ULTIMATE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE GUIDE: Rundown ahead of the group stage draw

ULTIMATE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE GUIDE: Rundown ahead of the group stage draw

August 31, 2023

ULTIMATE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE GUIDE: Your rundown of ALL the 32 teams in this year’s group stage, the pots they’re in and the players to watch out for ahead of TODAY’s draw

  • The Champions League group stage draw takes place in Monaco on Thursday 
  • Each of the 32 clubs involved will discover who they will face in the first round
  • Would Mohamed Salah ‘do the dirty’ on Liverpool by leaving? And what about Man United ‘diving’?: Listen to It’s All Kicking Off, Mail Sport’s new podcast 

It may feel like just yesterday that Manchester City hoisted the Champions League trophy into the air for the first time in their history but already, the competition has hurtled back around again with the group stage to get underway next month.

The very best clubs in European football will eagerly await the outcome of the draw on Thursday evening in Monaco, with the glitz and the glamour of the ceremony’s pomp officially firing the starting pistol on the scramble to reach the final.

As usual, there will be 32 teams seeded into four pots for the group stage draw. They will then be arranged into eight groups of four teams. 

The first set of fixtures will begin on September 19/20, later than last season due to there being no World Cup hiatus, before the last-16 is held in February and March.

Here, Mail Sport has the lowdown on each of the sides involved in the draw, which will begin at 5pm UK time, and details their key players and danger ratings.

Manchester City will look to defend their very first Champions League crown this season

A host of the biggest clubs in the world will face off against each other in the competition


Manchester City

City’s barren streak in the biggest club competition of them all was finally brought to an end last season.

It was far from easy, with Inter Milan putting up a superb fight in the final, but City got the job done courtesy of Rodri’s second-half winner.

How to follow the draw 

The Champions League group stage draw in Monaco takes place on Thursday evening, getting under way from 5pm BST.

TNT Sports will have live coverage and you can also follow it all with Mail Sport‘s live blog or on UEFA’s website.

They cruised through the first round, having topped their tricky group, and went on to beat RB Leipzig, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid on their way to the final hurdle in Istanbul.

Their hard-fought triumphs over Bayern and Madrid showcased their ever-growing pedigree on the European stage and the trophy secured them the Treble. 


Who else? This Terminator-like striker is unstoppable even on his worst days and his lethal finishing provided an extra dimension to City’s arsenal last year.

Once he arrived from Dortmund, City became untouchable. He scored 12 goals in the Champions League and a staggering 52 in all competitions, underling the fact that he truly was the final piece in Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering puzzle.

Expect him to be similarly devastating this time around. 


It went well!

Quite simply, they beat several of the world’s biggest clubs and emerged head and shoulders above them at the end of the campaign. They are this year’s favourites. 


Erling Haaland hoisted the hallowed jug-eared cup into the air in his first season with City

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What began as a poor season for Sevilla last year ended in yet another piece of European silverware courtesy of their Europa League success. They make up part of Pot One in this week’s draw despite their lowly 12th-placed finish in LaLiga.

Clearly, Jose Luis Mendilibar, the club’s third boss of the campaign and the man responsible for steering them to their memorable victory over Roma in Budapest, placed all of his eggs in one particular basket and the approach paid off handsomely.

They are currently in something of a crisis, however.

Bottom of the Spanish top-flight and rumoured to have placed a host of their first-team squad on the transfer market due their debts, it would take a miracle for Mendilibar to drag Sevilla to any form of glory in the Champions League this time. 


A crashing header against Manchester City in the UEFA Super Cup neatly encapsulated En-Nesyri’s all-round game and justified the big-name interest in him. 

He has been prominent under Mendilibar and remains Sevilla’s first-choice, out-and-out frontman, one capable of crashing runs into the box and physical hold-up play.

West Ham are understood to be keen on him but if his current club are able to retain his services beyond deadline day, he will be key in their Champions League mission.


Just like City’s, it ended in a trophy list and wild, rowdy celebrations. 

However, faced as they are with a tough likely draw and surrounded by teams harbouring similar ambitions, this year could well be a chastening one. 


Sevilla triumphed in the Europa League and sealed themselves a Champions League spot


Heavyweights Barcelona won LaLiga last year, their first league title since 2019, and will hope their success signals the beginning of a period of domination.

Their on-pitch success continues to be overshadowed by their financial headache away from it, however, with the club still saddled by jaw-dropping amounts of debt.

As a result, they are yet to splash the cash this summer and have in fact recruited just three players. Two of them, Ilkay Gundogan and Inigo Martinez, joined as free agents while midfielder Oriel Romeu arrived from Girona for around £3million. 

Boss Xavi will hope to mould his squad of exquisite talents and raw academy products into a juggernaut capable of breezing through the knockout rounds. 


If there is anyone who has been there, done it and grabbed the Champions League T-shirt, it’s the aging but still just as lethal Lewandowski.

The striker joined last summer from Bayern Munich and scored 33 goals across all competitions, including five in five matches in Europe.

He will certainly be targeting a greater tally this year.


Without a doubt, it was a failure. 

They were knocked out of the Champions League in the group phase after finishing third, behind Bayern and Inter, the eventual finalists.

That saw them drop into the Europa League but again, they fell short at the first time of asking, with Manchester United dispatching them in the knockout round play-off. 


Barcelona are not among the favourites but may well go far thanks to their talented squad


Fresh from securing a third Serie A title last season but losing head coach Luciano Spalletti to a surprise sabbatical, optimism is abound at Napoli. 

Rudi Garcia is the latest man at the helm and he undoubtedly has big shoes to fill, especially given Spalletti’s success on both the domestic and international stages.

But after a summer of changes, Napoli look equipped to fight across multiple fronts once again. Crucially, they have won their opening two league matches this year.

Having gone 33 years without success in the Italian top-flight, they will now set their sights on shaking up the pack in the Champions League, which they have never won.


A striker on the radars of countless clubs worldwide, Osimhen was quick off the mark this campaign and even scored his 100th goal for Napoli last weekend.

His all-round ability provides his side with an invaluable sharp edge up front and this, combined with the talents of those around him, makes for a side easy on the eye.  

The question is whether he is in Naples when the Champions League rolls around. 


Supporters took pride in their willingness to go toe-to-toe with clubs last season.

This approach enabled them to top their group, pipping Liverpool and Ajax, and carried them through the last-16, in which they brushed aside Eintracht Frankfurt.

They fell in the quarter-finals, however, after being bettered by Italian rivals AC Milan.


Napoli went toe-to-toe with their opponents in Europe before losing out to rivals AC Milan

Bayern Munich

They may be dominant in the Bundesliga, despite needing a final day win to clinch the title last season, but Bayern Munich continue to shoot themselves in the foot.  

Julian Nagelsmann, of course, was ruthlessly handing his marching orders in March and replaced by Thomas Tuchel, who has failed to win over demanding matchgoers. He has been criticised for rigid, inflexible displays and questionable tactics.

But regardless, he has a strong squad at his disposal. Harry Kane arrived from Tottenham in a sensational £100m deal and he will slot straight in as their first-choice No 9, flanked by the likes of Jamal Musiala, Serge Gnabry and Leroy Sane.

They have won their first two league matches this season but lost in the DFB-Pokal, with RB Leipzig emerging victorious and marring Kane’s much-awaiting debut. 


With 45 goals to his name in UEFA club competitions, Kane is ready-made for a Champions League charge and was primarily snatched up for this very purpose. 

He will certainly be provided with plenty of chances this season and Tuchel will hope his No 9 can step up again, as he has done time and time again across his career. 

No pressure, then, Harry. 


Despite Bayern cruising through the group stage and easing beyond Paris Saint-Germain in the last-16, Nagelsmann lost his job shortly after.

Tuchel’s first Champions League match at the helm came in a 3-0 quarter-final defeat by Manchester City and from there, there was no way back.


Harry Kane (right) joined Bayern Munich this summer in search of his maiden club trophy

Paris Saint-Germain

The death knell for any PSG manager is failure in the Champions League and Luis Enrique will be under no illusions that the same mountain faces him this season. 

He picked up the baton after Christophe Galtier was dismissed at the end of the last campaign and must find a way to gel Kylian Mbappe and his unruly team-mates into a cohesive band capable of performing as a collective, rather than individuals.

Mbappe will now remain put despite his insistence that he would not sign a new contract, a stance that once again alerted Real Madrid, and they have recruited well.

Indeed, the likes of Ousmane Dembele, Goncalo Ramos, Xavi Simons, Marco Asensio, Milan Skriniar and Manuel Ugarte are shrewd, cost-effective acquisitions. 


Capable of deciding matches single-handedly, such is his otherworldly ability, Mbappe can prove his total commitment this season by firing PSG to European glory.

Infamously, they have never won the competition but a blend of Mbappe and the star-studded forwards dotted about him will surely carry them to the latter stages.


Last year’s efforts ended in disappointment once again.

PSG were dispatched in the last-16 by Bayern Munich and, in truth, failed to mount much of a fight after failing to score across both legs.


Kylian Mbappe will remain at PSG this summer and will be crucial to their silverware ambitions


Under the impressive Roger Schmidt, Benfica won the Primeira Liga and made impressive in-roads in the Champions League, reaching the quarter-finals.

Their form was particularly notable in light of the sheer length of their season, which began in early August in the third qualifying round for the European competition. 

Angel Di Maria returned to the club this summer after leaving Juventus and turning down a multitude of other offers, while Benfica also spent money wisely.

They have been strengthened by the arrivals of Orkun Kokcu, Arthur Cabral and Andrea Schjelderup in particular and will look to impose themselves again this year.


The veteran forward has hit the ground running back in Portugal, having mustered up two goals in his first three league appearances. 

In fact, he has three goals to his name in total this season after also netting in the Supertaca Candido de Oliveira.

Di Maria clearly has much to offer and will be key to Benfica’s future ambitions. 


Forced to reach the group stage the hard way after beating Midtjylland and Dynamo Kyiv in the qualifying and play-off rounds respectively, Benfica were able to finish top of a group also containing PSG and Juventus with a tally of 14 points.

They then beat Club Brugge in the last-16 before valiantly falling short against Inter Milan in the final eight, despite drawing the second leg 3-3 at the San Siro. 


Angel Di Maria has returned to Benfica, his former club, after leaving Juventus this summer


Arne Slot has made no secret of his excitement for this year’s Champions League. 

It is difficult to blame him, too, considering he is the man responsible for leading Feyenoord to the promised land after only their second Eredivisie title in a century.

Slot turned down interest from Tottenham ahead of the new season to remain in place in Holland and he will be targeting yet another shock on the European stage.

They have been reluctant to throw huge sums at players, preferring instead to be frugal in their spending, and currently sit sixth in the league on five points.


Minteh has enjoyed a meteoric rise from humble beginnings in Gambia and joined Newcastle in the Premier League earlier this season before being sent out on loan.

Feyenoord were his destination and he has already caught the eye.

During the recent 6-1 victory over Almere, Minteh carved open the opposition with relative easy and looked every inch the talent that triggered Newcastle into action. 


Slot’s side edged through their Europa League group by the skin of their teeth. Miraculously, each of the four teams finished the stage on exactly eight points.

In the end, Feyenoord progressed as group winners courtesy of goals scored and set up a tie with Shakhtar Donetsk, who they beat 8-2 on aggregate. 

They were knocked out in the quarter-finals by Roma, though.


Feyenoord win only their second Eredivisie title in a century last season and hold big ambitions



After a lengthy six-year wait, Arsenal can finally relish the prospect of competing in the Champions League once again this campaign. 

Having finished second in the Premier League, an agonising feat after their dominance over the division for much of the season, they secured a spot in Pot Two as a result of their UEFA club coefficient, meaning they will face a side from Pot One.

Mikel Arteta will be eager to bring an end to his side’s woes in Europe and has strengthened effectively this summer in a bid to bring about more competition.

Indeed, Declan Rice, Kai Havertz, Jurrien Timber and David Raya are their big-name additions to date, with Rice in particularly an eye-catching poach from West Ham. With a strong squad at his disposal, Arteta is under pressure to perform. 


A winger of Saka’s quality is deserving of plying his trade at the very top of the sport and this season, he will be afforded the opportunity to do just that. 

He extended his contract earlier this year and is clearly targeting the biggest trophies, and he appears ready-made to hassle and harry elite defenders again.

The fluidity of Arsenal’s frontline compliments his audacious style perfectly, though Arteta would do well to ditch his Thomas Partey experiment at right back. 


As a result of their struggles the prior season, Arsenal were banished to the Europa League last campaign and cruised through the group stage.

They were knocked out in the last-16 by Sporting Lisbon, however, after being taken to a penalty shootout at the Emirates Stadium and losing out in dire fashion. 


Arsenal finished second in the Premier League and will look to make an impact in Europe

Real Madrid

The undisputed kings of Europe and footballing royalty, and they will unsurprisingly be among the firm favourites to lift the jug-eared cup again this season.

In the past, when they hit their usual lofty heights, it truly felt like no team could stand in their way. This time, however, a swashbuckling Manchester City topped them on their way to the crown last season and they slumped to second in LaLiga.

By the end of the campaign, Real trailed Barcelona by a whopping 10 points, with their vulnerability and creaking squad composition beginning to shine through.

This may well prove to be Carlo Ancelotti’s final campaign at the helm and one last hurrah in the Champions League would be a fitting farewell for ‘Don Carlo’.


Having earned a deserved mega-money move to the Bernabeu earlier this summer, Bellingham has already integrated himself with the squad to devastating effect.

Even at the tender age of 20, the midfielder has become a leader among men and the primary driving force behind Real’s attacking engine. 

He has scored four goals and racked up an assist in his three LaLiga appearances so far, rendering him the main reason why Real are top of the table at this early stage.


Their run to the semi-finals last year began with Real topping their group stage with 13 points, one point ahead of second-placed RB Leipzig. 

They then powered beyond Liverpool, even humbling them 5-2 on home territory at Anfield, and cruised past Chelsea in the quarter-finals without conceding.

Ultimately, however, Manchester City, the eventual winners, proved a bridge too far. 


Real Madrid are among the favourites again this year despite their struggles last campaign

Manchester United 

Back at the top table after their third-placed finish in the Premier League last season, Manchester United will be hopeful of progressing to the latter stages again.

Just like Arsenal, they will be drawn alongside a difficult opponent from Pot One but will regardless still be among the favourites to make it out of their group.

Erik ten Hag has been able to spend money once again this summer despite United being hamstrung by Financial Fair Play restrictions and disrupted by a takeover saga.

Mason Mount, Rasmus Hojlund and Andre Onana have all arrived for handsome figures so far, but each look ready to propel United into the knockouts. 


The figurehead of a United side that all too regularly blows both hot and cold. 

When Ten Hag’s side have been in need of guidance or divine inspiration, Fernandes has appeared on the scene with a relentless regularity to provide a goal or an assist, and his magic will be crucial in lighting up the Champions League.

Truly, he is an enigma that deserves to perform on the world’s best club competition.


Ten Hag was able to drag United to the Europa League quarter-finals in his first year and the elimination may have even been a welcome break from a packed schedule. 

Their group stage campaign began in horror fashion, though, with a 1-0 defeat by Real Sociedad forcing United to settle for second place by the end of the phase, with overall goal difference seeing the LaLiga outfit leapfrog to the top of the tree.

Subsequently, United were made to contest a knockout round but defeated Barcelona after a 2-1 victory at Old Trafford, Antony scoring a late winner. They then beat Real Betis in the last-16 but were sent packing at the next hurdle by Sevilla.


Manchester United are back in the Champions League in Erik ten Hag’s second campaign

Inter Milan

Simone Inzaghi may have been unable to lead Inter Milan to another Serie A title, but he deserves plenty of credit for building the foundations for future success.

There was a time that he appeared on the brink of the sack last season but he continued to work diligently and these efforts bore fruit in superb fashion, with Inter reaching the Champions League final and losing out after a heroic performance.

This year, they will hope to challenge for the Serie A title, clinch a cup and progress again in Europe, though reaching the final for a second straight year looks difficult. 

Again, they have reinforced smartly and kept the bulk of their squad together.


On target last weekend against Cagliari, the dynamic Martinez has picked up where he left off last season and remains Inter’s most potent goal scoring threat.

He proved to be a thorn in City’s side in last year’s final, with his nickname of ‘The Bull’ making headlines, and was ironically a past target for Pep Guardiola’s side.

With Martinez in top form, there is no limit to Inter’s ambitions.


They pushed City all the way in Istanbul, with Ederson preventing Inter from taking the tie the distance. Romelu Lukaku was also guilty of a number of glaring misses.


Inter striker Lautaro Martinez terrorised City in last year’s Champions League final in Istanbul

Borussia Dortmund

The memories from the dramatic final day showdown in the Bundesliga will surely still haunt Edin Terzic, his players and supporters even to this day. 

Borussia Dortmund held their destiny and the fate of the title race in their hands but squandered it, with their home draw capitalised upon by Bayern Munich. 

Terzic will have emphasised the importance of drawing a line under the saga, however, and another shot in the Champions League will lift spirits somewhat.

They will do so without Jude Bellingham after his switch to Real Madrid but have moved smartly in the transfer market to strengthen key holes in their squad. 


Malen helped spare a disappointing Dortmund’s blushes in their draw at Bochum at the weekend and he will also be expected to deliver the damage in Europe.

Promisingly, he has scored three goals in as many games this season, building on tally of 10 from the last campaign. He was largely made to settle for a bit-part role in the Champions League, though, but will almost certainly lead the line this year.


It has now been a decade since Dortmund reached the Champions League final and lost to Bayern Munich, and their struggles since have been well documented.

This malaise continued last season, despite them qualifying from a tricky group. Indeed, Dortmund were eliminated in the round of 16 by Chelsea.


Dortmund appear to have hit their ceiling in Europe but boast a strong, talented squad

Atletico Madrid

Last season proved to be one of Diego Simeone’s most disappointing at the helm.

They clawed themselves to a third-placed finish in LaLiga despite a mixed first half of the campaign and finished just a point behind city rivals Real Madrid. They fell horribly short in the Copa del Rey and the Champions League, however.

The latter proved a body blow, with their finish at the bottom of a group made up of Porto, Club Brugge and Bayer Leverkusen dropping them out of Europe entirely.

Aside from their opening group game, they failed to win any of their other five matches. Simeone will demand a substantial improvement this time around.


Back at the club that first thrust him into the spotlight, Antoine Griezmann is playing with a smile on his face once again. Historically, a happy Griezmann has been an effective Griezmann, and this only bodes well for Simeone and his team-mates.

The added bonus is the fact he holds years of experience in the Champions League.


Their group stage exit piled the pressure on Simeone, though he was able to save face with the drastic improvements after the knockout. 

Without a doubt, Atletico will be determined to put on a better show this season. 


Atletico Madrid will be desperate to avoid a group stage knockout for the second year in a row

RB Leipzig

Despite looking set to challenge Bayern Munich’s dominance at the top of the Bundesliga, RB Leipzig were once again forced to settle for a spot behind the league champions and also-rans Borussia Dortmund last season.

They enjoyed success in the DFB-Pokal, however, and finished as the runners-up in the DFL-Supercup, proving they can, and will, challenge for domestic trophies.

But Leipzig have struggled to replicate this in Europe, despite enjoying a number of shock past results over some of the Champions League’s heavyweights. This year, they look a formidable unit and will hope to become one of the surprise packages.

Already this season, they have beaten Bayern Munich to clinch silverware and this may bode well for the rest of the campaign under talented boss Marco Rose. 


Olmo was simply majestic in the DFL-Supercup final earlier this month and scored a deserved hat-trick, with two of his goals stemming from his individual brilliance.

He is a tricky playmaker capable of playing a number of positions and has often been the man to make Leipzig tick. Expect the same moving forward this year. 


Despite losing their first two group games to Shakhtar Donetsk and Real Madrid respectively, Leipzig rallied back and recovered to progress in second place. 

Nevertheless, they were sent packing in the first knockout round by Manchester City after their opponents responded to a 1-1 away draw to win 7-0 on home turf.


RB Leipzig held their own in the Champions League before being demolished by Man City


They may have won three separate domestic trophies last season but missing out on the Primeira Liga title will have hurt Porto and head coach Sergio Conceicao.

Led expertly by renowned goal scorer Mehdi Taremi, Porto are a team capable of beating anyone on their day and they have been tipped for success again this year.

While yet to splash the cash despite the transfer deadline rapidly approaching, Conceicao has recruited a handful of promising players with high talent ceilings.

His varied squad holds the potential to go far on several fronts and the Champions League knockout stages will certainly be in their sights over the coming months.


With 31 goals to his name last season, Taremi is Porto’s undisputed talisman. 

Five of those strikes came in the Champions League, underlining his pedigree in Europe, and he will again be crucial to his side’s hopes this campaign.


Porto appear to have found their ceiling in the Champions League in recent years, with the quarter-finals often proving a bridge too far for them.

They were unable to reach the last eight last time out, having topped their group with four wins from six games but then lost out to eventual finalists Inter Milan. 


Portuguese giants Porto have struggled to progress beyond the quarter-finals in recent years


Shakhtar Donetsk

With the war in Ukraine still raging, the Ukrainian Premier League, which remains on track against the odds, continues to provide spectators with welcome relief.

Shakhtar Donetsk are the reigning champions in the division and are currently top of the tree once again, one point clear after their first five games.

Their squad was significantly weakened last summer after a host of their high-profile foreign players moved on, but they have superbly rebuilt their side this year.

Head coach Patrick van Leeuwen, who was appointed earlier this year, has a talented squad at his disposal and he will be targeting an array of shock results in Europe. 


Matvienko progressed through Shakhtar’s youth academy and made his first-team debut in 2016. He has been ever-present and a reliable performer ever since. 

Indeed, he has racked up 169 club appearances to date and also been awarded 52 caps for Ukraine. His leadership and qualities at the back will be crucial.


Shakhtar missed out on qualifying for the Champions League knockout stage after finishing third on six points, behind Real Madrid and RB Leipzig. 

As a result, they were dropped into the Europa League, where they edged beyond Rennes in their knockout round play-off and sealed a spot in the last-16.

Feyenoord dispatched them 8-2 on aggregate, however, courtesy of a 7-1 home win. 


Shakhtar Donetsk, the Ukrainian champions, had finished third in their group last season

Red Bull Salzburg

Powered to the Austrian Bundesliga title last season by top scorer Benjamin Sesko and head coach Matthias Jaissle, it has been a summer of change for Salzburg.

That is because Sesko has departed, having moved to RB Leipzig, while Jaissle, one of the most highly-rated coaches in the game, has taken up Saudi Arabian riches.

Nevertheless, they still resemble a strong, tightly-knit unit this season and will be the favourites for the league title, which they have dominated over the past 20 years.

The likes of Mads Bidstrup and Aleksa Terzic have arrived from Brentford and Fiorentina respectively, and Gerhard Struber has been hired as Jaissle’s successor.


The young forward is poised to enjoy a stellar breakthrough season this year and has scored four goals in as many appearances in the Bundesliga to date.

His loan spell at lower league Liefering looks invaluable and Konate has returned to his parent club a fitter, stronger hitman ready to burst into the spotlight. 


It was an underwhelming season in Europe for Salzburg. 

They failed to progress through their Champions League group after finishing third and were knocked out in the Europa League knockout play-offs by Roma. 


After a summer of change, Red Bull Salzburg will target an improved campaign in Europe

AC Milan 

Despite reaching the semi-finals of the Champions League, last season petered out into a mild disappointment for AC Milan and boss Stefano Pioli.

The previous campaign saw them scale the heights of Serie A and win their 19th league title, their first since 2011, but they were unable to build on their success.

A year on, they finished fourth domestically, six points clear of fifth, lost in the Supercoppa Italiana final and were dumped out in the last 16 of the Coppa Italia.

Piolo does appear to have now steadied the ship and, despite Sandro Tonali to Newcastle, lured the likes of Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Christian Pulisic to Milan.


Leao has picked up the baton from last season as Milan’s best player and his goal tally will play a big role in determining what the club achieves this year.

His contract was extended last June until 2018, a signal of his commitment to the Italian giants, and when Leao is purring in top form, so are his team-mates.


Milan reached the final four of the Champions League but were eventually knocked out by fierce rivals Inter Milan after failing to score across both legs.

They progressed from their group in second place before delivering a defensive masterclass to beat Tottenham 1-0 on aggregate, courtesy of a narrow home win.

In the quarter-finals, they then dispatched Napoli. 


Spearheaded by the evergreen Olivier Giroud, AC Milan reached last year’s semi-finals


It would be fair to say that Maurizio Sarri has settled nicely into his surroundings at Lazio after his rocky rollercoaster journeys with Chelsea and Juventus.

The club are sufficiently ambitious to match his vision for the future and his squad are hungry, making them open to his demanding tactical instructions.

Last season, they were the closest challenger to Serie A champions Napoli and were hopeful of transferring this to their Europa League adventure.

But they were unable to do that, leading to an ultimately mixed season.


What a storied career this man has had. 

He has bounced from one to Serie A club to the next, with Borussia Dortmund and Sevilla rare exceptions, and cemented his spot as a true Lazio great.


Sarri would have been bitterly disappointed with his side’s exploits in Europe. 

After all, Lazio dropped into the Conference League after finishing third in their Europa League group and were eliminated in the last-16 by AZ Alkmaar. 


Lazio and Maurizio Sarri would have been disappointed with their recent exploits abroad

Red Star Belgrade

Serbian heavyweights Red Star Belgrade are once again right in the thick of the action at Europe’s top table, exactly where a club of their stature should be.

They sealed a spot in the Champions League after being crowned champions of the SuperLiga, their sixth consecutive league title, and did so in style.

Now with Barak Bakhar in charge, with Dejan Stankovic and Milos Milojevic having departed in recent years, Red Star will hope to spring some seismic shocks.

Widely understood to be the most popular team in Serbia, Red Star possess a talented squad and look equipped to hold their own in the group stage.


Five matches, five goals. What more could you want? 

Krasso joined the club on a free transfer earlier this summer and has hit the ground running. He boasts previous experience in Ligue 1 with Saint-Etienne.


Red Star failed to qualify for the Champions League group phase after losing to Maccabi Haifi in the play-offs, which forced them to settle for the Europa League.

However, they finished bottom of their group, ending their European adventure. 


Red Star Belgrade are among the pack of clubs hoping to spring Champions League shocks


Another club that endured a mixed campaign last time out, Braga will be among the group of underdogs hoping to valiantly punch above their weight this year. 

They finished third in the Primeira Liga last season and mounted charges in the Taca de Portugal and Taca da Liga. They had little to show for these efforts, however.

In theory, a visit to the Estadio Municipal de Braga will be a daunting prospect for clubs in the group stage, rendering them a potential banana skin this campaign. 

They began the season with a win and a defeat in their opening two league games.


The silky midfielder opted to make the switch from Wolves back to homeland this summer, having initially been close to sealing a comeback at former club Porto.

His metronomic ability is easy on the eye and he boasts years of experience at the very top of the sport, which may prove invaluable for Braga this season.


Braga were dumped out in the Europa League group stage after finishing third in their group behind Union Berlin and table toppers Union Saint-Gilloise.

That pushed them into the Conference League play-off phase, but a humbling 7-2 aggregate defeat to Fiorentina meant they could progress no further. 


Braga are back in the Champions League but the step up may prove a bridge too far for them

PSV Eindhoven 

It is 35 years since PSV won the European Cup with a penalty shootout victory over Benfica in 1988.

But this marks the first time they have made the knockout stages of the tournament since the 2018-19 campaign.

The Dutch side knocked out Rangers in the play-off stage thanks to a 5-1 second-leg win, ending Scottish hopes of having two teams at this stage of the tournament. 

Despite losing Cody Gakpo and Noni Madueke in January to Liverpool and Chelsea respectively, PSV will be hoping that they have enough to cause a shock and reach the last-16 of the tournament for the first time since the 2015-16 campaign.


There are big hopes for the Dutch winger who has arrived from Club Brugge for a club record fee worth around £12m.

The 24-year-old, who has also played for Ajax, will be a threat to opposing full-backs in the Champions League.


Reached the play-off stage of last season’s Europa League, where they lost to eventual winners Sevilla with a 3-2 aggregate loss.

Ironically, they had dropped into the Europa League after a play-off loss to Rangers – who they beat at the same stage this season. 


PSV Eindhoven knocked Rangers out of the competition to reach the group stage


The Danish champions are back in the Champions League for the second season in a row and will be hoping to get a win in the groups unlike last season.

They have had a busy route to get this far with two-legged ties against Icelandic side Brieoablik, Sparta Prague and Polish side Rakow Czestochowa.

Their tie with Sparta Prague was particularly tough – only advancing via a penalty shootout.

Having competed in the group stage last season, they will be hope to use that experience to their favour this time around – though a better draw would help. 


A summer addition at Copenhagen after playing 37 games in all competitions last season for relegated Southampton.

He started the second-leg of their knockout victory to get to the group stage, and the Danish side will be hoping he can add to the goals – despite netting just for Southampton in 2022-23. 


The Danish champions will be hoping for a more favourable draw than the one they received last season.

They were placed in a group with eventual Champions League winners Man City, Europa League winners Sevilla and Borussia Dortmund.

The Danes conceded 11 goals without scoring in the away fixtures, but did well to hold all three of their opposition to draws at home.


Copenhagen played three qualifying rounds to get to the groups – including a penalty shootout win over Sparta Prague 



For the first time in two decades, the hallowed Champions League anthem will ring out around St James’ Park this season. It is a tantalising prospect for supporters.

Indeed, not since the glory days of Sir Bobby Robson and Alan Shearer have Newcastle qualified for the most elite club competition in world football. 

But thanks to the stellar coaching of Eddie Howe and his superb squad, the Magpies will compete in Europe once again under the floodlights, starting from next month.

They look more than capable of holding their own, too, with Sandro Tonali, Harvey Barnes, Lewis Hill and Tino Livramento bolstering Howe’s group this summer.


Guimaraes did not take long to cement himself as a Tyneside hero after arriving from Lyon last year and he remains firmly at the heart of Howe’s sprawling project.

He is an all-round package, capable of dictating the pace of games and injecting life into listing attacks. In short, he is a Champions League quality midfielder. 


Newcastle last played in a European competition in the 2012-13 season under Alan Pardew (yes, him) and reached the quarter-finals of the Europa League. 

They edged through their group in second before dispatching Metalist Kharkiv and Anzhi Makhachkala in the round of 32 and 16 respectively. 

Benfica emerged victorious in the final eight, winning 4-2 on aggregate. 


For the first time in two decades, Newcastle will play Champions League football this season

Union Berlin 

Nobody expected this, let alone the most diehard of Union Berlin matchgoers. 

After finishing fourth in the Bundesliga last season, following years of gradual progression up the German top-flight, Union qualified for the Champions League.

The achievement is the very first of its kind in their history, reflecting the superb work of boss Urs Fischer, and already preparations for the tournament are underway. 

It has been confirmed that Union, who typically play at the 22,000 capacity Stadion An der Alten Forsterei, will host European matches at Berlin’s Olympiastadion.


Marauding wing back Gosens joined from Inter Milan for a fee of just over £10m.

He was also wanted by Bournemouth but settled upon a move to Germany, his homeland, and will play a prominent role in aiding and leading Union’s attacks. 


Union reached the last-16 of the Europa League last season. After qualifying in second in their group, ahead of Braga, they were drawn against Ajax.

A goalless draw in Holland set the stage for a grand performance back at home and Union certainly delivered with a 3-1 victory that pushed them into the next round.

There, however, they were knocked out by Union Saint-Gilloise. 


History makers Union Berlin finished fourth in the Bundesliga and are in the hat for the draw


It is exceeding difficult to shake up the order in Ligue 1 – unless you’re Lens, that is.

Just three years ago, they were in Ligue 2 and dreaming of a fairytale. Last season, though, they snatched it with both hands and finished second in Ligue 1.

That, of course, secured them a spot in the Champions League and the 3-0 win over Ajaccio that sealed their success was greeted with the competition’s anthem.

Fittingly, Lens have remained true to their mining heritage and they are a club firmly embedded into their local community. Their taste of glory is richly merited.


Striker Wahi joined on a five-year contract from Ligue 1 rivals Montpellier and looks the perfect replacement for Lois Openda, who has left for RB Leipzig.

Wahi had also been linked with the likes of Chelsea and West Ham off the back of his impressive displays last season, in which he scored 19 goals in 33 league outings.


Lens last featured in Europe during the 2007-08 season, in the UEFA Cup. 

They progressed through several qualifying rounds to reach the first round but could move no further, resulting in them crashing out at an early hurdle.


Lens last competed in Europe in 2007-08 but finished second only to PSG last season

Real Sociedad 

A superb 2022-23 campaign that saw Real Sociedad finish fourth in LaLiga clinched a spot in the Champions League for the first time since 2013-14.

In fact, since the European Cup was reborn in its current format in 1992, Sociedad have qualified just twice – the other achievement coming in 2003-04.

This time around, there was no play-off required. Instead, they are safe in the knowledge that they can now mount a real challenge in the group stage.

Sociedad will prove a tough opponent for anyone, owing to the defensive solidity of Imanol Alguacil’s system and their potent creativity in the forward areas.


A fully-fledged Spain international, Oyarzabal is a one-club man. He has made over 280 appearances for Sociedad and scored more than 80 goals during his rich stint.  

His international debut arrived in 2016 and he has not looked back since for either club or country. He will again be the main driving force behind Sociedad this year.


Sociedad were able to top their Europa League group ahead of Manchester United last season and even emerged 1-0 victors at Old Trafford in their opening game. 

They were paired with Roma in the next round, though, and lost 2-0 on aggregate. 


Real Sociedad topped their Europa League group ahead of Manchester United last campaign


It proved impossible for Celtic to keep hold of the much-fancied Ange Postecoglou after their sensational Treble last season, with Tottenham luring him this summer. 

Courtesy of their Scottish Premiership victory, which saw them finish seven points ahead of Rangers, Celtic once again reached the Champions League group phase.

But they will step into the competition with a new man, albeit one with a familiar face, at the helm – with Brendan Rodgers back in charge for his second spell.

Celtic have again splashed out on an array of exciting additions to strengthen Rodgers’ hand and they will now want to make a belated mark on European football. 


Furuhashi may have been blunted somewhat by an uninspired Celtic frontline this season, but there is no denying his quality. He is by far and away their best threat. 

Postecoglou, who brought him to the club, deployed him as a lone striker to good effect, though Rodgers looks to have tweaked his role to place him in the build-up.


Placed in a nightmare group also containing Real Madrid, RB Leipzig and Shakhtar Donetsk, Celtic were sent packing at the first stage of the Champions League. 

They mustered draws with Shakhtar but lost the rest of their matches, often comfortably, which prevented them from snatching a Europa League spot.


Celtic will step into the Champions League with Brendan Rodgers back in charge once again


Last season may have seen Galatasaray lift their 24th Super Lig title, but their recent history suggests reigning over in the Turkish top-flight is anything but plain sailing. 

They were forced to wait four years between their last two triumphs, with several of their rivals usurping them during their period of turbulence and disappointment.

Under Okan Buruk’s steady hand, though, Galatasaray have been revitalised. Nonetheless, they were made to qualify for the Champions League the hard way.

They progressed through three separate qualifying rounds, beating Zalgiris, Olimpija Ljubljana and Molde along the way, to officially place their name in the hat. 


Make yourself at home, why don’t you? Mertens has historically taken to life in Europe in his stride and against Zalgiris this year, he scored a stunning volley.

He has been linked with a return to Italy but will be crucial should he stay. 


Galatasaray last played in Europe in the 2021-22 season and finished on top of their Europa League group, having remained unbeaten and won three of their games.

They were knocked out in the last-16 by Barcelona, despite scrapping in both legs. 


Galatasaray shook off recent years of disappointment to crown themselves Super Lig kings

Young Boys

The Swiss side are back in the Champions League after a season away, after finishing 16 points clear of the competition to win their domestic title.

Though they are a side the top teams in the competition would like to be drawn against, they have pulled out some big results in the recent past.

They beat Italian giants Juventus in the group stage back in 2018 and then picked up a famous 2-1 victory against Manchester United three years later. 

The Swiss side eased into the group stage after a 3-0 aggregate play-off victory over Maccabi Haifa.


The Swiss attacker scored 23 goals in 39 appearances across all competitions last season, and has started this campaign off strongly too.

He has been linked with a move back to Rangers this summer, despite scoring just five times in 33 games before leaving in the summer of 2022 for Young Boys. 


Were dumped out at the play-off stage of last season’s Europa League, losing to Belgian side Anderlecht on penalties. 

Picked up just one win the last time they reached the group stage in the Champions League – that famous 2-1 victory against Man United during Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s final months at the club. 


Young Boys beat Manchester United the last season they qualified for the Champions League

Royal Antwerp

The Belgian side have made the group stage for the first time in their history.

It is just their second time in Europe’s most prestigious competition with their one and only previous participation coming in 1958 when they suffered an 8-1 aggregate defeat to Real Madrid in the first round.

Following a 1-1 draw at home against AEK Athens, many expected the Greek side to make the group stage.

However, two goals in the final 20 minutes saw Antwerp reach the group stage. 

They will be the biggest underdogs in their group, regardless of who they draw, but it is an experience they will relish and one they hope will be the first of many trips to the Champions League.

ONE TO WATCH – Vincent Janssen

A player who Tottenham fans will be familiar with after his tough spell at the Premier League club from 2016 to 2019.

He netted just six goals for Tottenham but he has been a success at Royal Antwerp where he scored 21 goals in all competitions last season.


They played in the Europa Conference League during the 2022-23 campaign.

After getting past the first two qualifying rounds, they crashed out in the play-offs with a 4-2 loss to Istanbul Basaksehir. Their best European performance was in the 1992-93 season where they were beaten in the European Cup Winners Cup by Parma.


Royal Antwerp have made the group stage of the Champions League for the first time


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