The group stage of the 2023-24 UEFA Champions League is now set, with the first slate of matches scheduled to kick off on Sept. 19.
Here are three quick takeaways following Thursday’s draw in Monaco:
PSG, AC Milan, Newcastle and Dortmund comprise Group of Death
Bayern Munich, Manchester United and Turkish giant Galatasaray were all drawn into Group A. Group D features last year’s runner-up, Inter Milan, quarterfinalist Benfica plus La Liga rep Real Sociedad. But Group F is still easily the toughest of the eight quartets.
Paris Saint-Germain was a Champions League finalist just three years ago, and while the French champs lost superstar attackers Lionel Messi and Neymar over the summer (to MLS and Saudi Arabia, respectively), the Parisians still boast one of the most formidable rosters in the competition — one that is still headlined by Kylian Mbappé, currently the planet’s best player.
Seven-time European champion AC Milan was a semifinalist last season and, after adding U.S. men’s national team star Christian Pulisic and several other new recruits, is looking to go at least one step further this spring. They’ll face stiff competition from another former champ in Borussia Dortmund, a side that also employs a USMNT standout in Gio Reyna and one that very nearly outlasted Bayern to win the German Bundesliga title in 2022-23.
Then there’s Newcastle United. The Premier League mainstay is suddenly an emerging European power thanks to the bottomless pockets of its new Saudi Arabian ownership. While the Magpies are back competing in the world’s top club competition for the first time in two decades, the resources at their disposal guarantee that they won’t be an easy out for their more decorated adversaries this fall — especially in front of their raucous home fans at St. James’ Park.
A first-round cakewalk for holders Manchester City
If there’s a Group of Life this season, it no doubt includes the team that needs to be in it the least. Man City strolled to its long-coveted first continental crown last spring after topping a group phase foursome that contained both Dortmund and Spanish outfit Sevilla.
The Sky Blues’ schedule is far easier this time around, with home-and-homes against RB Leipzig of Germany, Serbia’s Red Star Belgrade and absurdly named Swiss club Young Boys — hardly a murderers’ row of foes for any legitimate trophy contender.
City would be expected to advance regardless of their first round opponents, of course; the Prem’s best team has reached the business end of the tournament in each of the last 10 Champions League campaigns.
But this draw all but ensures that they’ll qualify with ease even if they suffer from a post-title hangover or because of the offseason departures of İlkay Gündoğan Riyad Mahrez – though the perfect 3-0 start to the new Premier League season for Pep Guardiola’s men suggests that neither is going to happen
Americans face daunting challenge in Groups B, C, E and H
While Pulisic, his Rossoneri teammate Yunus Musah and/or Reyna are employed by squads capable of making a deep run, the projection isn’t anywhere near as rosy for the other U.S. players involved in the Champions League this year.
PSV Eindhoven trio Sergiño Dest, Ricardo Pepi and Malik Tillman will look to finish in the top two in Group B – no easy feat with Arsenal and Sevilla also in the mix along with France’s Lens.
The clear favorites to survive Group E are record 14-time winners Real Madrid and defending Serie A champ Napoli. That’s bad news for Union Berlin duo Brenden Aaronson and Jordan Pefok. Scotland’s Celtic is the bookies pick to finish behind Atletico Madrid, Italy’s Lazio and Dutch side Feyenoord in Group E; that would’ve been the case even if American center back Cameron Carter-Vickers hadn’t picked up a hamstring injury that is expected to sideline him for most of the group stage.
Finally, Sam Vines’ Royal Antwerp will be hard pressed even to compete for second place in Group H. Barcelona is the obvious favorite there, with previous champ Porto and Ukraine’s Shakhtar Donetsk standing in the way of the Belgian club, which is competing in the Champions League for the first time in its 143-year history.
Doug McIntyre is a soccer writer for FOX Sports. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a staff writer with ESPN and Yahoo Sports and he has covered United States men’s and women’s national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.
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