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.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s double ensured Inter Milan continued their unbeaten start to the season with a 5-1 drubbing against bitter rivals AC Milan.

Inter got off to a perfect start in the Milan derby with two goals from Mkhitaryan and Marcus Thuram, before Rafael Leao gave Milan some hope with a quick finish after the break.

Mkhitaryan earned his brace before Hakan Calhanoglu’s penalty and Davide Frattesi’s goal ensured there was no way back for Milan, who now face Newcastle in the Champions League on Tuesday.

Three points means Inter have now won all four of their games in Serie A this season and remain top of the table by two points.

Mkhitaryan set the tone in the fifth minute with a clean first-time effort from close range, which found the bottom corner and the goal stood despite a VAR check for a foul in the build-up.

The former Manchester United and Arsenal midfielder came close to a second with his header flashing wide of goal and Federico Dimarco then fired a free-kick over the crossbar before Theo Hernandez tried his luck for Milan, but his effort rolled past the post.

Thuram struck to double Inter’s advantage in the 38th minute with a stunning strike across the face of goal and into the top corner.

Milan had a chance after being awarded a free-kick outside the box just before the break, but Olivier Giroud blasted the ball over the bar.

Despite a bright start from Inter in the second half, it was Milan who pulled one back in the 58th minute after a superb through-ball from Giroud found Leao and his deflected shot landed in the net.

Milan goalkeeper Mike Maignan made a good dive to his right to deny Carlos Augusto, who smashed the ball from outside the box, as Inter ramped up the pressure.

Nerazzurri struck again in the 68th minute after a great team move saw Lautaro Martinez lay the ball off to Mkhitaryan before the midfielder found the bottom corner, helped by a deflection, to earn his brace.

Milan’s misery continued when Hernandez conceded a penalty after catching Martinez in the box and Calhanoglu made no mistake from the spot in the 79th minute, blasting the ball low underneath Maignan.

Frattesi capped off a dominant evening for Inter after bursting through the Milan defence to latch onto the end of Mkhitaryan’s well-timed pass and tucked the ball home.

AC Milan boss Stefano Pioli feels his side are ready to turn the tide in the Derby della Madonnina against city rivals Inter.

Both Milan clubs have opened the new season with three straight wins to sit top of Serie A, two points ahead of defending champions Napoli, in the build up to Saturday’s clash at the San Siro.

The Nerazzurri won the four derbies played in 2023 across all competitions – with their rivals failing to score a goal in any of the games, including both legs of the Champions League semi-final.

Pioli, though, is not bothered by historical statistics.

“I am not interested past derbies – Saturday’s one counts. It is an opportunity to exploit and I want my players to think they can win it,” Pioli told a press conference.

“We are at the start of the championship, we have started well and we want to continue like this with a clear head.

“I am convinced of how the team has prepared and wants to face the match, we know what to propose, but then the matches must be played and interpreted.”

Pioli added: “I want to see Milan, I want to see the team follow our playing principles and what we have prepared.

“I am sure that we will face the match with the right spirit, with enthusiasm and with heart. Against Inter, but also in the whole season. We are not afraid of anything.”

The Rossoneri – who open their Champions League campaign against Newcastle next week – will be without defender Fikayo Tomori following his red card in the win at Roma before the international break.

With Pierre Kalulu also not fully fit, veteran Dane Simon Kjaer should come into the side.

“Kjaer is ready to play such an important match,” Pioli said. “He is strong and has a great personality.”

“I must manage my players in the best way. We will play many games in 21 days. We think about the derby now, then from Sunday we will focus on Newcastle.”

Pioli also confirmed Davide Calabria “won’t be available for a long time” because of an ankle problem.

Despite their own fine start to the new campaign, which has seen them yet to concede a goal in Serie A, Inter coach Simone Inzaghi is determined to keep a sense of perspective.

“Before the start of the season, they said that we were weaker – but now, it seems that we will have to win the Champions League rather than the Scudetto,” Inzaghi told a press conference.

“It doesn’t bother me – I am joking about it because this is what I am reading after three victories.

“It is not a problem. We know that we hit our peak last season and that is why it is difficult for me to say if we are better than last year.

“We hope to play another 57 games, but time will tell. We are at Inter to win and we work hard to achieve our goals.

 

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“We know that we have to work hard and that tomorrow we will have very strong opponents to face.”

Inzaghi added: “Milan and Inter both made a good impression thus far.

“It is only the fourth round (of Serie A), but it is an important match. We want to get the best possible result.”

Inter will check on the fitness of Juan Cuadrado and Alexis Sanchez.

Midfielder Davide Frattesi laid down a marker to make his first start for the Nerazzurri with two goals for Italy in the Euro 2024 qualifier win over Ukraine.

Inzaghi said: “I have to make choices and I’m happy to have options.”

AC Milan have signed Serbia striker Luka Jovic from Fiorentina.

Jovic spent one season in Florence, scoring 13 goals in 50 appearances, after a three-year spell at Real Madrid.

“AC Milan is delighted to announce the signing of Luka Jovic on a permanent transfer,” read a statement from the Serie A club.

“The Serbian striker has signed a contract with the club until 30 June 2024.”

Jovic, 25, began his career at Crvena Zvezda in Belgrade before spells at Benfica, Eintracht Frankfurt and Real.

Forward Lorenzo Colombo, meanwhile, will spend the 2023/24 season on loan at Monza after extending his AC Milan contract until June 2028.

Milan signed off the Serie A season with a 3-1 victory as Rafael Leao's double condemned Hellas Verona to a relegation play-off with Spezia.

The Rossoneri wrapped up a frustrating campaign on a winning note at San Siro, with a late Leao brace enough to seal three points.

Milan had already secured Champions League football for another term but struggled at times against the visitors, who cancelled out Olivier Giroud's first-half penalty through Marco Faraoni's 72nd-minute strike.

Yet Leao struck in the 85th minute and again seven minutes later, leaving Verona to face a relegation decider with Spezia, who succumbed to a late 2-1 loss at Roma.

 

Milan secured a top-four Serie A finish with a 1-0 win at Juventus as Olivier Giroud's header dealt a knockout blow to the Bianconeri's own hopes of Champions League qualification.

Still reeling from their 10-point deduction and Monday's miserable 4-1 defeat at Empoli, Juve required a win at Allianz Stadium to take the top-four battle to the season's final matchday.

However, the Bianconeri's lack of attacking thrust was on full display once again, with Giroud scoring the only goal of the game with an outstanding header as half-time approached on Sunday.

The Rossoneri were comfortable from there as they ensured Juve's chaotic season will end on another sour note, piling more pressure on embattled head coach Massimiliano Allegri.

Sandro Tonali headed Junior Messias' delivery over as Milan started brightly, but Juve soon improved, with Angel Di Maria failing to hook Moise Kean's cut-back home on the stretch.

More Bianconeri chances came and went as Federico Chiesa hammered over and Kean worked Mike Maignan from distance, but Juve found themselves behind five minutes before half-time.

Davide Calabria's hanging cross from the right was met with a textbook header from Giroud, who planted the ball beyond Wojciech Szczesny's despairing dive.

Adrien Rabiot forced a comfortable save from Maignan as Juve toiled after the restart, failing to make any attacking headway without injured striker Dusan Vlahovic.

Szczesny stuck out a leg to deny Alexis Saelemaekers and Rafael Leao fired over on the break, while Danilo had a close-range effort blocked in a goalmouth scramble as Juve's bid for Champions League football ended with a whimper.

What does it mean? Milan profit from Juve woes

When Juventus' 10-point deduction was confirmed earlier this week, Milan were the chief beneficiary after being propelled into the top four.

Stefano Pioli's men were determined not to let that advantage slip here, the Rossoneri weathering the Juve storm midway through the first half and deserving the three points after Giroud's goal. 

Milan thus completed just their third Serie A double over Juventus in the last 50 years, also doing so in the 1990-91 and 2009-10 campaigns.

Giroud the man of the moment

Giroud has so often been the man for the big occasion for both club and country, and he gave Szczesny no chance with a firm header just as Juventus looked to be in the ascendency.

The 36-year-old striker has now scored 12 times in Serie A this season, his best return in one of Europe's top five leagues since he hit as many Premier League goals for Arsenal in the 2016-17 campaign.

Fatal blow for Allegri?

Allegri has faced stern criticism for most of the campaign, and the pressure may just become intolerable now they will finish outside of Italy's top four for the first time since 2010-11 (when they finished seventh).

Having also fallen short in the Europa League semi-finals, the Bianconeri have suffered three successive defeats for the first time since doing so in 2011 under Luigi Delneri.

What's next? 

Milan wrap up their Serie A season against Verona next Sunday, while Juventus will be playing for a Europa League place when they visit Udinese on the same day.

Olivier Giroud's hat-trick helped Milan maintain their push for Champions League qualification as they cruised to a comfortable 5-1 victory over Serie A's bottom club Sampdoria.

Giroud netted a first-half double and added a third following the break at San Siro on Saturday to keep the Rossoneri – who were licking their wounds after falling short to rivals Inter in the Champions League semi-finals – on track in their pursuit of a place in the top four.

Rafael Leao opened the scoring, though already-relegated Sampdoria restored parity through veteran forward Fabio Quagliarella.

But after Giroud's quickfire double, Brahim Diaz got in on the act before the France forward rounded off his hat-trick to cap an emphatic success.

Milan needed just nine minutes to carve open their visitors, with Leao latching onto Diaz's lob delivery outside the box before slotting a low finish past Nicola Ravaglia.

Sampdoria seized a shock equaliser against the run of play when Quagliarella drilled an Alessandro Zanoli cut-back beyond Mike Maignan, but parity was short-lived.

Giroud restored Milan's lead three minutes later when he nodded Diaz's cross in, before converting a penalty after Leao was felled by Koray Gunter.

Any comeback hopes Sampdoria may have harboured heading into the second half were extinguished in the 63rd minute, with Diaz tucking home from Sandro Tonali's square pass.

Giroud completed his hat-trick five minutes later, with the striker shrugging off Bram Nuytinck to smash home at close-range and seal the deal.

Milan's hopes of finishing in Serie A's top four received another blow on Saturday as they were beaten 2-0 by relegation-threatened Spezia.

The Rossoneri headed to Stadio Alberto Picco on a seven-match league unbeaten run but still stinging from Wednesday's 2-0 first-leg defeat to city rivals Inter in the Champions League semi-finals.

Stefano Pioli's men put in another frustrating display against stubborn Spezia, twice denied by the post before Przemyslaw Wisniewski and Salvatore Esposito struck late on as the hosts claimed three points for the first time in nine league games.

The result means fifth-placed Milan remain two points behind fourth-placed Inter and three ahead of Roma, though both of those teams could yet take advantage of their latest slip-up this weekend, leaving the Rossoneri with work to do to attain Champions League qualification. 

Milan hit the woodwork seven minutes in through Sandro Tonali, who sent a low effort flying towards the bottom-left corner but watched it come back off the post.

Bartlomiej Dragowski then made a crucial stop to tip Theo Hernandez's rasping drive over the crossbar as Milan failed to break through Spezia's resilient defence.

The hosts went close shortly after the break as Mehdi Bourabia curled just over from range, while Brahim Diaz hit the outside of the post for Milan from a very tight angle.

Spezia hit the front with 15 minutes remaining, Kelvin Amian hitting the post from a corner before Wisniewski poked in the rebound to send the home fans into raptures.

Their victory was made safe five minutes from time, Esposito curling a delightful free-kick over the wall and into the top-left corner as Milan's dismal week ended on another sour note. 

Milan pushed on in the battle for a top-four Serie A finish as Ismael Bennacer and Theo Hernandez scored in a 2-0 win over Lazio at San Siro.

Stefano Pioli's side were in full control from the off, though Lazio were masters of their own downfall for the opening goal as Marcos Antonio's error allowed Bennacer to bundle home. 

Hernandez doubled Milan's advantage before the break with a terrific solo effort, helping the Rossoneri to fourth in Serie A ahead of Inter's crucial clash with Roma later on Saturday. 

However, Milan's victory was marred by the sight of star forward Rafael Leao limping from the field early on, with the first leg of their Champions League semi-final tie against Inter just four days away.

Having rested several players for Wednesday's draw with Cremonese, Pioli may have regretted naming a more familiar lineup when Leao was withdrawn just 11 minutes in – the forward appearing to suffer a groin injury.

Yet Milan made light of his absence as Bennacer pounced on a Lazio mix-up, combining with Olivier Giroud before volleying into the ground and over Ivan Provedel.

Milan doubled their lead from a lightning break 12 minutes later. Hernandez received the ball from Mike Maignan near his own penalty area before driving forward and lashing home from 20 yards via a slight deflection.

Lazio failed to record a single shot on target before the break, and Milan continued to dominate after the interval as substitute Malick Thiaw powered a header over from Sandro Tonali's corner. 

Milan were denied a late third when Ante Rebic slotted home from an offside position, but it was of little consequence as they warmed up for Wednesday's Champions League derby in style.

Junior Messias scored a last-gasp equaliser as Milan were held to a 1-1 draw by relegation-threatened Cremonese at San Siro on Wednesday.

A win would have kept the Rossoneri level on points with rivals Inter in the race for Champions League qualification, but they fell behind in the 77th minute when substitute David Okereke shrugged off two defenders before coolly finishing.

Milan would escape with a draw, however, as Messias' free-kick found the net via a deflection in the third minute of stoppage time, while Charles Pickel was sent off in the dying seconds for an off-the-ball incident involving Sandro Tonali.

Stefano Pioli's men have now won just two of their last nine Serie A outings at a crucial juncture of the season, leaving them with an uphill battle on their hands if they are to finish in the top four.

Stefano Pioli feels Milan dropped two points against Roma despite Alexis Saelemaekers snatching a draw with a 97th-minute equaliser at Stadio Olimpico on Saturday.

The Rossoneri headed into the match in the Champions League places but above fifth-placed Roma on just goal difference, and it appeared the Giallorossi would leapfrog Pioli's men as Tammy Abraham scored in the 94th minute with the match's first shot on target.

But with Roma seconds away from a huge win, Saelemaekers turned home from Rafael Leao's deep cross to break the hosts' hearts and keep Milan in the top four.

Despite his team snatching a draw at the death, Pioli still felt Milan dropped two points, with city rivals Inter just three points behind and with a game in hand.

When asked if Roma had dropped points, Pioli replied: "For us too, it means that tonight we all go home unhappy. It's not the result we wanted.

"We didn't play badly, we lacked the right decisions in the last 30 metres. It's a shame we didn't exploit situations. We knew that the difficulty was to unlock the match, we didn't succeed."

Roma may have seen a crucial three points slip through their fingers with seconds to play, but head coach Jose Mourinho remained appreciative of his players' efforts, telling reporters: "I'm sad, but I'm more proud than sad. 

"Only we can do what we've done, only us with all our limitations, only us with all the players we've lost, could play this match against Milan. Milan have two teams, one on the pitch and one on the bench. I'm not envious of Pioli; he is always fair and nice to me.

"I'm super proud and I'm sure Roma fans go home like I do, sad but proud."

A 97th-minute Alexis Saelamaekers equaliser stunned Roma and earned Milan a point at Stadio Olimpico on Saturday to maintain their place in the Serie A Champions League places.

Milan headed into the game above the Giallorossi on just goal difference, and it appeared it would remain that way as a quiet affair was moments away from finishing goalless.

But in the fourth minute of stoppage time, Abraham fired into the bottom corner to send the home fans into raptures and seemingly lift Jose Mourinho's men above the visitors.

However, Saelemaekers stuck in the dying seconds to nick a draw for Milan and extend their unbeaten Serie A streak against Roma to seven matches.

Milan's game against Roma on Saturday is "worth double" as both teams vie for Champions League qualification, says Rossoneri head coach Stefano Pioli.

Milan occupy the all-important fourth place in Serie A, but only by virtue of their superior goal difference, with Roma also on 56 points ahead of Saturday's vital clash.

Pioli's men head to Stadio Olimpico where the Giallorossi have kept seven clean sheets in their last eight home league matches, with no other team in the top five European leagues keeping more since the turn of the year.

Pioli acknowledged the importance of the fixture in his pre-match press conference, telling reporters: "We need to give continuity to our performances, making sure that the next match is the most important one.

"Tomorrow's match is worth double and we need to face it with the right spirit and convictions.

"It's worth a lot. After tomorrow there will be six games left. The more points we get, the more chance we have of getting into the top-four places, which is our great goal."

Pioli was asked about his close relationship with winger Rafael Leao, who recently said his head coach was like his "father" having accumulated 22 goal involvements in 41 appearances for Milan this season in all competitions.

"My players are all my children, from morning to night," Pioli said. "Even when I'm at home I think of them.

"I talk to them every day, both about football and about other situations: they are lucky, but they have the problems of 20-year-olds.

"Rafa is the player who has been in my office the most in recent years, so there is the strongest bond."

Chelsea are reportedly investigating a potential transfer for Sadio Mane after the forward's highly publicised bust-up with Bayern Munich team-mate Leroy Sane.

Mane, 31, won the Premier League and Champions League with Liverpool before joining Bayern in a £27million (€32m) transfer in June.

His first season in Germany has resulted in 10 goals and five assists in his 30 combined appearances in the Bundesliga and Champions League, making 22 starts.

While he has been far from a disappointment, his future at the club is now up in the air after a widely reported incident where he punched his team-mate after a 3-0 Champions League defeat against Manchester City.

 

TOP STORY – CHELSEA TO OFFER MANE A RETURN TO THE PREMIER LEAGUE

According to Football Insider, Sadio Mane "is now believed to be on the radar of Chelsea", and the Stamford Bridge club are now "ready to consider a shock move".

The report states Bayern will only be looking to recoup the majority of the fee they paid for the Senegalese star, and would provide a far cheaper alternative to Napoli's 24-year-old sensation Victor Osimhen.

It also adds that Mane's former club Liverpool have no interest in bringing him back to Anfield.

 

ROUND-UP

– The Telegraph is reporting that West Ham's 24-year-old midfielder Declan Rice is Arsenal's top priority in the next transfer window.

Aston Villa are planning a bid for 27-year-old Brentford striker Ivan Toney, who also has interest from Manchester United, per Football Insider.

– According to Gazzetta dello Sport, Milan would like to secure 30-year-old Atletico Madrid striker Alvaro Morata as a replacement for injury-prone veteran Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

– Former Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel wants to reunite with 28-year-old midfielder Mateo Kovacic at Bayern Munich, per Sport1.

Barcelona's determination to bring Lionel Messi back to Camp Nou is going to be a major storyline during the next transfer window.

But their pursuit of the 2022 World Cup winner is complicated given the Blaugrana's financial situation.

As a result, Barca's squad are on notice, with expectations that key players may need to be offloaded.

 

TOP STORY – PREMIER LEAGUE TRIO TO SWOOP FOR RAPHINHA

Raphinha is set to be sold by Barcelona in the off-season with three Premier League clubs circling for his signature, according to reports.

The Blaugrana will need to let Raphinha go to free up space for Messi to return given the club's financial issues, claims Fichajes. Messi is out of contract at Paris Saint-Germain at the end of this season.

Raphinha joined from Leeds United last year and his stay could be short. AS claims Arsenal, Tottenham and Newcastle United are all interested in the 26-year-old.

 

ROUND-UP

– Milan forward Rafael Leao has declined offers from both Real Madrid and Chelsea, claims La Gazzetta dello Sport.

– Dinamo Zagreb goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic is drawing interest from Manchester United , according to Croatian outlet Jutarnji, with the Red Devils uncertain on David de Gea 's future.

Chelsea are tracking Brentford pair David Raya and Ivan Toney, reports Football London.

– Football 365 claims Aston Villa are circling for Emile Smith Rowe,  who is "disappointed" with his lack of game time at Arsenal.

– Leicester City defender Caglar Soyuncu's planned move to Atletico Madrid is signed and sealed, according to Fabrizio Romano. The Turkish defender's contract will run until 2027.

– Sky Germany's Florian Plettenberg claims Yann Sommer could leave Bayern Munich in the off-season, with new head coach Thomas Tuchel set to restore Manuel Neuer to the side when he returns to full fitness.

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