Champions League draw offers tough groups

By AP August 30, 2018
General view of the final draw for the UEFA Champions League groups A,B,C,D,E,F,G,H on an on an electronic board during the UEFA Champions League draw at the Grimaldi Forum, in Monaco, Thursday, Aug. 30, 2018. General view of the final draw for the UEFA Champions League groups A,B,C,D,E,F,G,H on an on an electronic board during the UEFA Champions League draw at the Grimaldi Forum, in Monaco, Thursday, Aug. 30, 2018. AP Photo/Claude Paris

Cristiano Ronaldo is going back to Manchester United and Paul Pogba will return to Juventus after the teams were drawn together in a Champions League group along with Valencia and Young Boys on Thursday. 

After winning four titles at Real Madrid, and one with United, Ronaldo aims to end Juventus' 23-year wait for a third European title.

Three-time defending champion Madrid will play Roma, CSKA Moscow and Viktoria Plzen.

Barcelona heads a tough group with Tottenham, PSV Eindhoven and Inter Milan, while three former European champions Bayern Munich, Benfica, Ajax are together with AEK Athens.

Liverpool, the runner-up last season, was the toughest third-seeded team and landed with Paris Saint-Germain, Napoli, and Red Star Belgrade.

English champion Manchester City got a favorable group with Shakhtar Donetsk, Lyon and Hoffenheim.

Atletico Madrid, whose Metropolitano stadium hosts the final on June 1, is grouped with Borussia Dortmund, Monaco and Club Brugge.

Lokomotiv Moscow, seeded in the top pot, will play Porto, Schalke and Galatasaray.

The 32 teams will share a record 1.95 billion euros ($2.28 billion) in prize money from UEFA.

Games kick off on Sept. 18.

Here is the draw in full:

Group A: Atletico Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Monaco, Club Brugge
Group B: Barcelona, Tottenham, PSV, Inter
Group C: Paris Saint-Germain, Napoli, Liverpool, Red Star Belgrade
Group D: Lokomotiv Moscow, Porto, Schalke, Galatasaray
Group E: Bayern Munich, Benfica, Ajax, AEK Athens
Group F: Manchester City, Shakhtar Donetsk, Lyon, Hoffenheim
Group G: Real Madrid, Roma, CSKA Moscow, Viktoria Plzen
Group H: Juventus, Manchester United, Valencia, Young Boys

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  • Centre-back Toure & Messi's breakthrough year - Barcelona's 2009 Champions League winners Centre-back Toure & Messi's breakthrough year - Barcelona's 2009 Champions League winners

    It has been 10 years since Barcelona seemingly changed European football forever with a stunning 2-0 Champions League final win over holders Manchester United.

    Samuel Eto'o opened the scoring early on and Lionel Messi's 70th-minute header clinched a second Blaugrana triumph in four seasons.

    This side were very different to the 2005-06 vintage, though, with new coach Pep Guardiola dictating an incredible passing style that quickly became the envy of their rivals.

    "They get you on that carousel and can leave you dizzy."

    That was Alex Ferguson's description of Barca's approach and here we take a look at the 11 starters who subjected United to that punishment in Rome - part of a historic treble.

     

    VICTOR VALDES

    Goalkeeper Valdes was perhaps not always given the credit he deserved for his ability as a shot-stopper - there were a couple of brave blocks from Cristiano Ronaldo in the final - but there was no doubting his reputation as a pioneer with the ball at his feet.

    The Spaniard was key to the way Barca played as he offered an option to his defenders, continuing to contribute to the club's success until 2014 and then ending his career in England with United and Middlesbrough.

    CARLES PUYOL

    Just as Barca brought something different to the goalkeeping position, Dani Alves altered the full-back's role. He was absent for the final due to suspension, so captain Puyol moved across from centre-back and was similarly effective, marauding down the right.

    Puyol scored a World Cup semi-final winner the following year and retired in 2014 having won just about every trophy imaginable.

    YAYA TOURE

    With Puyol out of position, Toure had to be too. Rafael Marquez was injured and the Ivory Coast midfielder was given an uncomfortable time by Ronaldo at centre-back.

    But Toure prevailed and went on to become a Premier League great at Manchester City, winning the last of his three titles after being reunited with Guardiola in 2017-18.

    GERARD PIQUE

    A former United man, Pique kept Barca on terms early on with a brave block following a Ronaldo free-kick.

    And despite having since got his hands on almost every piece of silverware the sport has to offer, some would argue Pique is still improving after a fine campaign in 2018-19 - even if this month's Champions League semi-final against Liverpool was a real low point.

    SYLVINHO

    Eric Abidal's absence compounded Barca's defensive worries ahead of the final, with veteran left-back Sylvinho turning out for the final time before he joined City.

    A short stint in the Premier League, where he had previously played for Arsenal, saw the end of the Brazilian's playing days, but he is back in the spotlight now as the new head coach of Lyon.

    SERGIO BUSQUETS

    This was Busquets' breakthrough season and he has scarcely stopped winning since. A calmer influence than the more expansive Toure, he nailed down a position in the middle of the carousel.

    Seen for many years as the least glamorous of Barca's midfield options, the club are now hoping to groom a long-term replacement in the form of €75million man Frenkie de Jong.

    XAVI HERNANDEZ

    This was a match that typified Xavi's brilliance. One of the greatest passers of all time, he created the second goal for Messi with a gorgeous lofted ball, having earlier struck the post with a 20-yard free-kick.

    He took in a further two Champions League final triumphs, bowing out in the 2015 defeat of Juventus. He retired from playing with Al-Sadd this month.

    ANDRES INIESTA

    Iniesta's sensational strike at Chelsea took Barca to the final, where he again showed his wonderful blend of passing precision and untouchable dribbling.

    A decisive World Cup final goal when Spain downed the Netherlands in 2010 followed and Iniesta, like Xavi and now Busquets, has proved extremely difficult for Barca to replace. A once-in-a-generation talent in any other Blaugrana generation.

    LIONEL MESSI

    Heading into the 2009 final, Messi had never played on such a stage - having missed out through injury three years earlier - and was coming off his first season with more than 20 LaLiga goals. A stunning header capped the triumph.

    What has happened since requires little explanation. Messi has established himself as perhaps the greatest player of all time, with goals, assists, runs, passes and lots and lots of trophies.

    SAMUEL ETO'O

    Eto'o was the only player in this side to go on to win the trophy again the following year. Barca were up against it for 10 minutes until a glorious dart inside Nemanja Vidic opened space for a low finish.

    A move to Inter followed and Eto'o triumphed again, playing a supporting role to Diego Milito as Jose Mourinho's men beat Bayern Munich 2-0, before touring Europe in the latter stages of his career. He now plays in Qatar.

    THIERRY HENRY

    Henry and Arsenal were beaten by Barca in the 2006 final and a move to Camp Nou was long mooted for the Premier League's standout player. It finally came in 2007, and he initially excelled on the left of Guardiola's front three.

    But Pedro's emergence hastened his departure a year on from Rome and he ended his career with a successful stint at New York Red Bulls. This season's brief tenure in charge of former club Monaco will not be so fondly remembered.

  • Barcelona 2008-09: The lasting legacy of Guardiola and Messi's masterpiece Barcelona 2008-09: The lasting legacy of Guardiola and Messi's masterpiece

    Manchester United battered Barcelona for nine minutes, with Cristiano Ronaldo roving maniacally in apparent pursuit of some sort of Champions League final shots record.

    It was time for Pep Guardiola to again make the switch that helped to destroy Real Madrid earlier that month: Lionel Messi inside to false nine – a long forgotten position his exquisite Barca team and mercurial forward were beginning to revive.

    Samuel Eto'o shuffled from centre-forward to the right of the front three and duly opened the scoring. Messi belied his diminutive stature to net a wonderful second-half header and Barcelona unseated reigning European kings United 2-0, adding the most satisfying part of a historic 2008-09 treble.

    Ten years on, the ripples from that captivating night at Rome's Stadio Olimpico can still be felt across modern football. For the outstanding coach and player of their generation, it was the night it became clear everything was possible.

    Messi unleashed

    The season that earned Messi the first of his five Ballons d'Or was undoubtedly a watershed moment in his career.

    Prior to Guardiola's arrival the Argentinian kid with a fondness for pizza and fizzy drinks had suffered frequent injury problems. The 2008-09 campaign was the first where he appeared in more than 30 LaLiga matches.

    It was also the first time he broke through 20 top-flight goals. Only twice in the intervening years has he failed to net more than 30.

    Messi's game, as with all true greats, has continued to evolve. While he was the most dazzling cog in Guardiola's whirring 2008-09 machine, he now carries Barca on his slight shoulders to a greater degree than ever before.

    It feels like heresy to suggest Messi might have become simply the latest "next Diego Maradona", a shimmering talent waylaid by injury and expectation. But that was a possibility 10 years ago.

    The Champions League final against United coming hot on the heels of him inspiring a 6-2 routing of Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu demonstrated he was so much more. That he did it within Guardiola's intricate team structure was perhaps the most compelling element.

    Messi looked like a superstar entirely at odds with the Galactico age. In that sense he was completely in tune with his coach.

    Winning Romanticism

    Guardiola's swift salvage job at Barcelona after success had turned to excess under Frank Rijkaard, primarily through giving a tranche of outstanding youngsters their head, is a well-worn tale.

    However, the wider footballing landscape in which he prevailed was just as important in establishing the meticulous Catalan as this decade's foremost tactical influencer.

    This was the age of 4-2-3-1 – power, pace, pragmatism and confirmation of an accepted basic truth. Flair and invention would always capture the imagination and maybe even win occasionally, but organisational and solidity were the foundation of major titles.

    Bolt on a superstar signing or two in an era of ever-spiralling transfer fees and you satisfied both factions, or at least tried to. Real Madrid's "Zidanes y Pavones" model of combining hard-working local players with global superstar yielded mixed results.

    The difference with Guardiola's La Masia graduates was his "Pavones" – the label given life by unremarkable Madrid defender Francisco Pavon, the unassuming face of the other side of the Galactico coin – included Messi, Xavi and Andres Iniesta, players every bit as good as Zinedine Zidane.

    Guardiola updated Johan Cruyff's Barcelona vision of slick passing and positional play with some of his own influences – namely tactical fundamentalists such as Marcelo Bielsa, Juan Manuel Lillo and Ricardo La Volpe, men romantically attached to their principles of how the game should be played, seemingly at the expense of major honours. Guardiola winning because of, and not despite, those virtues was revelatory.

    It captured the imagination of fans everywhere, including some men with very deep pockets.

    Petrol and ideas

    Fast forward to Manchester City's domestic treble this season and the reaction in some quarters to Guardiola's latest masterpiece has been very different. He is the darling of the romantics no more.

    Critics have expressed distaste that City's back-to-back Premier League points hauls of 100 and 98 come fuelled by an Abu Dhabi fortune, fearing their dominance to be a demonstration of a game broken beyond repair. This aspect of coverage seems to have troubled Guardiola, whose commitment to playing the "right" way – as Cruyff would see it – has always projected an element of football moralism.

    Big finance and big success have long been easy bedfellows but the focus of City's spending – leaving aside its sources and any outcome of ongoing investigations – is significantly different because Guardiola was always their priority signing. His system suitably fitted out guaranteed success in a way that simply punting on the latest superstars would not.

    Arsene Wenger's observation of City having "petrol and ideas" remains pertinent and the influence of the methods European football first fell for in Rome are easy to spot far beyond Manchester.

    Bayern Munich, steeped in their own historically successful style, grabbed a piece of the action as Guardiola led them to three consecutive Bundesliga titles between 2013-14 and 2015-16. When he left Germany's top flight, his nearest rival was Borussia Dortmund's Thomas Tuchel. A disciple of the positional style, Tuchel is now trying to bring ideological focus to Paris Saint-Germain's own petrol.

    Back at Barcelona, Gerard Pique this week dismissed suggestions that a dispiriting end to the season is in part down to a turn away from Guardiola's style.

    The Champions League final will be contested by Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool and Mauricio Pochettino's Tottenham – coaches who have come closer than most to finding the Guardiola antidote, but who similarly demonstrate the prime importance of a high-tempo, hard-working collective. Like Guardiola, they are the single most important people at their clubs. Real Madrid's mooted €500m spending spree on the biggest names looks a strangely dated approach by comparison.

    Such cycles invariably come to an end, but for the foreseeable future football's course remains set by the magic Messi and his colleagues weaved so irresistibly 10 years ago.

  • Galatasaray leading race to sign Babel Galatasaray leading race to sign Babel

    Ryan Babel has had offers from several teams but says Galatasaray have made the most tempting proposal.

    The Netherlands international is looking for a new club after being released by Fulham following their relegation from the Premier League in 2018-19.

    The 32-year-old has been strongly linked with a return to the Turkish Super Lig, where he won the title with Besiktas in 2016-17.

    Despite his past allegiances, Babel says he would have no problem in accepting a move to Galatasaray, although he is yet to decide his future.

    "They have the best offer at the moment. I don't have to make a secret of that," he told Algemeen Dagblad when asked about the rumours linking him with the Turkish champions.

    "But there are also discussions with other clubs.

    "It wouldn't be the first time in football or my own career for things to go differently than expected, so I will just have to wait and see."

    Babel scored five goals in 16 league appearances for Fulham after joining in January on a short-term deal.

    The former Liverpool winger also spent two seasons with Turkish side Kasimpasa earlier in his career.

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