Sargeant’s Orders: The Champions League is back and better than ever 

Burnley’s Zeki Amdouni, centre, battles for the ball with Manchester City’s Nathan Ake, left, and Manuel Akanji during the Premier League soccer match between Manchester City and Burnley FC at Turf Moor, Burnley, England, Friday Aug. 11, 2023. (Mike Egerton/PA via AP)

The wait is finally over. The world’s most captivating tournament returns for another year of excitement, drama, beauty and heartbreak. It’s all in the pursuit of crowning one club champions of Europe: The Champions League is back! Last Thursday, the Union of European Football Association (UEFA) held its annual draw to determine the group stages, and the result drew immediate excitement for the upcoming season as there is much to look forward to. Can any club spoil Manchester City’s chances at an encore? What does Harry Kane’s return to England look like? What are the most competitive matchups football fans should clamor to see? We will discuss this and more in this week’s edition of Sargeant’s Orders. 

This year’s Champions League will be different from years past, as it will be the first time since 2002-2003 that the world’s three most well-known footballers, Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo or Neymar, will not compete. Messi has left to play in the United States, while Ronaldo and Neymar left for the Saudi Pro League. There is more pressure than ever on the UEFA to create new stars, since the cash-rich Saudian Arabian clubs are fearless in spending money to poach European superstars. 

The big question in many minds is, will Man City win back-to-back UCL finals? They are the betting favorites to do so, and for good reason. Man City has been placed in arguably the easiest group stage possible, and barring anything significant, there is no reason why the defending champions won’t make it to the knockout stage. Man City has played excellent so far, as they have started their 2023 Premier League campaign 4-0. In the knockout stage, the defending champs may find themselves in deep waters. In last year’s UCL Final, the Light Blues beat Inter Milan 1-0. Despite City’s victory, there were many opportunities for Inter to upset the tournament favorites. The club missed many open looks, most noticeably in the 70th minute when Federico Dimarco missed a header off the crossbar, then missed the open net hitting his teammate, Romelu Lukaku, instead. Inter also outshot City with more shots on goal. Last season was Man City’s year. However, it’s premature to say no team can upset them this go around with many talented clubs such as Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid and Bayern Munich participating in the tournament. All it takes is a couple of mistakes, and if the right team can capitalize, it’s anyone’s guess who will raise the Champions League trophy. 

Another exciting storyline developing is with Group A. Most experts have Bayern Munich and Manchester United advancing to the knockout stage. I agree with this, as the Bundesliga giants are the most talented club in this group, as evident by their 3-0 record. Man United will squeak by, as FC Copenhagen and Galatasaray S.K. cannot compete with the Red Devils either. The real story in this group is with the captain of the English national team, Harry Kane, who will return to England for the first time since his transfer last summer. Kane is arguably the greatest scorer in Premier League history, as he ranks second in all-time goals after 11 seasons with Tottenham Hotspur. There was much speculation this summer on where the 30-year-old would go. At one point, many believed he would leave Tottenham for another Premier League team; however, Tottenham ownership refused to let Kane play for another English team. Kane’s primary motivation was cementing himself as one of the game’s greats; the only thing missing was the hardware associated with that. With the Englishman’s contract expiration lingering and Tottenham not near the top of the table, their only option was to find a suitor willing to meet their price. Bayern Munich, in need of a striker, made an offer. After much negotiation, they gave up €100 million, including €20 million in add-ons, to acquire the striker. Kane will undoubtedly feel the love from the United crowd when he visits Old Trafford like so many times before, and wants nothing more than to leave the home crowd disappointed. Inversely, United looks to knock Kane down a peg one last time and show the soccer world that they are ready to compete for a Treble. Bayern Munich taking on Manchester United is a repeat of one of the Champions League’s most iconic fixtures. United fans will hope to repeat history when they famously came back down 1-0 in added time to upset Bayern Munich in their drama-filled 1999 Champions League final. These two great clubs are competing for legacy, triumph and glory. Each club has something to prove, and this is a fixture that all fans should be excited for. 

After 21 years, Newcastle United has qualified for the Champions League group stage. It will take much effort if Newcastle wishes to make it to the knockout round. The Magpies couldn’t be in a more challenging group; joining them are the talented Borussia Dortmund, AC Milan and Paris Saint-Germain. PSG is also in a tough spot; Neymar and Messi left and it seems this will be Kylian Mbappé’s final season with the club; despite PSG’s tenure issues, they are still a talented team and currently sit second in the Ligue 1 table. Many expected AC Milan to regress this season, losing Sandro Tonali, but their 3-0 record says otherwise – don’t expect them to go down without a fight. Lastly, teams cannot underestimate the German giant’s Borussia Dortmund. Despite their slow 1-2-0 start to the season, they are as talented of a club as anyone. Last season, BVB had the fate of the Bundesliga title in their hands, needing a win at home on the season’s final day. Unfortunately for them, they fell short with a 2-2 draw. While PSG and Newcastle are the early favorites to advance to the knockout stage, it’s anyone’s guess who will advance. The only sure bet is there will be hard-fought soccer that football fans worldwide will want to tune in for. 

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