• Manchester City drawn with Shakhtar, Chelsea face Ajax
• PSG take on Real Madrid, Barça drawn with Dortmund and Inter
Jürgen Klopp had claimed another season of English dominance in Europe was unlikely but in private the draw for the Champions League group stage may prompt a rethink. Liverpool and Manchester City landed inviting groups in Monaco while Tottenham and Chelsea, though facing more awkward assignments, will be confident of continuing Premier League progress through the European elite.
Bayern Munich pose the greatest threat to Spurs’ hopes of building on last season’s thrilling run to the final, on paper at least. But they are the only club ranked in Uefa’s top 14 that an English club will face in the group phase.
Mauricio Pochettino’s side also face two hostile trips to Olympiakos and Red Star Belgrade, who defeated Liverpool in Serbia last season, but a glance at Group F confirms it could have been worse. Barcelona, Borussia Dortmund, Antonio Conte’s new-look Internazionale plus Slavia Prague comprise the toughest set. Juventus, Atlético Madrid and Bayer Leverkusen, in Group D alongside Lokomotiv Moscow, will beg to differ.
Liverpool’s defence of their sixth European crown contains a familiar foe in Napoli, plus two domestic champions in Red Bull Salzburg and Genk. The holders were beaten in Naples in last year’s group stage but pipped Carlo Ancelotti’s team to a place in the last 16 in the final game. Mohamed Salah struck the decisive goal at Anfield while Alisson Becker’s stoppage time save from Arkadiusz Milik proved the difference between elimination and, ultimately, glory.
Alisson was named the goalkeeper of the year at the drawn-out ceremony. His teammate Virgil van Dijk won both the defender of the year and the men’s player of the year awards, beating Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi to the latter honour.
“It’s been a long road but it is part of who I am,” the Liverpool defender said in Monaco. “I needed it like this. I had to work hard every step of the way and I am proud about that.”
Van Dijk added that Liverpool will “fight” to retain their crown as they attempt to reach a hat-trick of Champions League finals. They have the extra incentive of this season’s final being held at the Ataturk Stadium in Istanbul, scene of their unforgettable 2005 triumph.
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Champions League glory has eluded Pep Guardiola since the second of his two managerial titles with Barcelona in 2011. Having been left on his knees by VAR last season, when it ruled out Raheem Sterling’s stoppage time goal against Spurs in that epic quarter-final, taking dreams of a historic quadruple with it, the City manager was given the lift of an inviting start to this season’s competition against Shakhtar Donetsk, Dinamo Zagreb and the first-time qualifiers Atalanta.
One concern for City will be the travel involved, with Shakhtar forced to play their home matches in Kharkiv as a consequence of the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
Frank Lampard’s introduction to European management could have been easier than a group containing last season’s surprise semi-finalists Ajax – a team since weakened by the departures of Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs de Ligt – alongside Valencia and Lille. De Jong was named midfielder of the year and Messi, his new team-mate at Barcelona, took home the forward of the year award for a fifth time. The England and Lyon defender Luzy Bronze was named the women’s player of the year.
Groups in full
Group A: Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid, Club Brugge, Galatasaray
Group B: Bayern Munich, Tottenham, Olympiakos, Red Star Belgrade
Group C: Manchester City, Shakhtar Donetsk, Dinamo Zagreb, Atalanta
Group D: Juventus, Atlético Madrid, Bayer Leverkusen, Lokomotiv Moscow
Group E: Liverpool, Napoli, RB Salzburg, Genk
Group F: Barcelona, Borussia Dortmund, Internazionale, Slavia Prague
Group G: Zenit St Petersburg, Benfica, Lyon, RB Leipzig
Group H: Chelsea, Ajax, Valencia, Lille
Source: The Guardian