How are teams shaping up for Champions League group stage?

The Champions League group stage kicks off tomorrow as 32 teams jostle to reach the knockouts in their six games between now and November 2.

It’s going to be relentless so, to help make sense of the scrum, The Athletic has taken a look at how each of the teams are faring in their domestic leagues. Which fallen giant is already dampening expectations? And which canny side is still dominating despite losing half of their best players?

At either end of the scale, champions Real Madrid are as ruthless as ever but can struggling underdogs Copenhagen defy their league form? For more on them and everything in between, here is your comprehensive rundown before the first set of games.

Flying in the league

Ajax (Group A)

The Dutch champions are sitting top of the Eredivisie with five wins from five despite losing half their team, including Noussair Mazraoui, Ryan Gravenberch, Sebastien Haller, Lisandro Martinez and Antony, during the summer transfer window. Steven Bergwijn and Calvin Bassey have helped fill the void. The former Tottenham Hotspur attacker has been particularly impressive, scoring six goals in five appearances since returning to the Netherlands.

First game: Ajax vs Rangers – Group A (Wednesday, September 7)

Napoli (Group A)

Luciano Spalletti will be pleased by Napoli’s unbeaten start to the season. They scored a combined 11 goals in wins over Hellas Verona, Monza and Lazio to show their goalscoring prowess and take them to the top of Serie A. Summer signing Khvicha Kvaratskhelia, who joined from Dinamo Batumi for €10million (£8.6m, $10m), has scored four goals in his first five games for the Italians. The 21-year-old, who is deployed in attack alongside Victor Osimhen, will be one to watch during the Champions League group stage.

First game: Napoli vs Liverpool (Wednesday, September 7)

Barcelona (Group C)

Xavi’s side are off to a fantastic start in La Liga. They are yet to lose and have only conceded one goal this season. Thanks to several additions over the summer, including talismanic forward Robert Lewandowski, Barca will be aiming to replicate their strong performances in the league on the European stage.

First game: Barcelona vs Viktoria Plzen (Wednesday, September 7)

Viktoria Plzen (Group C)

The Czech side have enjoyed a strong start to the season, remaining unbeaten with five wins from their opening six games. They have also had a resolute defence, only leaking four goals, but there will be greater tests in a Champions League group that boasts top-class forwards, including Romelu Lukaku, Lewandowski and Sadio Mane. Plzen will be hoping Tomas Chory can produce more quality displays, with the forward being directly involved in four goals in six appearances during the Champions League qualifying stage — more than any other player at the club.

First game: Barcelona vs Viktoria Plzen (Wednesday, September 7)

Tottenham Hotspur (Group D)

Spurs have looked like a typical Antonio Conte side in the Premier League this season — robust and organised with an attacking threat. They are unbeaten in the league after six games, which includes four victories. With a forward line that boasts Harry Kane, Son Heung-min, along with emerging talent Dejan Kulusevski, Conte’s side will be hoping to take their strong momentum onto the European stage.

First game: Tottenham Hotspur vs Marseille (Wednesday, September 7)

Marseille (Group D)

Marseille have begun the season in excellent form, winning five out of their six Ligue 1 games under new manager Igor Tudor to keep them level on points with Paris Saint-Germain. They will be relying on Dimitri Payet, who struck 16 goals and registered 13 assists last season. Marseille are second in Ligue 1, behind PSG.

First game: Tottenham Hotspur vs Marseille (Wednesday, September 7)

AC Milan (Group E)

Serie A champions Milan have started the season strongly and sit level on points with Napoli at the top of the table. They beat city rivals Inter Milan 3-2 on Saturday. Last season’s Champions League return went miserably as they finished bottom of their group, so they will be hoping for an improvement this time around. If they make it to the last 16, it will be their best Champions League performance since 2014. Winger Rafael Leao is certainly someone to keep an eye on — he has starred for Stefano Pioli’s team and won last season’s MVP award in Serie A.

First game: Red Bull Salzburg vs AC Milan (Tuesday, September 6)

Red Bull Salzburg (Group E)

Salzburg have won the last nine Austria Bundesliga titles and are top after seven games this season. But considering Brenden Aaronson, Karim Adeyemi, Rasmus Kristensen and Mohamed Camara have all left the club in recent years, it’s going to be another challenge to compete against some of Europe’s elite clubs. However, they are still a dangerous team and one player to look out for is 19-year-old striker Benjamin Sesko, who was linked with top clubs all summer. He scored against Liverpool in pre-season and has since confirmed he will be joining RB Leipzig next year.

First game: Red Bull Salzburg vs AC Milan (Tuesday, September 6)

Dinamo Zagreb (Group E)

The Croatian side are coming into the Champions League group stages with plenty of momentum. They are top of their league after eight matches, having won seven and drawn one. They beat Rijeka 3-1 on Friday before their match with Chelsea tomorrow.

First game: Dinamo Zagreb vs Chelsea (Tuesday, September 6)

Real Madrid (Group F)

Last season’s champions Real Madrid boast one of the most well-rounded squads in Europe. The experience of Karim Benzema, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric mixes perfectly with the brilliant talent of Vinicius Junior, Aurelien Tchouameni and Eduardo Camavinga. Carlo Ancelotti’s team have carried their form at the end of last season into this one, beginning La Liga with four wins from four.

First game: Celtic vs Real Madrid (Tuesday, September 7)

Holders Real Madrid have been impressing already in La Liga this season (Photo: Getty Images)

Shakhtar Donetsk (Group F)

The Ukrainian season is only three games old, but Shakhtar have started well, winning two and drawing one. They will be hoping to carry on the form of last season’s curtailed campaign, when they won 15 of their 18 matches and lost just once.

First game: RB Leipzig vs Shakhtar Donetsk (Tuesday, September 6)

Celtic (Group F)

Celtic will begin their Champions League campaign on the back of an emphatic 4-0 thumping of rivals Rangers. The victory illustrated that Ange Postecoglou’s side are the best team in Scotland, but this will be the manager’s first foray into Europe’s Champions League. They will believe that they have the attacking prowess to cause problems for any back line. Kyogo Furuhashi has been in brilliant form, scoring six goals in the club’s opening five league games. Wingers Daizen Maeda and Jota also jointly lead the league in assists, highlighting that there is no shortage of options going forward for Postecoglou.

First game: Celtic vs Real Madrid (Tuesday, September 7)

Manchester City (Group G)

Pep Guardiola would have preferred to have gone into his first Champions League game of the season with a win in City’s previous game, but had to settle for a draw against Aston Villa. City’s quest for Champions League glory has new impetus this season thanks to the arrival of Erling Haaland. The Norwegian was unable to make it three successive hat-tricks on Saturday but has raced to 10 goals in six games. City sit second in the league and there are few concerns about their title charge. Now they will aim to turn it up a notch on the European stage.

First game: Sevilla vs Manchester City (Tuesday, September 6)

Borussia Dortmund (Group G)

As always, Dortmund’s mission is to end Bayern Munich’s Bundesliga dominance. They are without star forward Haaland, who departed for Manchester City, before later learning that his replacement, Sebastien Haller, needs treatment for a tumour. In their absences, Marco Reus has showed his leadership skills again and helped Dortmund make a promising start. A tally of 12 points from a possible 15 has seen them move to second, one point clear of Bayern and only behind Freiburg on goal difference. Reus scored the only goal in his side’s win against Hoffenheim at the weekend and manager Edin Terzic will be hoping the 33-year-old can replicate his heroics in Europe.

First game: Borussia Dortmund vs Copenhagen (Tuesday, September 6)

Paris Saint-Germain (Group H)

PSG have breezed past opponents in Ligue 1 this season and are, unsurprisingly, top of the table. The trio of Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Lionel Messi has seen Christophe Galtier’s men score 24 goals in six games, which has included a 7-1 drubbing of the French manager’s former side Lille. As many of the PSG’s critics have pointed out over the past few seasons, however, the real test will be to see whether they can translate similar levels of performances onto the grandest stage of European football.

First game: PSG vs Juventus (Tuesday, September 6)

Benfica (Group H)

Benfica have already established a two-point lead at the top of Portugal’s Primeira Liga with five wins in their opening five games. It has not been short of drama, however, as their most recent fixture against Vizela saw them receive two red cards and score the winner in stoppage time. Joao Mario, who was shown a second yellow card for taking his shirt off after scoring that match-winning penalty, has been in scintillating form, notching four goals in his last three games, and along with David Neres on the opposite wing and the addition of Julian Draxler on loan, Benfica will believe they have a decent chance of qualifying from Group H.

First game: Benfica vs Maccabi Haifa (Tuesday, September 6)

Maccabi Haifa (Group H)

No Israeli side has made it out of the Champions League group stage and it appears to be an arduous task for Haifa. Domestically, however, it has been a flawless start in the Israeli Premier League. They have won their opening three fixtures and sit second, behind Maccabi Tel-Aviv on goal difference. Much of their success in recent domestic seasons, which has continued this year, has been due to the commanding presence of American goalkeeper Josh Cohen. They will be hoping he can help lead the side to a famous upset, similar to their 3-0 win against Manchester United in 2002.

First game: Benfica vs Maccabi Haifa (Tuesday, September 6)

Doing OK

Liverpool (Group A)

Jurgen Klopp’s side have not had the greatest start after recording disappointing results against Fulham, Crystal Palace, Manchester United and Everton. Mohamed Salah has not displayed the same potent goalscoring form we have seen during the past few seasons and Darwin Nunez’s needless suspension halted his adaptation to the Premier League. The Uruguayan scored six goals in 10 Champions League games for Benfica last season, which shows he is more than capable of shining on the big stage. Injuries to Thiago and Ibrahima Konate have been a key factor in their below-par start.

First game: Napoli vs Liverpool (Wednesday, September 7)

Rangers (Group A)

Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s side are already playing catch up in the Scottish Premiership as Celtic hold a five-point advantage over their arch rivals. Rangers go into their first Champions League group-stage game on the back of a 4-0 thrashing by Celtic. That was their first league defeat of the campaign as they previously won four and claimed a draw. Van Bronckhorst will be hoping for an immediate reaction when he takes his side to his homeland.

First game: Ajax vs Rangers (Wednesday, September 7)

Porto (Group B)

The reigning Portuguese champions lost two of their key players in the summer, with Fabio Vieira and Vitinha departing to Arsenal and PSG respectively. They are third in the Primeira Liga as a shock 3-1 defeat by Rio Ave a couple of weeks ago means they have 12 points from a possible 15. Mehdi Taremi, who scored 26 goals last season, remains a constant threat in front of goal.

First game: Atletico Madrid vs Porto (Wednesday, September 7)

Club Bruges (Group B)

Club Bruges have enjoyed a solid start in the Belgian Pro League. They find themselves in third place after seven games, enjoying a healthy 16 points with five victories. Forward Ferran Jutgla is in impressive form, with five goals and three assists this season.

First game: Club Bruges vs Bayer Leverkusen (Wednesday, September 7)

Bayern Munich (Group C)

Bayern have not been their usual dominant selves in the Bundesliga this season. They are third after five games, but rested several first-team players, including Thomas Muller and Leon Goretzka, in their most recent game, a 1-1 draw against Union Berlin. Julian Nagelsmann will be hoping that the extra rest will allow his players to have plenty of firepower for their European fixtures.

First game: Inter Milan vs Bayern Munich (Wednesday, September 7)

Inter Milan (Group C)

Inter have been stuttering, with two losses in their last three games. First, they lost 3-1 to Lazio before coming up short against local rivals AC Milan 3-2 on Saturday. Their defence has leaked goals but they will be hoping star forward Romelu Lukaku can return from injury as their tactics appear to focus on their attacking threat.

First game: Inter Milan vs Bayern Munich (Wednesday, September 7)

Sporting Lisbon (Group D)

They missed out on the title to Porto last season and haven’t had the best of starts to 2022-23. They are seventh in their domestic league and have lost key players, with Pablo Sarabia returning from his loan spell to PSG and Matheus Nunes being sold to Wolverhampton Wanderers. They will be hoping to go further than the round of 16 they achieved in the Champions League last season, where they were beaten 5-0 on aggregate by Manchester City.

First game: Eintracht Frankfurt vs Sporting Lisbon (Wednesday, September 7)

Chelsea (Group E)

It’s been a busy summer at Stamford Bridge as Chelsea have been one of the biggest spenders in Europe for the 2022-23 season. New chairman Todd Boehly has come in and splashed the cash on Raheem Sterling and Wesley Fofana. However, they have been up and down in the league. They beat West Ham United at the weekend but have lost to Southampton and Leeds United.

First game: Dinamo Zagreb vs Chelsea (Tuesday, September 6)

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Chelsea’s form has been mixed in the Premier League this season (Photo: Getty Images)

Struggling in the league

Bayer Leverkusen (Group B)

The German side have had a nightmare start to the season having recorded four defeats in their first five league games. Key player Florian Wirtz is yet to make his comeback from a knee injury but he is back in light training, which will surely boost Leverkusen.

First game: Club Bruges vs Bayer Leverkusen (Wednesday, September 7)

Atletico Madrid (Group B)

Diego Simeone will not be pleased with his side’s start to the season, which has seen them take seven points from a possible 12. Losing 2-0 at home to Villarreal would have been tough to take even if Atletico had not gone on to squander an early lead at Real Sociedad to drop two points two weeks later. Simeone will take confidence in Alvaro Morata being in form in front of goal, however, with three goals in four games.

First game: Atletico Madrid vs Porto (Wednesday, September 7)

Eintracht Frankfurt (Group D)

Their league form has been a mixed bag. They are 10th in the Bundesliga with 11 points but will be hoping their recent 4-0 rout of RB Leipzig will provide confidence as they begin their European journey. Oliver Grasner’s Europa League winners can look to new signing Mario Gotze, who signed a three-year deal over the summer from PSV Eindhoven, for some much-needed inspiration.

First game: Eintracht Frankfurt vs Sporting Lisbon (Wednesday, September 7)

RB Leipzig (Group F)

Leipzig will be hoping the return of Timo Werner can inspire them to go far in the Champions League. The German rejoined the club in the summer after a disappointing spell at Chelsea and will be hoping he can pick up the form he showed before his move to Stamford Bridge two years ago. Leipzig will be looking to emulate what they achieved in 2020 and get through to the semi-final stage. After slipping out of the Champions League at the group stages last season, Domenico Tedesco led Leipzig to the semi-finals of the Europa League, where they were defeated by Rangers. They are 11th in the Bundesliga.

First game: RB Leipzig vs Shakhtar Donetsk (Tuesday, September 6)


Werner starred during his first Leipzig spell (Photo: Maja Hitij/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Sevilla (Group G)

Sevilla will be hoping to put their league form behind them after a disappointing start to their La Liga season. Julen Lopetegui’s side are yet to register a win this campaign and after one draw and three losses, sit a lowly 16th in the table. On Saturday, they lost 3-0 to Barcelona and will be hoping to turn around their fortunes swiftly. The breakup of the Jules Kounde-Diego Carlos partnership at the heart of their defence has hit them hard, with Kounde joining Barcelona and Diego Carlos signing for Villa.

First game: Sevilla vs Manchester City (Tuesday, September 6)

Copenhagen (Group G)

Copenhagen have had a difficult start to the 2022-23 campaign. The Danish Super Liga champions are sixth after eight games, having only picked up 12 points. Jess Thorup’s side have followed a pattern of losing one then winning one domestically so far, posting four wins and four defeats. They managed to beat high-flying Silkeborg at the weekend, courtesy of a Viktor Claesson strike. In their first Champions League group-stage appearance since 2016, they will be hoping to raise their level of performance.

First game: Borussia Dortmund vs Copenhagen (Tuesday, September 6)

Juventus (Group H)

It has been a difficult couple of years for Massimiliano Allegri’s side and things look similarly troublesome so far this season. The once-perennial champions are unbeaten from their opening five games but lie in sixth after three draws. Their latest stalemate, a 1-1 draw against Fiorentina on Saturday, was another disappointing performance. It led to Allegri telling reporters after the match when asked about his side’s Champions League opener: “PSG? Let’s be realistic. The match to win is the one at home with Benfica.”

Their early-season struggles seem to point to resignation that the Old Lady is no longer where it was among Europe’s elites.

First game: PSG vs Juventus (Tuesday, September 6)

(Photos: Getty Images)

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How are teams shaping up for Champions League group stage?

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