Champions League back with a different scene

Football’s most prized club competition resumes with a stellar game between Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich

By AP

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Paris Saint-Germain's Kylian Mbappe (right) and Lionel Messi (left) during a training session in Paris on Monday. — AFP
Paris Saint-Germain's Kylian Mbappe (right) and Lionel Messi (left) during a training session in Paris on Monday. — AFP

Published: Mon 13 Feb 2023, 11:44 PM

The Champions League returns on Tuesday to a very different European football scene than it was before a three-month mid-season break.

In the interim, Lionel Messi won his first World Cup title. Kylian Mbappé almost won his second, then got injured. Early-season favourites for the European title fell into slumps at home.

Meanwhile, one standout team before the World Cup, Napoli, have marched on and aims for their first quarterfinal place in the competition’s 68-year history.

Off the field, the Super League project that tried to effectively kill the Champions League met a serious legal setback.

It adds up to plenty of drama even before football’s most prized club competition resumes with a stellar game between Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich.

A rematch of the 2020 final won by Bayern pairs two powers that helped stop the Super League in 2021 by refusing to join it. What it was not expected to have at Parc des Princes were the goalscorer and goalkeeper with the best records from the group stage.

Mbappé, who scored seven goals across five different Champions League games in the fall, was set to miss most of February with a thigh injury. He made a surprise return to training on Sunday. His name featured in the squad of 22 players announced by PSG on Monday.

Bayern goalkeeper Manuel Neuer’s season is over because he broke a leg skiing on a vacation taken after Germany’s quick exit from the World Cup.

The other game on Tuesday pairs AC Milan and Tottenham, two of the seven round-of-16 teams that are currently outside the Champions League qualifying places in their domestic leagues. Chelsea are another and visit Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday, when Club Brugge host Benfica.

Four more first-leg games are scheduled February 21-22.

At age 35, Messi finally has a World Cup title for Argentina. Now back to the business of winning a fifth Champions League.

When Messi won his fourth title with Barcelona in 2015, Barack Obama was president, Britain were in the European Union and Jose Mourinho won a league title, at Chelsea.

Messi has not been to the final since and his first try with PSG ended in the round of 16 against Madrid. When he last faced Bayern, it was an 8-2 rout over Barcelona in the single-leg quarterfinals of the pandemic-hit 2020 edition.

Both PSG and Bayern have misfired since the World Cup. PSG were unbeaten entering 2023 then lost three in the league and are out of the French Cup. Bayern still lead the Bundesliga after restarting with three straight draws.

FIXTURES

TUESDAY

> PSG vs Bayern, 11.55 pm

> Milan vs Tottenham, 11.55 pm

WEDNESDAY

> Club Brugge vs Benfica, 11.55 pm

> Dortmund vs Chelsea, 11.55 pm


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