The group stage of the UEFA Champions League can drag but it takes nothing away from its endearing appeal and this year there is a lot to look forward to.
Real Madrid will be looking to win a third straight title after becoming the first side to successfully defend it last season. There will be many curious observers keen to see whether Paris Saint Germain’s heavy investment in Neymar and Kylian Mbappe will translate to success against Europe’s big boys. And English clubs will hope their wealth and mass appeal finally reflects in European dominance again.
There are five English clubs including Mancehster United, who are making a return with one of the competition’s most successful coaches Jose Mourinho, in the competition this season. They face Swiss side FC Basel in one of the many fixtures on Tuesday.
“To be back to the Champions league means going back to our natural habitat. Manchester United season after season, myself I have just played Europa league twice apart from that I always play in the Champions league. For some players it is the motivation of playing in the Champions league for the first time. We look forward to the match and I hope Old Trafford also feels it in the same way we are feeling it,” Mourinho said at his first UCL press conference for Manchester United.
Chelsea will also be making a swift return to the Champions League after just one season and they return with fixture against Azerbaijani side, Qarabag in the group stage on Tuesday. The theory has been that Chelsea were dominant in the Premier League because of the absence of European commitment but Antonio Conte is thrilled to be back in it.
“I have had two experiences in the Champions League and of course I am more experienced in this competition as a player because I played a lot of games at this stage. I played in the final and won once. I think this competition is great and we must be pleased to be back after last season. We must be proud to be back and try to be the best at it.”
The moneybags of European football PSG are away at Celtic while the standout fixture of the round has to be Juventus’ trip to Barcelona. If ever the Catalans needed a fixture to remind the world about their relevance in European club football, this against the losing finalist from last season, would be it.