Champions League football returns, Messi and Ronaldo absent

Champions League football returns, Messi and Ronaldo absent

Manchester City begins the defense of their Champions League title as the group stage begins this week.

Arsenal, Manchester United and Newcastle from the Premier League join Pep Guardiola’s side. The Magpies are making their return after a 20-year absence.

Scottish champions Celtic are playing in the group stage for the second successive season.

Here’s all the key information about the 2023-24 Champions League.

Newcastle was placed in the challenging Group F with the likes of the French champion Paris St. Germain, the Italian powerhouse AC Milan, and the former Champions League champion Borussia Dortmund.

With games against RB Leipzig, Red Star Belgrade, and Young Boys, City will be confident that they can easily advance from Group G.

Celtic have what appears on paper to be a favourable group featuring Feyenoord, Atletico Madrid and Lazio.

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The obvious concern for United are German giants Bayern Munich. But, with FC Copenhagen and Galatasaray also in Group A, United will feel they have enough to go through.

Arsenal are up against Europa League winners Sevilla, PSV Eindhoven and Lens.

For years, the prospect of seeing Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi on European club football’s greatest stage was a given, but neither will feature in this season’s Champions League.

Ronaldo was one of the first big names to move to Saudi Arabia – he plays for Al Nassr – while Messi is in the United States with Inter Miami.

They are not the only two absentees, Brazil forward Neymar and France striker Karim Benzema having joined Ronaldo in the Saudi Pro League. They are with Al Hilal and Al-Ittihad respectively.

This will be the last season of the existing format – 32 teams in the group phase, split up into eight groups of four, and the top two going to the last 16 – with widespread changes coming in for 2024-25.

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