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The Champions League group stage: Reunions, nightmare groups, and all-British drama

Champions League group stage: It’s that time of year again when that iconic anthem starts ringing around the elite stadiums as the Champions League returns.

The group stage of this season’s competition kicks off this week and BBC Sport takes a look at some of the things to look out for.

Holland and Lewandowski’s quick reunion

Erling Haaland has taken to the Premier League like a duck to water and needed just four games to score his first hat-trick for Manchester City when they came from behind to beat Crystal Palace last month.

The Norway international left Borussia Dortmund for City in the summer and the Champions League group stage draw has ensured an early reunion with his former team.

City’s first match is at Sevilla this week but next week Dortmund will be away at the Etihad Stadium.

Champions League success has overtaken City but manager Pep Guardiola will be hoping Holland continues his super record in European club competition, having scored 27 goals in 25 appearances for Molde, Salzburg, and Dortmund.

As well as Holland, former Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski will come up against the team he left this summer to join Barcelona in the group stage.

After hosting Czech team Viktoria Plzen on Wednesday, Lewandowski, and Barcelona travel to Munich on Tuesday, September 13. Italian side Inter Milan comfortably completed the toughest group in this season’s competition.

Lewandowski scored 67 goals for Bayern in the Champions League, but ex-Liverpool striker Sadio Mane has been doing well enough to fill the Polish forward’s shoes so far, scoring five goals in seven matches in the German league and cup games.

England faces Scotland in Group A.

The most intriguing draw of the group stage was in Group A, where 2021-22 finalists Liverpool and Scottish side Rangers will face each other.

The two sides will meet for the first time this season at Anfield on October 4 and then at Ibrox on October 12.

Rangers return to the Champions League for the first time since 2010, while they and Celtic are back together for the first time since 2007.

The Champions League group stage: Reunions, nightmare groups, and all-British drama

Polish fans get behind Ukraine’s Shakhtar

They are drawn in Group D with defending champions Real Madrid, RB Leipzig, and Celtic.

Shakhtar will play their home games in Poland at Legia Warsaw’s Stadion Wozniak Polskiego, about 1,000 miles from Donetsk.

They open their Champions League campaign in Leipzig, Germany on Tuesday night but their first ‘home’ match is against Celtic on Wednesday, September 14, and after 18,000 tickets for the game were sold in a single day, the Polish He has a lot of support from the fans.

Are sparks flying as PSG and Juve meet?

Paris Saint-Germain, among the favorites to win the Champions League, takes on Juventus.

Both sides will be keen to get to the business end of the tournament and, like Holland and Lewandowski, Juventus winger Angel Di Maria will be reunited with his former team early on Tuesday when he returns to the Parc des Princes.

Di Maria’s team-mate and one-time Manchester United target Adrien Rabiot is also facing his former club.

Who are the favorites to win?

According to data specialist Nelson Gresant, Real Madrid are favorites to win this season’s Champions League.

Gracenote’s Euroclub Index simulations give Real a 21% chance of lifting the trophy next May. Manchester City (20%), Liverpool (19%), and Bayern Munich (10%) are the other main contenders.

Manchester City or one of last season’s two finalists, Real Madrid and Liverpool, have a 60% chance of winning this season’s competition.

Simon Glio, head of sports analysis at Nelson Graysnot, said: “With the competition not yet underway, Real Madrid, Manchester City, and Liverpool already have more than 90 percent chances of reaching the knockout stages of this season’s Champions League. Chances are, it’s up to 98% more to discuss the group phase before kicking the ball.

“With that trio, Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain, Atletico Madrid, and Bayern Munich all have more than an 80 percent chance of going into the knockout stages.”

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