Champions League is back! Erling Haaland key, Celtic and Rangers return, Shakhtar Donetsk earn Polish support

·2-min read
 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

The European football calendar proper gets underway this evening with the start of the Champions League group stage.

Holders Real Madrid will launch their title defence in Glasgow as rivals Celtic and Rangers both return to the competition, while Lionel Messi is without his usual for with Cristiano Ronaldo missing out for the first time in more than two decades.

Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City once again search for their elusive first crown, while 2019 finalists Tottenham return with Antonio Conte - searching for his own success story in the competition - at the helm.

Here’s what to look out for this season...

 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

Return of the Scottish clubs

Both Old Firm clubs are in the Champions League for the first time since 2007, which is a boon to Scottish football and will add two ferocious atmospheres and impressive coaches — Ange Postecoglou at Celtic and Giovanni van Bronckhorst — to the competition.

Rangers, who lost last season’s Europa League Final, face an eye-catching group, including a Battle of Britain with Liverpool, as well as games against Napoli and Ajax. Celtic host Real Madrid tonight in what will be one of the biggest occasions at Parkhead in years, while Shakhtar Donetsk and RB Leipzig make up their group.

 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

Can Haaland be the difference for Manchester City?

Champions League success has so far eluded Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, but if anyone can ensure that changes this season it is surely Erling Haaland. The Norwegian has taken the Premier League by storm and has a phenomenal record in the Champions League, with 27 goals in 25 appearances for Molde, Salzburg and Borussia Dortmund.

Haaland faces a quick reunion with the German club, while Sevilla and FC Copenhagen make up a group which City should have few difficulties in navigating. Another striker set for an immediate return to his former club is Robert Lewandowski, who faces Bayern Munich with Barcelona.

 (REUTERS)
(REUTERS)

Polish fans to support Shakhtar Donetsk

The Russian invasion of Ukraine led to the suspension of all football in the country in February, but the Ukrainian top flight returned last month, and giants Shakhtar Donetsk will compete in this year’s Champions League. They will play their home games in Poland, at Legia Warsaw’s Stadion Wojska Polskiego, nearly 1,000 miles from Donetsk.

They should not, however, be lacking in support, after 18,000 tickets were sold in a single day for their opening ‘home’ game against Celtic next week. Shakhtar begin their campaign in Leipzig tonight.