Champions League draw: Messi's PSG to face Man City, Man Utd eye Villarreal revenge

By Sports Desk August 26, 2021

Pep Guardiola and Lionel Messi will go up against each other in the Champions League after Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain were drawn into the same group.

Messi and Guardiola enjoyed a close relationship during their time together at Barcelona, but for the first time they will meet with neither of them representing the Catalans.

Six-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi left Barca at the end of June when his contract expired, and while he was expected to sign on with them again, the Blaugrana's hands were tied due to financial restrictions.

As such, Messi was swiftly snapped up by PSG despite previous links with City and a potential Guardiola reunion.

Another narrative could yet enter the conversation with respect to City versus PSG, as Juventus forward Cristiano Ronaldo – Messi's long-time rival – has been strongly with a move to the Etihad Stadium.

If Ronaldo does not leave Juve, he will go up against the holders Chelsea – who beat City in last season's final – in Group H.

There will be a repeat of the 2020-21 Europa League final in Group F as Manchester United have been offered the opportunity for revenge against Villarreal, who defeated Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's men in a remarkable penalty shoot-out in Belfast at the end of May.

Three of Spain's other representatives have tough groups to contend with: Barcelona were drawn with Bayern Munich, Benfica and Dynamo Kiev; Real Madrid will again face Inter and Shakhtar Donetsk as they did in 2020-21; and Atletico Madrid must go up against Liverpool, Porto and Milan.

Sevilla, on the other hand, are in the seemingly even Group G with Ligue 1 winners Lille, Salzburg and Wolfsburg, the latter of whom are back in the competition for only the third time.

First-time qualifiers Sheriff of Moldova joined Madrid, Inter and Shakhtar in Group D.

 

Group A: Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain, RB Leipzig, Club Brugge

Group B: Atletico Madrid, Liverpool, Porto, Milan

Group C: Sporting CP, Borussia Dortmund, Ajax, Besiktas

Group D: Inter, Real Madrid, Shakhtar Donetsk, Sheriff

Group E: Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Benfica, Dynamo Kiev

Group F: Villarreal, Manchester United, Atalanta, Young Boys

Group G: Lille, Sevilla, Salzburg, Wolfsburg

Group H: Chelsea, Juventus, Zenit, Malmo

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    Yes, transfers.

    While the 63-year-old is only set to be in the dugout until the end of the season, his deal includes a further two years in a "consultancy" role, meaning he will presumably have a say on comings and goings at Old Trafford for the foreseeable future.

    As well as showing his qualities as a coach and tactician during his career, Rangnick has also shown himself to be adept at identifying and recruiting talent, scouting the likes of Joshua Kimmich, Sadio Mane and Erling Haaland over the years.

    While funds have been readily spent by United in recent times, it seems clear that the current squad needs more adding to it if they are to trouble their rivals for Premier League and Champions League glory any time soon.

    Using Opta data, Stats Perform has taken a look at five players who may be near the top of Rangnick's wish-list over the next few transfer windows.

     

    Gleison Bremer (Torino)

    The Brazilian centre back has predominantly been linked with other clubs, including Liverpool, but his ability to win the ball high up the field as well as make interceptions regularly could make him an attractive prospect for Rangnick's pressing style.

    Bremer has the most interceptions for a defender in the top five European leagues this season (51), and since the start of last season has made 121, which is almost twice as many as Harry Maguire (68) from just one more game played.

    The 24-year-old has also won possession in the middle-third of the pitch (127) more often than any of United's current centre back options (Maguire 85, Victor Lindelof 78, Raphael Varane 62), which is something the new boss will likely be demanding of his players.

     

    Aurelien Tchouameni (Monaco)

    Despite their pre-season spending, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was unable to cross a defensive midfielder off his shopping list, with poor Scott McTominay and Fred continuing to be castigated by fans and pundits for not being Declan Rice.

    Someone else who isn't Declan Rice is Tchouameni. The Monaco midfielder has been linked with a move to the Premier League for a couple of years now, and this could be the ideal club at the ideal time.

    Of players to have played at least 40 games, only three midfielders in the top five European leagues have won possession in the middle third more often since the start of last season, while only five have made more interceptions, and only Frenkie de Jong (64.36) has a higher duel success percentage than his 62.06.

    During his time recruiting for Red Bull Salzburg and Leipzig, Rangnick primarily focused on young players who can grow in the immediate term. Tchouameni turns 22 in January, and with Monaco missing out on Champions League football after losing in qualifying in August, they may be tempted to cash in on their star sooner rather than later.

     

    Amadou Haidara (RB Leipzig)

    it was always inevitable that United would be linked with Leipzig players, so here's the first of two.

    The new United boss will no doubt be familiar with Haidara, with the midfielder making his way through the Red Bull route of FC Liefering and Salzburg before Leipzig.

    The Mali international arrived at the Red Bull Arena when Rangnick was in charge in the 2018-19 season, but due to a cruciate ligament injury, was only able to make nine Bundesliga appearances under the German.

    Comparing him to McTominay and Fred, this season he has more chances created (9), more successful passes in the opposition half (317), more passes into the final third (95) and more dribbles completed (16).

    It should be noted though that he has played two games more than McTominay and measures closely to the Scot in the first and last metric, with worse passing accuracy percentage in the opposition half (78.86) and tackle success percentage than both (38.46).

     

    Dani Olmo (RB Leipzig)

    Olmo has unfortunately missed most of the current season with a muscle injury, but combined with last term, there is a certain number that may interest the Red Devils boss.

    Verona's Antonin Barak is the only midfielder to have won possession in the final third more often than Olmo's total of 44 in the top five leagues in Europe since the start of last season, made all the more impressive by the fact Olmo has played 12 fewer games.

    The 23-year-old scored seven and assisted 12 last season for Leipzig in all competitions, and also impressed for Spain at Euro 2020, and having someone who so regularly wins the ball high up the field could be exactly the sort of thing Rangnick can build a new United team around.

     

    Erling Haaland (Borussia Dortmund)

    Arguably the name likeliest to be linked with the Red Devils given it was Rangnick who apparently spotted his talents and brought him to Salzburg, before he burst onto the scene and headed for the German Bundesliga.

    Rangnick was working as Salzburg's director of football when he was able to secure the signing of Haaland from Molde.

    Of course, United already have Cristiano Ronaldo and Edinson Cavani, but both are hardly long-term solutions, while Haaland's former team-mate Jadon Sancho already resides in the red half of Manchester.

    The 21-year-old has scored 71 goals in 70 games since moving to Dortmund (January 2020), the same amount as Ronaldo but in 15 fewer games.

    You would imagine Haaland, his agent and his father would need to see some fairly drastic improvements at Old Trafford before committing his future there, but with Rangnick on board, the Red Devils will be hoping that to be exactly what happens.

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    The Brazil star was taken off on a stretcher during the closing stages of the 3-1 win over Saint-Etienne and was seen leaving the stadium on crutches.

    Head coach Mauricio Pochettino said he did not expect the injury to be serious, but tests have shown Neymar has sprained the ligaments in his left ankle.

    PSG said on Monday that a further update on his recovery time would follow this week.

    Should Neymar be sidelined for two months, he would miss eight games in all competitions, including PSG's final Champions League group game against Club Brugge and the league trip to Lyon on January 8.

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    B-SAD were forced to face Benfica on Saturday with just nine players - including two goalkeepers - after positive tests for 13 members of the squad.

    Benfica went into half-time 7-0 up and B-SAD were forced to forfeit shortly after the restart due to insufficient players as injuries reduced the hosts - who were without any substitutes - to six men.

    Among the B-SAD players to miss out was Cafu Phete, who had recently spent time in South Africa - where the Omicron variant was first detected - and it now appears that he and the other 12 members of the squad have tested positive for this new strain of coronavirus. 

    "Preliminary tests carried out at INSA strongly suggest that all 13 cases associated with players of Belenenses SAD are linked to the variant of concern Omicron," INSA's statement to Publico read.

    "The predictive value of the tests carried out is already very high."

    Benfica's players are set to be tested as Portuguese authorities respond to the Omicron variant being found inside the country's borders.

    "We'll have more proactive isolation and a more intensive testing of contacts," Graca Freitas - Portugal's Director-General for Health - told TSF. 

    Flights into Portugal from Mozambique have now been banned, while two positive cases were discovered among the 218 people to have arrived on the last such flight on Saturday.

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