Of the 32 teams participating in the 2023/24 edition of the UEFA Champions League, 15 of the teams are returning to the biggest continental club football tournament, having missed out on the most recent editions.
While Manchester City is tipped to retain their prize, one cannot rule out the possibility of a surprise run by any of the 15 challengers returning to contend for the most coveted club football prize. DStv and GOtv customers are set to enjoy exclusive access to Champions League matches all season long when the tournament begins.
Which of these teams is likely to become a dark horse in the Champions League? Lets take a look at their profiles and history in the competition:
Manchester United and Galatasaray have been paired in the same group as Bayern Munich and Copenhagen. Manchester United last played in Europe’s top competition in 2022 when they were knocked out in the Round of 16 by Atletico Madrid. The three-time Champions League winners have failed to mount any serious challenge since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013.
Galatasaray’s last appearance in the Champions League came in the 2019/20 season when they failed to pick up any win in six group stage games. Okan Buruk’s men will have to scale a difficult group to be considered a dark horse in the tournament.
The trio of Arsenal, RC Lens and PSV will challenge Sevilla in Group B. Arsenal has not competed in the Champions League since their humiliating round of 16 10-2 aggregate defeat against Bayern Munich in the 2016/17 season. Interestingly, Arsenal are third on the bookmakers list of favourites to win the competition this year.
RC Lens are returning to the competition 21 years after their first and only appearance in the tournament in 2002/03. The French side narrowly missed out on winning Ligue 1 last season, it remains to be seen if they will be able to replicate their fine form in Europe.
One-time winner, PSV Eindhoven last appearance in the Champions League was in the 2018/19 season where they failed to pick up any win in the group stage. But, Peter Bosz’s men will be hoping to draw inspiration from the club’s 2004/05 semi-final run.
SC Braga and debutant Union Berlin will have to challenge Italian champions Napoli and 14-time Champions League winners, Real Madrid in Group C. SC Braga failed to scale the group stage in the 2012/13 season when they last challenged in the Champions League. The Portuguese side will have to put up a solid performance to avoid another early exit.
German side Union Berlin will make their debut in Europe’s top tournament following an impressive campaign in the Bundesliga last season. It remains to be seen if they are capable of causing an upset against Napoli and Real Madrid.
Real Sociedad will go against Inter, Benfica and RB Salzburg. The Spanish side last competed in the 2013/14 group stage season.
Feyenoord and Lazio are up against Atletico Madrid and Celtic. 1970 winners, Feyenoord last played in the group stage in the 2017/18 season. While Lazio succumbed to a 6-2 aggregate defeat against Bayern in the 2020/21 season. The duo stand a good chance to advance to the Round of 16.
Newcastle is drawn in a tough group with PSG, AC Milan and Borussia Dortmund. The English side last competed in the Champions League in 2002/03 where they were eliminated in the second group stage. Eddie Howe’s men will have to be at their best to reach the Round of 16 this time around.
FK Crvena zvezda and Young Boys will lock horns with reigning champions Manchester City and RB Leipzig. 1991 winner, FK Crvena zvezda last appearance in 2019/20 ended in the group stage, same for Young Boys who failed to qualify from the group stage in 2021/22. Both teams have a tough job ahead if they aim to make the Round of 16.
Antwerp will go against Barcelona, Porto and Shakhtar Donetsk. The Belgian side last competed in the first round of the old European Cup tournament in 1957/58. The jury is out to judge how Mark Van Bommel will fare against their group stage opponents.
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