The best teams in Europe are ready to play for the biggest trophy of them all as the 2023/24 Champions League starts, live on TNT Sports. Here’s our guide to the group stage
By Chris Miller, Feature Writer
It’s been another summer of frenzied transfer activity, with the “big five” European leagues spending a record total of £4.86 billion in fees, over £2 billion of that by Premier League clubs. But now the window is closed, it’s time to get to the real business: elite players battling it out for continental supremacy on the pitch. The Champions League is back!
Europe’s premier club competition kicks off on 19 September with the group stage, pitting Euro giants like Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Internazionale and 13-time champions Real Madrid against qualifiers determined to make an impact, which this season includes Copenhagen, Lens, Braga and Royal Antwerp. Five British teams are involved at this stage and Manchester City, of course, are the defending champions.
We’re looking ahead to what might happen in this season’s group stage, the last one in this eight-groups-of-four format before a new-look Champions League debuts in 2024. You can find the dates of every round below too, and you can watch every game live on TNT Sports.
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What are the first games in the UEFA Champions League 2023/34?
Group F: AC Milan v Newcastle United
Tuesday 19 September, 5pm, TNT Sports 1 HD (CH 527)
Group G: Young Boys v RB Leipzig
Tuesday 19 September, 5.30pm, TNT Sports 3 HD (CH 529)
Group G: Manchester City v Crvena Zvezda
Tuesday 19 September, 7pm, TNT Sports 2 HD (CH 528)
Group F: Paris Saint-Germain v Borussia Dortmund
Tuesday 19 September, 7.45pm, TNT Sports 3 HD (CH 529)
Group E: Feyenoord v Celtic
Tuesday 19 September, 7.45pm, TNT Sports 1 HD (CH 527)
Group H: Barcelona v Royal Antwerp
Tuesday 19 September, 7.45pm, TNT Sports 4 HD (CH 530)
Group C: Real Madrid v Union Berlin
Wednesday 20 September, 5pm, TNT Sports 2 HD (CH 528)
Group A: Galatasaray v Copenhagen
Wednesday 20 September, 5.30pm, TNT Sports 3 HD (CH 529)
Group A: Bayern Munich v Manchester United
Wednesday 20 September, 7pm, TNT Sports 1 HD (CH 527)
Group B: Arsenal v PSV Eindhoven
Wednesday 20 September, 7.45pm, TNT Sports 2 HD (CH 528)
Group D: Real Sociedad v Internazionale
Wednesday 20 September, 7.45pm, TNT Sports 3 HD (CH 529)
Group C: Braga v Napoli
Wednesday 20 September, 7.45pm, TNT Sports 4 HD (CH 530)
Who will qualify from the Champions League groups?
This looks straightforward for the German champions and United. Copenhagen proved difficult to beat at home in last season’s competition but won’t trouble the top two places. The crucial game could be in Istanbul, a notoriously hostile place to visit – plenty of teams have come unstuck against Galatasaray before.
But despite the Red Devils’ tricky start to the Premier League season, we expect them to see off the challenge of Gala and qualify second. Bayern, whose new £100m signing Harry Kane is scoring for fun already, will easily top it.
Our prediction: 1 Bayern Munich 2 Manchester United 3 Galatasaray 4 Copenhagen
Fun fact: Remember Wilfried Zaha’s brief spell with Man Utd, back in 2013? Look out for him facing his old club in the colours of Galatasaray, whom he joined this summer.
For their first Champions League campaign since 2016/17, Arsenal could hardly have hoped for a gentler reintroduction – and not only because they don’t have to travel too far. Europa League holders Sevilla have had a poor start to the new season; Lens, who finished just a point behind PSG in Ligue 1, have lost key players.
PSV may provide tricky opposition, having signed internationals like Noa Lang and Chucky Lozano. But the Gunners, who have added steel with Declan Rice and guile with Kai Havertz, should win the group.
Our prediction: 1 Arsenal 2 Sevilla 3 PSV Eindhoven 4 Lens
Fun fact: Arsenal’s Spanish boss Mikel Arteta has the unusual distinction of playing in the Champions League for clubs from three countries – Paris Saint-Germain, Rangers and Arsenal – but not one from the country of his birth.
While Napoli claimed the Serie A title by a whopping 16 points last year, they were knocked out of the Champions League in the quarter-finals by domestic rivals Inter. Having held on to the core of their title-winning squad, it’s time to test whether they’re serious European contenders. And how better to find out than by taking on 13-time champs Real Madrid, now with added Jude Bellingham?
Portugal’s Braga are embarking on just their third Champions League group stage, while this is Union’s first time qualifying. The German newcomers’ “sit deep and hit ’em on the break” tactics may suit a format where away wins can be crucial. But we don’t see either progressing.
Our prediction: 1 Real Madrid 2 Napoli 3 Union Berlin 4 Braga
Fun fact: Union, who played in Germany’s top flight for the first time in 2019, have already emulated the Champions League record of their traditionally “bigger” city rivals Hertha, who reached the group stage once – in 1999/2000.
Inter were last season’s runners-up, knocked out Benfica on their way to the final and have made a strong start in Serie A but they’re not nailed on to win Group D. The Portuguese champions topped their group last year ahead of PSG and Juventus, and have made some smart acquisitions including Ángel di María.
David Silva led Real Sociedad to the top four of La Liga but has now retired; Salzburg have made it out of the groups just once previously, at which point they were thrashed 8-2 by Bayern.
Our prediction: 1 Benfica 2 Internazionale 3 Real Sociedad 4 RB Salzburg
Fun fact: Benfica were the first team who weren’t Real Madrid to become European champions. In fact they reached five finals in eight years from 1961 to 1968, winning two titles.
The most open group of all. Atlético Madrid have a strong recent record but appear to be declining, despite the talents of Antoine Griezmann and Memphis Depay. Lazio sneaked into second in Serie A while the Milan clubs were distracted by their Champions League semi-final clash, and have lost their main creative influence in Sergej Milinković-Savić. Feyenoord are in the group stage for just the second time in 20 years.
As for Celtic, they were showing signs of progress in Europe under Ange Postecoglou, but he’s now departed and they’ve been less convincing with Brendan Rodgers back in charge. Can they make Celtic Park a fortress and nick crucial points away from home?
Our prediction: 1 Atlético Madrid 2 Celtic 3 Lazio 4 Feyenoord
Fun fact: Atlético coach Diego Simeone is the longest-serving manager in the big five European leagues, having been appointed in December 2011.
It’s a toss-up, isn’t it. When you’re in the Champions League for the first time in 20 years, as Newcastle are, do you want relatively easy matches against teams from Moldova and Azerbaijan? Or do you want to visit some of the most glamorous, successful and intimidating clubs in Europe?
Eddie Howe’s team have definitely got a healthy dose of the latter but with the noise generated by the Toon Army, none of their opponents will relish a trip to St James’ Park either. A transitional, post-Messi, post-Neymar PSG are always one bad result away from a meltdown, Dortmund are famous for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, and Milan are deceptively flaky despite last year’s run to the semi-finals. We honestly see the Geordies getting through.
Our prediction: 1 Borussia Dortmund 2 Newcastle United 3 Paris Saint-Germain 4 AC Milan
Fun fact: The Saudi money has brought international stars but Newcastle still have five locally born players in their squad, plus Jacob Murphy – a London-born Toon fan whose parents are from the north-east of England.
Arguably the main aim for RB Leipzig, Young Boys and Crvena Zvezda (aka Red Star) is to avoid a goal difference in negative double figures. Man City have hit the ground running this season and look like they could sweep aside every opponent they face.
Leipzig are actually unbeaten at home against City, but they’ve lost key stars to the Premier League this summer, including Josko Gvardiol to City. Still, smart recruitment – including Loïs Openda from Lens and Xavi Simons from PSG – means the German side should be too strong for their Serbian and Swiss opponents.
Our prediction: 1 Manchester City 2 RB Leipzig 3 Crvena Zvezda 4 Young Boys
Fun fact: The RB in RB Leipzig doesn’t stand for what you probably think it does. It’s officially RasenBallsport Leipzig, which means “lawn ball sports”. The German FA wouldn’t allow a corporate entity in the club name.
Barcelona are an enigma right now. La Liga champions, but unconvincing on the pitch. Short of money, but still signing stars like João Félix and João Cancelo (admittedly on loan). European giants who haven’t made it beyond the group stage in the past two seasons. But surely they’ll have too much for these opponents.
Last season Royal Antwerp were knocked out in the play-offs for the Europa Conference League group stage. Now, after a dramatic domestic title win – their first since 1957 – they’re in the big time. Shakhtar have been shedding players, understandably, and will be playing their “home” games in Hamburg. Porto are experienced campaigners, with two quarter-finals in the past five years.
Our prediction: 1 Barcelona 2 Porto 3 Shakhtar Donetsk 4 Royal Antwerp
Fun fact: For the first time in 66 years, Barcelona won’t be playing their home games at Camp Nou. They’re moving to the city’s Estadi Olímpic while their stadium is renovated.
When are the Champions League matchdays in 2023/24?
Tuesday 19 + Wednesday 20 September 2023
Tuesday 3 + Wednesday 4 October 2023
Tuesday 24 + Wednesday 25 October 2023
Tuesday 7 + Wednesday 8 November 2023
Tuesday 28 + Wednesday 29 November 2023
Tuesday 12 + Wednesday 13 December 2023
Round Of 16
1st Legs: Tuesday 13 + Wednesday 14 February 2024
2nd Legs: Tuesday 20 + Wednesday 21 February 2024
1st Legs: Tuesday 9 + Wednesday 10 April 2024
2nd Legs: Tuesday 16 + Wednesday 17 April 2024
1st Legs: Tuesday 30 April + Wednesday 1 May 2024
2nd Legs: Tuesday 7 + Wednesday 8 May 2024
Saturday 1 June 2023
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