Europe’s biggest club football competition is about to get truly under way after the Thursday announcement of the UEFA Champions League groups.
While Group H will certainly be considered the “group of death” (Tottenham drawing Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid is going to be tough for Spurs, and awesome for spectators), there are some tantalizing matchups all across the draw. Here are the clashes you should certainly make time for:
Bayern Munich v. Paris Saint-Germain
Football’s list of superteams is short, but Bayern Munich is at the top of it. The five-time defending Bundesliga champions added former Real Madrid winger James Rodríguez to an already-loaded roster, and turned Kingsley Coman’s loan into a permanent transfer. If Munich is the old guard, PSG is the new kid on the block. Since its purchase by Qatar Sports Investments in 2011, the club has won all but two Ligue 1 titles, and made four Champions League quarterfinals. Newly crowned King of France Neymar has been having fun since moving to Paris. He scored and assisted in his opening game with PSG, then followed that up with a beatdown of Toulouse, during which he embarrassed a defender so badly that he was nearly taken to ground, and then did this:
The last time Bayern faced PSG, the two clubs squared off in the Champions League and the Munich side won 2-0 on their way to the 2001 European title. Sixteen years later, PSG—possibly with an additional splashy transfer—look to get their revenge.
Juventus v. Barcelona
Since losing one prong of their holy trinity of attackers, Barcelona have looked like a team in crisis. With no obvious replacement for Neymar in-house, the Catalan giants have been linked to Liverpool midfielder Philippe Coutinho, and the young Borussia Dortmund forward Ousmane Dembélé.
Last season, Juventus knocked Barcelona out of the competition in the quarterfinal, winning 3-0 on aggregate, before losing to Real Madrid in the final. Over the summer, the old lady of Italian football added former PSG midfielder Blaise Matuidi, and brought in Douglas Costa on loan from Bayern Munich. Winning the Serie A title is expected of Juventus, and these moves were likely made to help them challenge for European glory. If that’s to happen, though, they’ll have to get through Barcelona—one of only five teams with five or more wins.
Chelsea v. Atlético Madrid
Group C finds a matchup of Atlético Madrid and N’Golo Kanté, the most Atlético Madrid player in the world. As The Ringer’s Micah Peters said on this week’s Ringer FC podcast, Chelsea can be dominant for 15 minutes, and rely on their discipline to play bend-don’t-break defense for the next 75. That sounds a lot like Atlético’s game plan. Something has to give.
Chelsea was the last Premier League club to win the Champions League, taking down Bayern Munich in 2012. In the time since, they’ve moved past the second round only once, making the semifinal in 2014. Atlético Madrid’s defensive-minded tactics make up for their talent disadvantage against the world’s best clubs, and under Diego Simeone, they’ve made the Champions League final twice, losing both to crosstown rival Real Madrid. Atlético knocked Chelsea out in that 2014 semifinal, and if they want to control their fate when knockout stages are drawn, they’ll need to do it again.
Manchester City v. Napoli
These are the two most exciting attacking teams in Europe. City are guided by Pep Guardiola and feature Sergio Agüero, David Silva, and Kevin De Bruyne, but Napoli aren’t too shabby either.
Napoli — How to play out of trouble. pic.twitter.com/1dOdvG6uwj— Alex McGovern (@amcgovern25) May 7, 2017
The last time these two teams were placed against one another was during the 2011-12 edition of the tournament, with Napoli advancing on the final day of group play. City beat Bayern Munich 2-0, but Napoli topped Villarreal, and the English side were eliminated from the tournament, falling just one point short of second place. So the blue side of Manchester will be looking for a little revenge.