Group B outing alongside Inter Milan and PSV Eindhoven, the 1988 European Cup winners.
Inter are returning to the competition for the first time in seven seasons. They were in the same group as Tottenham in 2010/11, with the Italians memorably winning 4-3 at San Siro despite Gareth Bale scoring a hat-trick.
“You want to test yourselves against the best players in the world, but we don’t want to just test ourselves, we want to compete against them. That’s definitely the case with Barcelona,” Tottenham’s Eric Dier told his club’s website.
The draw looks kind to Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City as they look to win the trophy for the first time.
They will face group-stage debutants Hoffenheim as well as Lyon and Shakhtar Donetsk, coming up against the latter for the second year running.
The draw was also kind on German champions Bayern Munich, although they will meet two great European names in Benfica and Ajax. But it was less so for another German club, with Dortmund coming up against Monaco and Atletico Madrid in Group A, along with Club Brugge.
Having won the Europa League last year, three-time finalists Atletico are hoping to go all the way in this competition, with the final to be played at their own Wanda Metropolitano stadium on June 1, 2019.
Changes brought in for this season mean half of the clubs in the group stage were allocated to the top four sides in the four best-ranked leagues: Spain, England, Germany and Italy.
It is becoming ever harder for clubs from elsewhere to compete, but this draw ensures there will be some variety on into the knockout rounds, not least with Lokomotiv Moscow, Porto and Galatasaray joining Bundesliga side Schalke in Group D. – With agency reports
All UCL Group Stage Draws
Group A: – Atletico Madrid, Dortmund, AS Monaco, Club Brugge
Group B: – Barcelona, Tottenham, PSV, Inter Milan
Group C: – PSG, Napoli, Liverpool, Red Star Belgrade
Group D: – Lokomotiv Moscow, Porto, Schalke, Galatasaray
Group E: – Bayern, Benfica, Ajax, AEK Athens
Group F: – Man City, Shakhtar Donetsk, Lyon, Hoffenheim
Group G: – Real Madrid, AS Roma, CSKA Moscow, Viktoria Plzen
Group H: – Juventus, Man United, Valencia, Young Boys