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Champions League: Can anyone topple favourites Manchester City?

Erling Haaland in the 2022/23 CL semi-finals
Erling Haaland in the 2022/23 CL semi-finalsAFP
The new edition of the UEFA Champions League begins on Tuesday, with the likes of Bayern Munich keen to topple the dominating momentum Manchester City bring from last year.

This year's competition will be the last time the Champions League will be played in the form we have known and loved for 20 years. After the edition starting on Tuesday, UEFA will take a new course - and introduce a new league format system. Instead of 32, 36 teams will compete in Europe's top division for the first time.

The hunted: Manchester City

All participants have one big goal in mind: to contest the final at London's Wembley Stadium on June 1st, 2024. Manchester City are the defending champions and the bookmakers' favourites for the title in the new season.

The Cityzens have strengthened themselves further in the transfer summer. While experienced players like Riyad Mahrez and Ilkay Gündogan left the club, exciting players like Matheus Nunes or Jeremy Doku are now expected to move into the spotlight.

Pep Guardiola and Manchester City are also 23/24 big favourites.
Pep Guardiola and Manchester City are also 23/24 big favourites.AFP

Of course, many eyes are once again on Erling Haaland, who was last year's top scorer with a total of 12 goals. Until the winter break, he will have to do without his assisting teammate Kevin de Bruyne. The Belgian playmaker is suffering from a thigh injury.

City have been drawn in a favourable group and will face Young Boys, Red Star Belgrade and RB Leipzig in Group G.

Leipzig are arguably the English champions' biggest challengers - although the Red Bulls do not have good memories of Pep Guardiola's side. In the second leg of the CL round of 16 last March, they suffered a 7-0 defeat. Haaland scored five goals then.

The big favourites now face Belgrade at home first.

A lot of change at PSG

Other promising title contenders are PSG, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich. All three teams had to struggle with various problems last year, but are always capable of dominant performances.

PSG underwent a major upheaval - the direct consequence of the early CL exit in the previous season (round of 16 against FC Bayern). New coach Luis Enrique has to manage without the superstars Neymar and Lionel Messi. Captain Kylian Mbappe was on the verge of a move to Real Madrid for a long time.

Enrique - who won the UEFA Champions League with FC Barcelona in 2014/15 - prefers a style of play focused on possession. Instead of Neymar and Messi, the two fast French attackers Ousmane Dembele and Randal Kolo Muani come into focus. The Parisians have had a disappointing start to the league, most recently suffering a 3-2 defeat against Nice.

Not everything is going well at PSG yet.
Not everything is going well at PSG yet.AFP

The French have been assigned to a real group of death. In Group F, they face Newcastle, AC Milan and Borussia Dortmund - the first big test will come against Dortmund on Tuesday.

New stars at record winners Real

Last year, Real Madrid had to concede the Spanish championship to their arch-rivals Barcelona and went down without a fight in the CL semi-finals against Manchester City (including a 4-0 defeat in the second leg).

Carlo Ancelotti had to make a gentle squad shake-up in the summer. The team started the new season without Karim Benzema, who moved to Saudi Arabia. Marco Asensio also left the club for Paris. The experienced midfielders Toni Kroos (33 years old) and Luka Modric (38) were visibly relegated to the second tier, and the headlines belonged to Jude Bellingham instead.

The 20-year-old Englishman was signed for more than €100 million from Borussia Dortmund and takes on the role of the shadow striker in Ancelotti's system. Bellingham scored five goals in the first four league matches - an impressive rate. Los Blancos started the new La Liga season with five wins in five games.

Real Madrid remain on the winning track in LaLiga.
Real Madrid remain on the winning track in LaLiga.AFP

Group C should not be a problem for them. Italian champions Napoli, after the departure of Luciano Spalletti, hardly bring the same dominance to the pitch as they did in their outstanding 2022/23 season.

For their opener, Real host Champions League newcomers from Germany, Union Berlin, at their own stadium on Wednesday.

Where does Bayern Munich stand?

Bayern Munich have completed their first pre-season under Thomas Tuchel and have been busy in the summer transfer frenzy.

Harry Kane became the Munich record purchase, Kim Min-jae arrived from Naples, Konrad Laimer (from RB Leipzig) and Raphael Guerreiro (Borussia Dortmund) were signed from direct competitors in the Bundesliga.

However, Bayern also had to cope with many notable departures. No suitable replacement for Benjamin Pavard was signed, nor was the number six Tuchel had often called for. The signing of Fulham's Palhinha fell through at the last minute.

At FC Bayern, hopes are closely linked with Harry Kane.
At FC Bayern, hopes are closely linked with Harry Kane.AFP

After a mixed preparation with seven goals conceded in five games, the German record champions conceded a humiliating 3-0 defeat to RB Leipzig in the DFL Supercup. They quickly recovered from this. In the Bundesliga, they are level on points with leaders Leverkusen after 3 wins and 1 draw.

Group A with Manchester United, FC Copenhagen and Galatasaray is generally perceived as an easy draw in Germany.

United have shown glaring weaknesses at the start of the season and are only 13th in the Premier League after five matches, but the Red Devils should not be underestimated, nor should FC Copenhagen, whose squad is adorned with numerous talents.

Galatasaray is also a tough nut to crack. The Turkish champions include well-known names such as Lucas Torreira, Hakim Ziyech, Kerem Demirbay, Dries Mertens and Mauro Icardi. The Turks are in full swing, having won eight of their ten matches so far and drawn twice.

On Wednesday Bayern will face Manchester United at the Allianz Arena.

Other big names: Barça, Arsenal and Inter

Barcelona have had to try their luck in the UEFA Europa League in each of the last two years, the Champions League proving to be too tough a place for the tradition-steeped club plagued by turbulence.

However, coach Xavi Hernandez led the Catalan club to the La Liga title with a clear plan and plenty of structure. Is the team ready to reach for the stars in Europe's top flight this year?

Barça want to forget the last two champions
Barça want to forget the last two championsAFP

Barça have been handed supposedly easy opponents and will face Royal Antwerp, FC Porto and Shakhtar Donetsk in Group H. Shakhtar will also play their group games at Hamburg's Volksparkstadion due to the war in Ukraine. The Spaniards start their CL adventure on Tuesday against Royal Antwerp.

There are also high expectations for Premier League runners-up Arsenal.

After a seven-year absence, the Gunners are finally back in the UEFA Champions League. Mikel Arteta's team was strengthened in important key positions during the transfer summer. Above all, the signing of Declan Rice has given the Londoners additional stability in midfield.

Declan Rice immediately slipped into the role of leading player at Arsenal.
Declan Rice immediately slipped into the role of leading player at Arsenal.AFP

They have made another promising start in the Premier League and are unbeaten in five games. On Wednesday Arsenal will host PSV Eindhoven. The other opponents in Group B are French runners-up Lens and reigning Europa League winners Sevilla.

Last year's finalists Inter are undoubtedly among the extended circle of favourites. The Nerazzuri will face interesting opponents: the Austrian serial champion RB Salzburg, Benfica, which has regained strength under Roger Schmidt, and the traditional Basque club Real Sociedad.

The Nerazzurri confirmed their strong form from last year at the start of the season and are now regarded as the first title candidates in the Italian Serie A. They started the new season with four wins and a goal difference of 13:1 - most recently they won the Milan derby in impressive fashion with 5-1.

Inter dominated their arch-rivals in every aspect.
Inter dominated their arch-rivals in every aspect.AFP

They have had no trouble absorbing the departures of Andre Onana, Milan Skriniar, Marcelo Brozovic, Edin Dzeko and Romelu Lukaku. Inter travel to San Sebastian for their CL opener on Wednesday.

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