LONDON: The Champions League group stage starts on Tuesday with a match between traditional heavyweights Barcelona and Bayern Munich, but big-spending upstarts elsewhere are the title favourites this season after a summer of eye-catching transfers.
Paris St Germain bolstered their ranks with the arrivals of superstar Lionel Messi from Barcelona, former Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos, Italy’s European Championship-winning goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, Netherlands midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum, and wing backs Achraf Hakimi and Nuno Mendes the latter arguably the foremost exciting player in Portugal last season.
PSG, backed by Qatar Sports Investment since 2011, reached the Champions League semi-finals last season and therefore the final the year before that, but haven’t won the title.
Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the clubs spectacular recruitment campaign comes with a view to winning Europe’s premier club competition before Qatar hosts the planet Cup next year.
PSG begins their bid on Wednesday in Group ‘A’ at Club Brugge, where Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe could play together for the primary time, a fearsome attacking lineup for the Belgian champions to deal with .
Rested at the weekend after an extended trip back from a World Cup qualifier in Bolivia, Messi could finally make his first start for PSG against Brugge.
PSG rejected a suggestion of about $188 million from Real Madrid for Mbappe, despite knowing he can leave without a transfer fee when his contract expires next year.
Premier League clubs are displaying an identical tendency toward recruitment. Last season’s Champions League finalists Chelsea and Manchester City spent club-record fees on marquee signings.
Attacking midfielder Jack Grealish joined City for $139 million, a record fee for a British player, and striker Romelu Lukaku moved back to Chelsea from Inter Milan for $135 million.
That strengthened already-deep squads at both clubs that helped them reach the ultimate in Porto in May.
City host German club RB Leipzig in Group ‘A’ on Wednesday, each day after Chelsea welcome Zenit St. Petersburg in Group ‘H’ for his or her first game as defending champions.
Manchester United trumped their domestic rivals by signing England forward Jadon Sancho, France defender Raphael Varane and Portugal star Cristiano Ronaldo from Juventus for a combined cost in transfer fees of quite $150 million.
Ronaldo’s first Champions League game for United since losing the 2009 final to Barcelona is at Swiss champions Young Boys on Tuesday in Group ‘F’.
Since Alex Ferguson’s retirement in 2013, only twice have United reached the last eight.
“We have an incredible team, a young team, with an incredible coach,” said Ronaldo, who scored twice on Saturday against Newcastle United on his return. “I belong to Manchester. I arrived here at 18 and that they treated me unbelievably. this is often why I’ve come . I’m so proud to be here and that i want to win.”
The big spenders are bucking the recent trend across Europe, where the coronavirus pandemic has had an adverse effect on most clubs, including Juventus, who are struggling without Ronaldo before their visit to Malmo on Tuesday in Group ‘H’.
Six-time champions Bayern have a replacement coach, Julian Nagelsmann, but had a really quiet offseason, giving young home-nurtured players like Jamal Musiala and Josip Stanisic an opportunity to determine themselves within the team.
Barca endured a difficult summer, with the pandemic and years of massive spending playing a task within the exits of Messi and Antoine Griezmann. Ansu Fati inherited Messi’s No. 10 jersey, and Barca supporters also are hoping another 18-year-old, Pedri, can help inaugurate a replacement successful era after his brilliant performances for Spain at the ecu Championship.
The Group ‘E’ match at Camp Nou comes after Bayern trounced Barcelona 8-2 within the ir last meeting in the 2020 quarter-finals.
Inter Milan host 13-time champions Real Madrid in another intriguing opening-round game on Wednesday in Group ‘D’.
Although Mbappe didn’t move to Spain, Real coach Carlo Ancelotti has succeeded in reviving an attack that had shown signs of stagnation within the final months of Zinedine Zidane’s tenure. Vincius Junior has found his scoring touch to feature to the speed that makes more room for Karim Benzema.
Another big match sees Liverpool and AC Milan, clubs with a combined 13 European Cups between them, settle at Anfield on Wednesday in Group ‘B’ in only their third competitive meeting — after the 2005 “Miracle of Istanbul” and Milan’s revenge within the 2007 final.
The last team to lift the ecu Cup that didn’t play in England, Germany, Spain or Italy was Jose Mourinho’s Porto in 2004.
The Portuguese side have their work cut bent advance from a brutal section including Spanish champions Atletico Madrid, Liverpool and Milan — back within the competition for the primary time since 2013/14 after coming second in Serie a final season.
Other famous names among the 32 hopefuls are Ajax and Benfica, while Sheriff Tiraspol of Moldova are the sole debutants.
Their reward for creating it through four qualifying ties, where they knocked out Red Star Belgrade and Dinamo Zagreb, may be a group with Real, Inter and Shakhtar Donetsk of Ukraine.
Erling Haaland’s Borussia Dortmund will fancy their chances in Group ‘C’, where Portuguese champions Sporting, Ajax and Besiktas await.