What awaits English quartet as they return to Champions League action this week

By Sports Desk September 18, 2023

The Champions League returns this week with all four Premier League sides kicking off their campaigns having had very different relationships with this competition in recent seasons.

Manchester City are out to defend their crown, whilst Arsenal and Newcastle are back after lengthy absences, although Eddie Howe’s side have had by far the longer wait at 20 years.

Manchester United, meanwhile, will be looking to bring Erik ten Hag some respite from a disappointing start to the domestic season.

The PA news agency looks at the four sides the English clubs will face first.

Manchester City v Red Star Belgrade (Tuesday)

Red Star Belgrade clinched a record 34th league title in comprehensive fashion last season, finishing the campaign unbeaten and dropping only 14 points along the way.

They had to contend with the resignation of their manager, the former Inter Milan midfielder Dejan Stankovic, in August 2022 after the team were eliminated in the Champions League play-off round, though his replacement Milos Milojevic enjoyed a seamless transition as the club cantered to a sixth straight crown.

This season has seen another managerial change with the club appointing the Israeli Barak Bakhar, whose Maccabi Haifa side were responsible for Red Star’s Champions League elimination last August.

Central to last season’s success was winger Aleksandar Katai who weighed in with 19 goals, though with the country’s top stars increasingly been lured to foreign teams, the club is acclimatising to a new reality in which virtually none of the current Serbia side play for them, an unthinkable situation until recent years.

The club had to be bailed out in April by over £2million of government money, a month after they had settled  an outstanding hefty tax bill. It all means Bakhar’s team has been assembled on a budget and could struggle against treble-winning City.

AC Milan v Newcastle (Tuesday)

On paper, Newcastle could not be facing Milan at a better moment, coming off the back of their humiliating 5-1 defeat to city rivals Inter on Saturday.

Reports in Italy suggest that manager Stefano Pioli will respond by altering his line-up with former Chelsea forward Christian Pulisic, who has started all four league games and scored twice since moving to Serie A, in line to be dropped in favour of summer signing Samuel Chukwueze.

England international Fikayo Tomori could also return in central defence after missing the Inter thrashing through suspension.

The 2021/22 Serie A champions had made a solid start to the season prior to the weekend with three wins from three, having adapted well to the loss of Sandro Tonali – who has recovered from injury and is available – following his move to St James’s Park.

Pioli’s team have been predictably roasted by the Italian press since Saturday’s humbling loss and are under pressure to make a fast start to their European campaign.

Arsenal v PSV Eindhoven (Wednesday)

PSV romped into the group stages with a 5-1 win in the second leg of their play-off against Rangers, but it came off the back of a disappointing campaign last season under the now departed Ruud van Nistelrooy.

They were ultimately unable to recover from a poor first half of their Eredivisie season, despite beating eventual champions Feyenoord 4-3 in September and winning 2-1 at Ajax in November which saw them go top.

Form deserted them either side of the World Cup and though they largely righted things they were unable to keep pace with an astonishing 13-game winning run from Feyenoord from February onwards.

Van Nistelrooy walked out in May after winning the KNVB Cup citing a lack of management support amid a reported player revolt, and former Ajax and Borussia Dortmund boss Peter Bosz is the man now tasked with winning the club’s first title since 2018.

Bayern Munich v Manchester United (Wednesday)

Manchester United fans sang “we’ll see you next season” to transfer target Harry Kane when their team played at Tottenham in April but they had not expected it to be in the colours of Bayern Munich.

The England captain will be reuniting with an old foe from the country where he made his name sooner than he might have imagined and does so with four goals under his belt from his first four Bundesliga games for the champions.

Bayern are second in the league after conceding an equaliser in the fourth minute of added time against Bayer Leverkusen on Friday.

Thomas Tuchel won this competition with Chelsea in 2021 and the comprehensive manner in which Bayern were eliminated by Manchester City in last season’s quarter-final was a source of bitter personal disappointment.

Injured pair Kingsley Coman and Raphael Guerreiro are back in training ahead of the game against United, with the latter still yet to make an appearance since signing from Dortmund.

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