Liverpool became the first English club to reach the final of the Champions League since 2012 last season. Jurgen Klopp’s men may have lost 3-1 to Real Madrid in Kyiv, but they surpassed expectations by reaching the showpiece event in what was a promising season for Premier League teams in European football’s foremost competition.
Manchester City will have been disappointed to exit the tournament at the quarter-final stage, but it was a domestic opponent – Liverpool – who knocked them out. Tottenham Hotspur were eliminated in the round of 16, meanwhile, but they were probably the better team against Juventus over two legs and did brilliantly to finish ahead of Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund in the group phase. Manchester United’s defeat by Sevilla in the first knockout round was undoubtedly a failure, but Premier League sides’ prospects of continental glory have clearly grown in the last couple of seasons.
Manchester City are the bookmakers’ favourites to lift the famous trophy in 2018/19, and it would not be a surprise if they amassed maximum points in Group F, where Lyon, Hoffenheim and Shakhtar Donetsk await. Only Zinedine Zidane, Carlo Ancelotti and Bob Paisley have won the Champions League more often than Pep Guardiola, although the Catalan has not reached a final since leading Barcelona to the prize for the second time in 2011. There have, moreover, been some comprehensive defeats in that time, including Bayern Munich’s 5-0 aggregate loss to Real Madrid in 2013/14 and City’s 5-1 reverse over two legs against Liverpool last time out.
The Reds will be aiming to go one better than they managed in 2017/18, but Klopp will not yet be looking beyond the group stage after a tough draw. Paris Saint-Germain have continually fallen short in Europe in recent years but still possess an extraordinary array of talent right across the pitch, so it is not hard to see why they are favourites to finish first in Group C. And while Red Star Belgrade are arguably the weakest team of the 32 still standing, Napoli will have designs on advancing to the knockout phase.
There is an argument, though, that Liverpool are actually better suited to facing teams who will come onto them – which is exactly what Thomas Tuchel’s PSG and Carlo Ancelotti’s Napoli are likely to do. The Reds blew several opponents away in the Champions League with their hard-running, heavy-pressing style last campaign, and we can expect to see more of the same from Klopp’s charges this time around.
Manchester United were also handed a tricky draw in the group stage, which will see Cristiano Ronaldo return to Old Trafford as a Juventus player for the first time. The Bianconeri are third-favourites to win the competition and should have too much for the Red Devils, while Valencia – if not Young Boys – may fancy their chances of upsetting the odds and finishing in the top two. Much will depend on whether or not things settle down for Jose Mourinho and co. in the next few weeks, but United could be vulnerable to an early exit if the situation at Old Trafford unravels further.
Having been forced to do battle with Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund before Christmas last season, Tottenham would have been hoping for a kinder draw in 2018/19. They were not given one, however, with Mauricio Pochettino’s men pitted against Barcelona, Inter and PSV in Group B. Spurs have made tremendous progress under the Argentinian and should not fear any of their first-round opponents, but the double-header with Inter – the first game of which takes place at San Siro next Tuesday – looks like being hugely significant.