All against the king of Europe

Real Madrid players celebrate winning the Champions League against Liverpool in Paris. / Paul Ellis (AFP)

Route to Istanbul

Manchester City, Bayern, Liverpool, PSG and Barça start as the main candidates to dethrone Real Madrid in a Champions League that returns to the scene on Tuesday

Oscar Bellot

Three months and six days after Real Madrid
raised the Fourteenth in Paris at the end of a vibrant final in which football overcame the organizational chaos experienced in the French capital, the Champions League will raise the curtain this Tuesday on a new fast-paced edition in which the superpowers of the continent, reinforced by the blow of checkbook, aspire to dethrone the king of Europe. Manchester City, Bayern Munich, Liverpool and PSG, without forgetting the reborn Barça driven by the levers and an Atlético that does not give up in its efforts to lift a title that resists it, despite having touched it with the fingertips even in three times, they are emerging as the main threats for a team that was crowned last year after starring in an epic that further fueled the legend of its indomitable spirit.

Still galvanized by the memory of those epic comebacks that shaped the most magical Champions League in history, the champion, who has started the season like a shot, will begin the defense of his title on Tuesday by taking on Celtic in Glasgow in the first match of a group apparently devoid of mines where the main stumbling block is represented by the daring but permissive Leipzig and in which a Shakhtar very weakened by the war in Ukraine will raise the flag of pride to try to escape being considered a theoretical guest of stone.

With such competition, Real Madrid is forced to exercise an almost tyrannical dominance in the first phase that reinforces its condition as a rival to beat and increases the intimidation capacity of a squad that the signings undertaken in the last two campaigns have placed in the vanguard of a football increasingly dependent on physical power.

The theoretically flat path that awaits Real Madrid contrasts with the steep terrain that Barça will have to cover as a result of a draw that summoned it, from the outset, with Bayern and Inter. The magnitude of the challenge represented by facing the German colossus and the always thorny team from Lombardy compromises Xavi's team, which cannot afford to fail on Wednesday against Viktoria Pilsen at a Camp Nou eager to enjoy great European nights again , after the valley of tears experienced the previous campaign.

Now, with Robert Lewandowski as the flagship, the Catalans have a license to dream of the 'orejona', who they haven't kissed since 2015, then with Messi as a reference and Xavi still in the engine room. The Polish striker will fuel the morbidity in the double duel with the Teutonic champion who, after being eliminated the previous year at the hands of Villarreal in the quarterfinals, hopes to return to his ranks after incorporating into his ranks stars of the caliber of Matthijs de Ligt, Ryan Gravenberch or Sadio Mané, despite the fact that his hesitant start in the Bundesliga casts doubt.

The best standing of the lottery came out an Atlético that will begin its new assault on the Champions League by challenging an old acquaintance like Porto on Wednesday at the Metropolitan. Same scenario and same rival against which Simeone's hosts tackled, twelve months ago, a trip that ended in April, when Manchester City knocked out the rojiblancos in a disputed quarterfinal tie that left pending quarrels with the 'sky blues ' on account of those statements by Pep Guardiola alluding to "prehistory" to make the mattress approach ugly.

The dragons are, a priori, the most ulcerous rival that a team that has won fang with the return of Morata and hopes to grow with the best version of Joao Félix, but that should not be neglected neither with a Bayer Leverkusen that, despite the injury of the outstanding Florian Wirtz and his weak start to the season in Germany, has enough wickers to put Cholo's troops in a bind, nor with a Bruges that is not an expert in sweet either .

Poisoned, the premiere is presented for a Seville on fire. The lousy league start has placed Julen Lopetegui between a rock and a hard place. Sánchez Pizjuán asks for blood for the poor results and in that delicate situation a devastating Manchester City will land on Tuesday in Nervión. With the signing of Erling Haaland, Pep Guardiola finally has the long-awaited predator of the area that should propel the Mancunians to the top of the continent. The sky-blue team has an almost infinite offensive arsenal that makes them, with the permission of Real Madrid, the most solid candidate and a formidable opponent for a Sevilla destined to play second place in a group in which the Copenhagen starts as a troupe.

Beyond the four groups of the Spanish teams, many eyes will focus on PSG's umpteenth attempt to break the runner-up ceiling that the Parisian team reached in 2020, whose trident of bells will open the pomp by receiving Juventus on Tuesday at the Princes Park. Or in the purpose of revenge for Liverpool, who after succumbing to Real Madrid in the City of Light, faces a demanding first phase with two good swords in Naples and Ajax, in addition to the return to the top continental competition of the historic Glasgow Rangers, that will test the scope of their expectations, after a grayish uncorking of the course in the Premier.

Calendar of the Spanish in the group stage:

Day 1 (6/7 September)

Celtic-Real Madrid

Seville-Manchester City

Barcelona-Viktoria Plzen

Atlético-Porto

Matchday 2 (September 13/14)

Bayern-Barcelona

Bayer Leverkusen-Atletico

Real Madrid-Leipzig

Copenhagen-Seville

Matchday 3 (October 4/5)

Inter-Barcelona

Bruges-Atletico

Real Madrid vs Shakhtar

Seville-Borussia Dortmund

Matchday 4 (October 11/12)

Shakhtar-Real Madrid

Borussia Dortmund-Seville

Barcelona-Inter

Atlético-Bruges

Matchday 5 (October 25/26)

Leipzig-Real Madrid

Seville-Copenhagen

Barcelona-Bayern

Atlético-Bayer Leverkusen

Matchday 6 (1/2 November)

Viktoria Plzen-Barcelona

Porto-Athletic

Real Madrid-Celtic

Manchester City-Seville

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