Uefa Champions League Draw: Old Rivalries Rekindled in Europe

The world’s foremost football club competition — Uefa Champions League, resumes on September 17, 2019 after the draw for group stages were decided at the Grimaldi Forum in Monaco on Thursday. As always, some interesting ties will be played in what is the 27th season of the glamorous European football event.

The highlight of the evening was Liverpool defender, Virgil van Dijk, winning the Men’s Best Player and Best Defender awards. The lanky center-back’s heroics for the Reds last term were enough to beat the best two players in the past decade, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, to the prestigious award.

Messi, however, won the Best Forward award on the back of his 12 goals scored in the competition last season, which included his impressive free-kick against the Reds and was earlier voted the Best Goal of the Season. Van Dijk’s accomplishment is a true recognition of the contribution of defenders to the modern game, and it is a breath of fresh air to see a winner scoop the award besides the “usual suspects”.

Van Dijk’s teammate, Alisson Becker, was deservedly awarded the Best Goalkeeper.

In the draw proper, it was interesting to see several ties from last season repeated across the group stages. In Group A, Paris Saint-Germain will face their nemesis, tournament record holders, Real Madrid. Football fans will want to see how well the Parisians have learnt from the disappointments they have faced in the previous seasons.  Galatasaray won’t be push-overs in Group A and will give both PSG and Madrid a good fight for the last 16.

A two-horse race is expected in Group B, where Bayern Munich and Tottenham Hotspur will square off for first place. The Germans have an edge over Spurs on the basis of their five European crowns, but the Lilywhites have shown lately that they have what it takes to contend favourably with the best teams in Europe having ended up as runners-up last term. Olympiakos and Red Star Belgrade do not have enough quality to displace these two, but in football, you never know.

Manchester City will be pleased about the result of this draw. They will face Shakhtar Donetsk again in Group C after both teams met last season. City know how tough the Ukrainian team can be, and will be wary of slipping up this time around, with the Champions League being the biggest title that has eluded Pep Guardiola so far at the Etihad Stadium.  It is a tough draw for debutants Atalanta and one can only wonder how they hope to make it out of this group. Nevertheless, City and Shakhtar are the favourites.

Atletico Madrid now have the chance to get their revenge over reigning Italian champions, Juventus, having sent them packing in spectacular fashion last term. It would be exciting to see how two Portuguese players in veteran Cristiano Ronaldo and prodigious Joao Felix, determine which club tops Group D. However, Bayer Leverkusen – finalists in 2002, should not be overlooked. They have the tendency to cause an upset should any of these two slip up, and with all due respect, Lokomotiv Moscow do not have the clout to make it out of this group.

Reigning champions, Liverpool, will have Napoli to contend with in Group E just as they did last season. The latter are bad customers any day, and both teams should be the ones to vie for top spot in the group. Genk and Red Bull Salzburg will have to battle hard to displace the English and Italian giants.

Group F is arguably the “Group of Death” in this year’s draw. Barcelona will have to be at their best to overcome the onslaughts of Borussia Dortmund and Inter Milan. Last year, the Catalans and the Nerazzurri were in the same group and old rivalries will be rekindled. The three former European champions will engage themselves in a football tussle for first place that is bound to leave a negative impact on Slavia Prague, who will need a miracle to qualify from this group.

Benfica and Lyon, both unseeded, are the biggest names in Group G. Both will be challenged by Zenit St. Petersburg and RB Leipzig. It seems to be the most open group, but Benfica and Lyon’s experiences should count at the end of the day.

Europa League winners, Chelsea, challenge Valencia and Ajax Amsterdam for top spot in Group H. Ajax have lost recipient of the Best Midfielder award, Frenkie de Jong, and Matthijs de Ligt, to Barcelona and Juventus respectively, and it remains to be seen if they can mount the same challenge as last season, where they brushed side Real Madrid and Juventus en route the semi-finals.

Chelsea seem to be a sure bet to make it from this group, and that will be a plus for coach Frank Lampard, who lifted the title with the club in 2012 as a player. Not to be forgotten is Lille. The French team can cause upsets for any of the other teams, especially with currently red-hot Nigerian forward, Victor Osimhen, in their ranks.

May the best teams brace the final come May 30, 2020, at the Ataturk Olympic Stadium in Istanbul.


Follow Akin on Twitter: @mac_akin_ajayi

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Mac Akin Ajayi
Mac Akin Ajayi is an ardent football aficionado who has followed the beautiful game since the mid-1990s. He has worked in the printing & publishing, pharmacology, education, audiovisual production, and banking sectors. He is presently in the research and development writing business but has a passion for soccer events. He also writes for individuals and organizations. He lives in British Columbia, Ca.

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