Champions League group of death: Bayern, Barcelona, Inter and Viktoria Plzen make up Group C’s killer quartet

‘Terrible group’ was a rough translation of a Spanish newspaper’s assessment of Barcelona’s Champions League draw, which reacted when Xavi’s project – complete with strained economic levers and red-hot player registrations – pulled Bayern Munich and Inter Milan into Group C.

Barca owe a lot to Yaya Toure and this ceremony won’t go down as one of them. The man who won the Champions League at the Camp Nou as team-mate of Xavi in ​​2009 may have left his old team’s manager and wishing the pots could be redrawn as he tries to carve a path into the K .-o. round to find European elite.

Robert Lewandowski’s Bayern departure was surprisingly bitter for a player who scored 344 goals in 374 games for the 2019/20 Champions League winners. “Politics and cops***” is how the FIFA Men’s Best Player described his final days with the dominant force in the Bundesliga and it will depend on his chances of retaliating when he returns to the club he’s been with he has been flirting as long as coherent Xavi can make his squad by September.

Bayern have regularly exceeded the sum of their parts in a style Xavi would be keen to emulate. When they humiliated a Barca side with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez up front and Gerard Pique, Frenkie de Jong and Sergio Busquets elsewhere on the pitch in the 2020 quarter-finals, it felt like all their collective qualities were being vividly shown to their victims was missing and endured its lowest point. The only surprise was how much worse things got when Messi lost and played a tame Europa League season last season after being tied by two 3-0 defeats to Bayern from the Champions League.

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Premonition for Xavi, Bayern appear to have not missed a shot since losing the player whose goals some felt were irreplaceable. Since then, Sadio Mane has scored four goals in four games, making Liverpool fans lament his absence and the striker has been just a star of the show as Jamal Musiala, Thomas Muller, Serge Gnabry, Matthijs de Ligt and Joshua Kimmich have been among them helped Julian Nagelsmann’s team score 15 goals in their first three league games.

Nagelsmann has a point to prove after two tactical brilliance from Unai Emery allowed Villarreal to knock out his side in the quarter-finals last season and a Barcelona squad with attacking options including Raphinha, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Ferran Torres, Gavi and Ousmane Dembele will test his side, not to mention an Inter Milan side that will be joined again by Romelu Lukaku.

Lukaku, on loan from Chelsea for the season after a miserable interlude at Stamford Bridge following his Scudetto win with Inter in 2021, leads the line alongside Lautaro Martinez, who scored 25 goals in all competitions last season when the Nerazzurri missed the Scudetto by two points to Milan.

Inter have lost once in their last 20 games – a late defeat at Bologna in April that cost them the title – and are looking increasingly composed under Simone Inzaghi. In his first season in charge, Inzaghi guided them to a win at Anfield in the second leg of the round of 16, ending Liverpool’s seven-game winning streak in the Champions League at the time, but was hampered by a red card for Alexis Sanchez two minutes after her goal .

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Hakan Calhanoglu’s astute connection play, coupled with the speed of midfielders Nicolo Barella and Denzel Dumfries in Inzaghi’s fluid 3-5-2 formation, will cause problems for Barcelona if they are incoherent. Bayern shouldn’t expect a repeat of their perfect group stage of 2022/23 either, although the club on which those three sides have won six of the 14 times are the undisputed favorites for first place.

It felt compelling as Bayern captain Manuel Neuer reminded not to underestimate Viktoria Pilsen when asked about his reaction to the draw. Pilsen finished second in the Czech First League in the 2021–22 regular season, but became champions by winning the championship group stage, which separates the top six teams from the rest after 30 games.

It’s a big step after an unsuccessful attempt to qualify for the Europa Conference League last season, and their manager – former Czech Republic coach Michael Bilek – won’t mind his side being modest during the draw changes to minutes.

Pilsen knocked out Sheriff Tiraspol in qualifying and the Moldovan side’s impressive result against Real Madrid last season when they beat the eventual champions 2-1 on Matchday 2 must be a source of inspiration as they try to to repeat their best surprise in the Champions League — a win over Roma in the group stage in December 2018.

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Pilsen, six-time national champions in the last 12 years, have avoided defeat in five of their nine home games at this stage of the Champions League. If the group is tight, lost points at the 11,700-capacity Doosan Arena could doom its illustrious visitors’ ambitions for promotion.

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