From San Siro to St James’ – BVB’s gruesome UCL group

From San Siro to St James’ – BVB’s gruesome UCL group

Last week’s UEFA Champions League group stage draw in Monaco provided football fans with some intriguing matchups.

Reigning European champions Manchester City were handed a very favourable draw; Pep Guardiola’s side will face Crvena Zvezda of Serbia, Young Boys of Switzerland and RB Leipzig of the Bundesliga.

Their fierce rivals Manchester United were also dealt a kind hand.

Erik ten Hag’s Red Devils are set to face Copenhagen, Galatasaray and German champions Bayern Munich.

Elsewhere across the Bundesliga, Union Berlin’s fairytale continued.

A remarkable rise up the pyramid has culminated in ties with record title holders and European behemoth Real Madrid.

Italian champions Napoli and Portuguese side SC Braga join them in group C.

But while Bayern and Leipzig will certainly fancy their chances of reaching the knockout stages, and Union will relish the chance to take on European royalty in the German capital, Borussia Dortmund haven’t quite been so lucky.

Group F

BVB’s stature across the continent saw them gain enough coefficients to earn a place in pot two.

UEFA’s seeding system usually gives those teams in pot two a great chance of qualification.

However, a case can certainly be made to suggest that Dortmund will be facing the strongest team of both pots three and four.

After being assigned to Paris Saint-Germain’s group F, AC Milan and Newcastle United were picked from the remaining pots to complete the group everyone is touting as the ‘group of death’.

A disastrous draw to Bundesliga newcomers Heidenheim last weekend has cemented a poor start to the season for ‘die Schwarzgelben’.

With rumours circulating regarding tensions among the club’s management after an unfulfilling summer transfer window, any sort of feel-good factor is scarce at Signal Iduna Park.

Adding this to that Champions League draw, the odds currently seem to be weighted against Edin Terzic’s side ahead of their European campaign.

But despite the big names, those group F opponents aren’t all what they once were.

So what chances do the Black and Yellows really have?

Paris Saint-Germain

2022-23 Ligue 1: 1st

2022-23 UCL: Round of 16

Best UCL Finish: Runners-Up (2020)

BVB Record: P4 W1 D2 L1

French champions Paris Saint-Germain are quite the daunting prospect out of pot one.

There’s no denying that PSG have long had a strong chokehold over the rest of Ligue 1, having been crowned champions in nine of the past 11 seasons.

Under the ownership of Qatar Sports Investments, the Parisians have been targeting European glory for many years.

Despite having boasted some of the continent’s biggest superstars, the club have always fell short on the biggest stage.

In fact, across the previous seven years, PSG have only gone further than the round of 16 on two occasions: the 2021 semi-finals and the 2020 final, where a goal from former player Kingsley Coman secured Bayern Munich’s fifth title.

Given such frustrations, the side from the city of love have looked to change their footballing structure over the last couple of years.

This restructuring culminated in big change this summer.

Luis Enrique, who won the competition with Barcelona in 2015, is now at the helm at the Parc des Princes.

2022-23 Ligue 1 runners-up RC Lens finished just a point behind them, yet still star names Neymar and Lionel Messi left the club.

Sergio Ramos also departed, with Milan Skriniar and Lucas Hernandez freshening up the defence.

Marco Verratti is also expected to leave; Manuel Ugarte has come in from Sporting, while French natives Randal Kolo-Muani and Ousmane Dembele represent a new era in that frontline.

That attack has also been bolstered by the addition of Benfica talent Gonçalo Ramos, who came in on loan. Three-time winner Marco Asensio also joined on a free from Real Madrid.

With so much change, PSG have made a slow start to the new Ligue 1 campaign, but there could be very exciting times ahead.

Dortmund Links

PSG last faced ‘die Borussen’ in the 2020 round of 16, where the French side won 3-2 on aggregate. Two goals from star-boy Erling Haaland gave Lucien Favre’s side a first leg lead, only for that advantage to be overturned in Paris.

The sides also met twice in 2010, drawing both times in the Europa League group stage. That year BVB finished three points behind their French opponents and a point shy of Sevilla, crashing out of the competition.

Ousmane Dembele, Dortmund’s record sale and record signing, will finally reunite once again with his former employers.

Meanwhile Thomas Meunier, a UCL runner-up with PSG, will also have a reunion of his own.

A.C Milan

2022-23 Serie A: 4th

2022-23 UCL: Semi-Finals

Best UCL Finish: Winners x7 (1963,1969,1989,1990,1994,2003,2007)

BVB Record: P6 W2 D1 L3

AC Milan are the club with the second most Champions League crowns.

Italian football has certainly declined since its glory days, and since Milan’s star-studded team including the likes of Cafu, Paolo Maldini and Kaka, were most recently kings of Europe in 2007.

Juventus’ Serie A dominance has been broken in recent seasons; Napoli were champions last season, Inter won the Scudetto in 2021, and Milan lifted the title in 2022.

Both Milan clubs staged a ‘Derby della Madonnina’ semi-final in the competition last year.

Inter won 3-0 across both legs before losing to Manchester City in the Istanbul final.

Despite losing one of their star men, with Sandro Tonali joining Newcastle for a reported €64m, it’s been a fairly positive summer for the Rossoneri.

The likes of Christian Pulisic, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Samuel Chukwueze and Noah Okafor were recruited – additions with plenty of promise.

Mike Maignan, Fikayo Tomori, Theo Hernandez and Rafael Leao are all still at the San Siro and are the standouts of a very talented squad.

After a disappointing fourth place finish last term, Stefano Pioli’s men have started the new campaign strongly with three wins from three.

In Borussia Dortmund’s current state, that’s a very tricky opponent, even if they aren’t what they once were.

Dortmund Links

The aforementioned Pulisic will be looking forward to a return to Signal Iduna Park, where he first made a name for himself.

This will be the first time in 20 years that these two sides have met.

In the 2002-03 group stage, each team earned a 1-0 win.

Just a year prior to that, the teams met in the UEFA Cup semi-finals, where a Marcio Amoroso hat-trick sent ‘die Schwarzgelben’ to the final with a 5-3 aggregate scoreline.

Newcastle United

2022-23 Premier League: 4th

2022-23 UCL: N/A

Best UCL Finish: Second group stage ([Round of 16] 2003)

BVB Record: N/A

It’s November 2002. A last minute winner from Craig Bellamy away at Feyenoord has ensured that Newcastle United become the first team to reach the second group stage of the UEFA Champions League after losing their first three matches.

The club finished third in the Premier League that season with Alan Shearer bagging 25 of his record 206 goals for the club.

Fast forward 20 years and the Magpies have achieved their highest league finish since.

They’ve been on quite the journey.

From relegations and misery under Mike Ashley’s ownership to a fourth place finish, a cup final and European football, the North East club have resurged since being taken over by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund.

Eddie Howe has built a very impressive team on Tyneside, including the likes of England internationals Nick Pope, Kieran Trippier and Callum Wilson, and established European players such as Sven Botman, Bruno Guimaraes and former ‘Borusse’ Alexander Isak.

Across five games against German opposition, Newcastle have never lost, winning four times; an Alan Shearer hat-trick against Bayer Leverkusen during that second group stage is fondly remembered by the Toon army.

They may have lost three of their opening four league matches this season, but all English football fans will tell you that St. James’ Park is one of the toughest places to go.

Their defeat to Liverpool two weeks ago was just their third home defeat in 25 matches.

Meanwhile they have lost just one of their last 28 home European ties.

Alex Isak moved to North Rhine-Westphalia from AIK in his native Sweden for almost €9m in 2017; although the 23-year-old couldn’t quite deliver what was promised in Germany, he has since starred at Real Sociedad and is proving his worth in England.

BVB in the UCL

Since Borussia Dortmund became champions of Europe in 1997 courtesy of that famous win over Juventus in Munich, the club haven’t quite been so successful on the continental stage.

The following season, Nevio Scala’s side reached the semi-final, where Real Madrid were victorious.

It then took ‘die Schwarzgelben’ 15 years to even progress past the round of 16.

That came in 2013, when Jürgen Klopp’s iconic BVB side lost to Bayern at Wembley, effectively spelling the end for the club’s latest golden era.

Since then, they’ve gone further than the first knockout round on three occasions, each time falling at the quarter-final stage (2014, 2017, 2021).

But in that time, they’ve only failed to get out of the groups twice (2017-18, 2021-22).

Last season, after pipping Sevilla to knockout qualification, Edin Terzic’s side crashed out in the round of 16 at the hands of a domestically underperforming Chelsea.

That was despite taking a lead from the first leg to Stamford Bridge courtesy of a Karim Adeyemi goal at Signal Iduna Park.

Destined to fail or a necessary challenge?

It can’t be denied that Dortmund find themselves in the competition’s toughest group.

All four sides carry great quality and immense prestige both in Europe and in their own countries.

Those sides may not be what they once were but the Parc des Princes, San Siro and St. James’ Park are all incredibly tough places to win at.

But Borussia Dortmund have their own wildcard.

Their squad may be a little weaker than that of some other sides in that group, but the Westfalenstadion is renowned for its European nights.

Borussia Dortmund fans at Wembley Stadium, Champions League final 2013
Borussia Dortmund fans at Wembley Stadium for the 2013 Champions League final

With an atmosphere like no other, the club may rely heavily on points at home to carry them through the group.

Given the aforementioned turmoil currently at the club, hopes aren’t too high ahead of this group stage campaign.

But facing such strong opponents may provide the motivation needed to rejuvenate those players.

Anything can happen in this competition and in such a tightly contested group, it is impossible to know just what might happen.