Champions League 2021-22 preview – Guardiola, Klopp, Tuchel & Solskjaer eye big prize

The group stage of what promises to be a fascinating Champions League season gets under way this week.

Holders Chelsea are part of an English quartet in the mix, along with last season’s runners-up Manchester City, Liverpool and Manchester United.

Intriguingly, the latter will have the competition’s record goalscorer Cristiano Ronaldo in their side.

And for the first time, Lionel Messi will play for someone other than Barcelona in the tournament.

His new club Paris St-Germain will begin as one of the favourites following a summer that has seen them recruit a number of seasoned Champions League campaigners.

But who else will be aiming for glory in St Petersburg in May? Which other players should you look out for? And can we expect another English winner this season? BBC Sport tries to provide the answers.

Do Chelsea lead the English challenge?

Three-and-a-half months ago, Kai Havertz’s goal gave Chelsea victor over Manchester City in the 2020-21 Champions League final in Portugal’s Estadio do Dragao.

Ominously, the Blues appear even stronger going into this year’s tournament, having recruited striker Romelu Lukaku, a scorer of 13 goals in 27 Champions League matches and more than 300 in his club career, and midfielder Saul Niguez, a runner-up in Europe’s premier club competition with Atletico Madrid in 2016.

Drawn in a group with Juventus, Zenit St Petersburg and Malmo, Chelsea have been given a 92% chance of reaching the knockout rounds by data experts Nielsen Gracenote, which is second best behind Real Madrid.

Manchester City are not far behind on 89%, although they face a tough task in Group A, which also includes a star-studded PSG, RB Leipzig and Bruges.

Pep Guardiola has strengthened with the British-record £100m signing of Jack Grealish, but has lost Sergio Aguero – a man with 78 games and 41 goals in the Champions League to his name.

Liverpool continue to rely on the core of players that led them to Champions League glory in 2019 and face arguably the toughest group of all the English sides, being drawn against Spanish champions Atletico Madrid, Portuguese Primeira Liga runners-up Porto and Italy’s seven-time European champions AC Milan.

Read more on bbc

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