Having overcome Hoffenheim in the play-offs, Liverpool are back in the Champions League proper for the first time in three years and will be hoping to avoid a repeat of their last two campaigns at this level, both of which ended in group stage failure. They have a tricky opening fixture this Wednesday as they welcome Sevilla to Anfield on the back of the weekend’s calamitous 5-0 loss at Manchester City. The home faithful will not be eager to recall the last meeting between the clubs, the 2016 Europa League final in which the Spanish side came from a goal down to win 3-1 to triumph in the competition for a third season running. Liverpool’s front three should be fresh, with Sadio Mane sent off shortly before half-time at the Etihad and Mohamed Salah being sacrificed at the interval as Jurgen Klopp tried to limit the damage that City would inflict. Unfortunately, that didn’t work out too well. The other game in Group E on Wednesday night sees Maribor hosting Spartak Moscow in what many envisage to be a battle for third place in the group.
Also on Wednesday night, Tottenham will hope for better things in this season’s competition following their group stage exit last year, but they face a tough opener against Borussia Dortmund at Wembley. Spurs’ problems at the national stadium have been well documented and that will continue to be the case until they start winning regularly at the venue, with Chelsea and Burnley both taking advantage of the Wembley hoodoo in the opening weeks of the season. Mauricio Pochettino’s men take on a Dortmund side which has made a commanding start to their Bundesliga campaign and, despite the summer sale of Ousmane Dembele, still boasts a wealth of creative talent and a world-class finisher in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. It doesn’t look as if Tottenham’s Wembley woes will disappear just yet. Also in Group H, Real Madrid begin their quest for a third Champions League title in a row with what appears to be a straightforward fixture at home to APOEL Nicosia. However, the holders’ domestic form has been far from stellar going into this game.
Europa League holders Manchester United play host to Basel in Group A on Tuesday night. The Premier League leaders dropped their first points of the season at Stoke last weekend and have had some unpleasant previous with their Swiss opponents, but with Romelu Lukaku starting the season in superb form and Paul Pogba beginning to look like a player worthy of a £93 million transfer fee, Jose Mourinho’s men will be expected to get off to a winning start. Also, Basel suffered a huge blow over the summer with the retirement of long-serving captain Matias Delgado. The group’s other match sees Benfica welcoming CSKA Moscow to Lisbon in a meeting of two teams with plentiful Champions League experience and several veterans on show.
Chelsea are back in the Champions League after missing out last season for the first time in 14 seasons. They are at home to Qarabag from Azerbaijan on Tuesday, with the visitors one of two clubs making their debut in this year’s group stage. The Premier League champions have regrouped impressively after a disastrous start to the season, winning three games on the trot to occupy third place heading into what appears a kind fixture by Champions League standards. All eyes will be on Antonio Conte’s team sheet to see if Eden Hazard is recalled to the side. Group C’s other clash pairs together Roma and Atletico Madrid, with the latter likely to be slight favourites despite the match taking place in the Italian capital.
After a summer of frivolous spending, the pressure is on Manchester City to progress deep into the competition this term and Pep Guardiola knows that another last 16 exit would not be received warmly in the Etihad boardroom. City are away to Feyenoord on Wednesday, with the Dutch side coincidentally beginning a second consecutive European campaign at home to Manchester opposition, having beaten United in the Europa League in Rotterdam a year ago. It’s a tricky fixture for City, but with their huge array of attacking talents making plenty of hay against Liverpool at the weekend, Guardiola’s men should get three points on the board. Also in Group F, Shakhtar Donetsk welcome Napoli to Ukraine, with both teams having aspirations of getting out of this group. The Italians appear to be better placed to succeed in that mission.
Having drawn a horrendously tough group last season, Celtic were handed another thankless task in Group B, where they will be up against Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain. They host the latter on Tuesday night in what is sure to be a raucous Parkhead. Brendan Rodgers will hope that the sheer passion of the home support can spook an expensively-assembled PSG side, one which can now call upon Neymar and Kylian Mbappe. Celtic often thrive on nights like these but it will take one hell of a performance to get one over on Unai Emery’s side. The group’s other game sees Bayern at home to Anderlecht, the German champions with a point to prove after a surprise defeat to Hoffenheim at the weekend.
The standout tie of the opening matchday of this season’s Champions League pits together Barcelona and Juventus in a rematch of the quarter-final from last term, which Juve won to avenge their defeat in the 2015 final. Both teams come into this game on the back of emphatic wins in their respective leagues and it promises to be a riveting clash at Camp Nou. The other match in Group D is between Olympiakos and Sporting Lisbon, with these teams expected to slug it out for third place and a passage to the Europa League knockout stage in February.
Monaco were surprise semi-finalists last season but played some scintillating football to get there and despite the inevitable fire sale of several key players in that run, they have reinvested well over the summer and should win Group G without too much trouble. They begin away to RB Leipzig on Wednesday in what is the German club’s first Champions League outing and Liverpool fans will be interested to see how Naby Keita fares in his final season with Leipzig before moving to Anfield. The other match in the group is the meeting of Porto and Besiktas, with the Portuguese side expected to get three points on the board at the Estadio Dragao.
Liverpool fought hard to earn their place in the Champions League group stage and it would be a crying shame if they were to fall meekly at the first hurdle once again. The bravado which accompanied the draw three weeks ago has subsided after Saturday’s collapse at Manchester City and the Reds won’t need reminding of how deadly Sevilla can be when given chances, of which they could well have plenty with Liverpool’s rocky defence. Anything less than a win on Wednesday will see the fear of another group stage exit amplify.