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Ready to go again

New faces, old foes and a first step on the next Champions League adventure – Simon Hart takes stock of the group stage draw and looks ahead to the 2020/21 campaign

INTERVIEW Graham Hunter

Perhaps it was Didier Drogba recalling that his debut in the competition was now 18 years ago, or Kevin De Bruyne revealing his boyhood hero was Michael Owen, but for some of us, Thursday’s Champions League group stage draw did not just have us looking forward but back too. And not just to double-check that the early Noughties were really quite so long ago.

For supporters of certain clubs, certain fixtures will have immediately sparked memories of past encounters. Bayern v Atlético in Group A and Juventus v Barcelona in Group G are rematches of past finals, while in Group D Liverpool and Ajax will be reunited for the first time since a 1966/67 second-round tie remembered for a foggy night in Amsterdam when Johan Cruyff & co prevailed 5-1.

Even before the draw, fans were looking both ways at Hungary’s Ferencváros: to past deeds and to the possibility of fresh ones too. After all, the club’s group stage return coincides with the 25th anniversary of their last Champions League participation. The months of the Covid-19 pandemic have been a fertile time for football nostalgia and Ferencváros’s Hungarian international midfielder Gergő Lovrencics has not been immune to it: prior to their play-off win over Molde he sat down to watch a documentary of that 1995/96 campaign, drawing inspiration.

“The way that team got to the group stage, they were a real team, so I appreciate their success – and after we watched the documentary, we Hungarians understood that they did well because they stuck together, they combined Hungarians with players from overseas and functioned as a real team,” he said. “We also played like a real team,” he added of a qualifying effort which included victories over Djurgårdens, Celtic and Dinamo Zagreb before the away-goals triumph over Molde.

In that 1995 group stage, Ferencváros lost 6-1 at Real Madrid yet earned a more creditable 1-1 home draw with the Spanish giants. Lovrencics had been dreaming of the Santiago Bernabéu – “I've been a Real Madrid fan since I was a kid” – but now he has the next-best thing with a trip to Barcelona. Ferencváros will also face Juventus in an encounter that will take their older followers on an even deeper meander into the past: it was against the Turin club that they won the 1965 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup final (one of three European finals that this famous club contested between 1965 and 1975).  

“There is the culture here – Ferencváros is a very historical club,” said their coach, Serhiy Rebrov, who has his own personal reunion in store with Group G’s other club, Dynamo Kyiv, where he made his name in the late 90s.

Coach Hansi Flick adds the trophy to Bayern's collection (above); Bayern striker Robert Lewandowski was voted UEFA Men's Player of the Year (top)

While Ferencváros are going back to the future, for four other clubs the 2020/21 group stage offers a first step altogether into the UEFA Champions League spotlight. Turkey’s champions İstanbul Başakşehir had not even played in Europe before 2015 but now have visits to the Parc des Princes and Old Trafford on their Group H schedule. The presence in the same section of Leipzig, last term’s surprise semi-finalists, offers them a reminder of the impact that a less established side can make. The same goes for Midtjylland in Group D, where the Danish newcomers will face an Atalanta side that reached the quarter-finals on its debut appearance last season, as well as Liverpool and Ajax.    

As for this year’s two other new boys, Krasnodar first kicked a ball in Europe in 2014 and Rennes in 1965. One has waited longer than the other for the opportunity among the elite that now awaits both in Group E, where they’ll face Sevilla and Chelsea. “Ultimately it’s the holy grail for a club to get into this kind of competition,” said the Rennes coach, Julien Stephan, though he also acknowledged his sense of regret that a packed Roazhon Park will not be part of the experience.

“Missing the passion of the fans and the strength that they could have given us during this period will be a real handicap, but we’ll look for other resources and we will find other sources of motivation,” he said.

Those words were spoken before the UEFA Executive Committee confirmed yesterday that it would allow the partial return of spectators for UEFA matches where local laws permit, with the number of spectators capped at a maximum of 30 per cent of stadium capacity and no away supporters allowed.

What this will mean for each club remains to be seen. The fact that Budapest hosted the UEFA Super Cup will give hope to Ferencváros fans, though a personal wish is that at least some Atalanta supporters will get to see their club’s first UEFA Champions League fixtures in Bergamo (after the San Siro staged their 2019/20 games).

As for on-field predictions, after last season’s Champions League concluded with that 8-2 drubbing for Barcelona, both Lyon and Leipzig reaching the last four and a final played on 23 August that still feels like yesterday, it seems foolhardy to look too far ahead at this unique, uncertain moment in time. Tuesday 20 October – the latest-ever start date of the group stage – will have to do for now.

Penalty Pedigree

Etiam erat velit scelerisque in dictum non. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at. Scelerisque felis imperdiet proin fermentum leo. Nibh tortor id aliquet lectus proin nibh nisl. Nulla at volutpat diam ut venenatis. At urna condimentum mattis pellentesque id nibh tortor id aliquet. Leo a diam sollicitudin tempor id eu nisl nunc mi. Dui vivamus arcu felis bibendum ut. Pharetra convallis posuere morbi leo urna molestie. Adipiscing at in tellus integer feugiat scelerisque. In arcu cursus euismod quis. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at lectus urna duis. Facilisi nullam vehicula ipsum a arcu cursus. At tempor commodo ullamcorper a lacus vestibulum sed arcu non. Ipsum dolor sit amet consectetur adipiscing elit pellentesque habitant. Vitae sapien pellentesque habitant morbi tristique senectus. Eget nullam non nisi est sit amet facilisis. Ipsum consequat nisl vel pretium lectus quam. Elit sed vulputate mi sit amet mauris commodo quis. Pretium fusce id velit ut tortor pretium viverra suspendisse potenti.

Perhaps it was Didier Drogba recalling that his debut in the competition was now 18 years ago, or Kevin De Bruyne revealing his boyhood hero was Michael Owen, but for some of us, Thursday’s Champions League group stage draw did not just have us looking forward but back too. And not just to double-check that the early Noughties were really quite so long ago.

For supporters of certain clubs, certain fixtures will have immediately sparked memories of past encounters. Bayern v Atlético in Group A and Juventus v Barcelona in Group G are rematches of past finals, while in Group D Liverpool and Ajax will be reunited for the first time since a 1966/67 second-round tie remembered for a foggy night in Amsterdam when Johan Cruyff & co prevailed 5-1.

Even before the draw, fans were looking both ways at Hungary’s Ferencváros: to past deeds and to the possibility of fresh ones too. After all, the club’s group stage return coincides with the 25th anniversary of their last Champions League participation. The months of the Covid-19 pandemic have been a fertile time for football nostalgia and Ferencváros’s Hungarian international midfielder Gergő Lovrencics has not been immune to it: prior to their play-off win over Molde he sat down to watch a documentary of that 1995/96 campaign, drawing inspiration.

“The way that team got to the group stage, they were a real team, so I appreciate their success – and after we watched the documentary, we Hungarians understood that they did well because they stuck together, they combined Hungarians with players from overseas and functioned as a real team,” he said. “We also played like a real team,” he added of a qualifying effort which included victories over Djurgårdens, Celtic and Dinamo Zagreb before the away-goals triumph over Molde.

In that 1995 group stage, Ferencváros lost 6-1 at Real Madrid yet earned a more creditable 1-1 home draw with the Spanish giants. Lovrencics had been dreaming of the Santiago Bernabéu – “I've been a Real Madrid fan since I was a kid” – but now he has the next-best thing with a trip to Barcelona. Ferencváros will also face Juventus in an encounter that will take their older followers on an even deeper meander into the past: it was against the Turin club that they won the 1965 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup final (one of three European finals that this famous club contested between 1965 and 1975).  

“There is the culture here – Ferencváros is a very historical club,” said their coach, Serhiy Rebrov, who has his own personal reunion in store with Group G’s other club, Dynamo Kyiv, where he made his name in the late 90s.

Coach Hansi Flick adds the trophy to Bayern's collection (above); Bayern striker Robert Lewandowski was voted UEFA Men's Player of the Year (top)

While Ferencváros are going back to the future, for four other clubs the 2020/21 group stage offers a first step altogether into the UEFA Champions League spotlight. Turkey’s champions İstanbul Başakşehir had not even played in Europe before 2015 but now have visits to the Parc des Princes and Old Trafford on their Group H schedule. The presence in the same section of Leipzig, last term’s surprise semi-finalists, offers them a reminder of the impact that a less established side can make. The same goes for Midtjylland in Group D, where the Danish newcomers will face an Atalanta side that reached the quarter-finals on its debut appearance last season, as well as Liverpool and Ajax.    

As for this year’s two other new boys, Krasnodar first kicked a ball in Europe in 2014 and Rennes in 1965. One has waited longer than the other for the opportunity among the elite that now awaits both in Group E, where they’ll face Sevilla and Chelsea. “Ultimately it’s the holy grail for a club to get into this kind of competition,” said the Rennes coach, Julien Stephan, though he also acknowledged his sense of regret that a packed Roazhon Park will not be part of the experience.

“Missing the passion of the fans and the strength that they could have given us during this period will be a real handicap, but we’ll look for other resources and we will find other sources of motivation,” he said.

Those words were spoken before the UEFA Executive Committee confirmed yesterday that it would allow the partial return of spectators for UEFA matches where local laws permit, with the number of spectators capped at a maximum of 30 per cent of stadium capacity and no away supporters allowed.

What this will mean for each club remains to be seen. The fact that Budapest hosted the UEFA Super Cup will give hope to Ferencváros fans, though a personal wish is that at least some Atalanta supporters will get to see their club’s first UEFA Champions League fixtures in Bergamo (after the San Siro staged their 2019/20 games).

As for on-field predictions, after last season’s Champions League concluded with that 8-2 drubbing for Barcelona, both Lyon and Leipzig reaching the last four and a final played on 23 August that still feels like yesterday, it seems foolhardy to look too far ahead at this unique, uncertain moment in time. Tuesday 20 October – the latest-ever start date of the group stage – will have to do for now.

Read the full story
Sign up now to get access to this and every premium feature on Champions Journal. You will also get access to member-only competitions and offers. And you get all of that completely free!

Perhaps it was Didier Drogba recalling that his debut in the competition was now 18 years ago, or Kevin De Bruyne revealing his boyhood hero was Michael Owen, but for some of us, Thursday’s Champions League group stage draw did not just have us looking forward but back too. And not just to double-check that the early Noughties were really quite so long ago.

For supporters of certain clubs, certain fixtures will have immediately sparked memories of past encounters. Bayern v Atlético in Group A and Juventus v Barcelona in Group G are rematches of past finals, while in Group D Liverpool and Ajax will be reunited for the first time since a 1966/67 second-round tie remembered for a foggy night in Amsterdam when Johan Cruyff & co prevailed 5-1.

Even before the draw, fans were looking both ways at Hungary’s Ferencváros: to past deeds and to the possibility of fresh ones too. After all, the club’s group stage return coincides with the 25th anniversary of their last Champions League participation. The months of the Covid-19 pandemic have been a fertile time for football nostalgia and Ferencváros’s Hungarian international midfielder Gergő Lovrencics has not been immune to it: prior to their play-off win over Molde he sat down to watch a documentary of that 1995/96 campaign, drawing inspiration.

“The way that team got to the group stage, they were a real team, so I appreciate their success – and after we watched the documentary, we Hungarians understood that they did well because they stuck together, they combined Hungarians with players from overseas and functioned as a real team,” he said. “We also played like a real team,” he added of a qualifying effort which included victories over Djurgårdens, Celtic and Dinamo Zagreb before the away-goals triumph over Molde.

In that 1995 group stage, Ferencváros lost 6-1 at Real Madrid yet earned a more creditable 1-1 home draw with the Spanish giants. Lovrencics had been dreaming of the Santiago Bernabéu – “I've been a Real Madrid fan since I was a kid” – but now he has the next-best thing with a trip to Barcelona. Ferencváros will also face Juventus in an encounter that will take their older followers on an even deeper meander into the past: it was against the Turin club that they won the 1965 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup final (one of three European finals that this famous club contested between 1965 and 1975).  

“There is the culture here – Ferencváros is a very historical club,” said their coach, Serhiy Rebrov, who has his own personal reunion in store with Group G’s other club, Dynamo Kyiv, where he made his name in the late 90s.

Coach Hansi Flick adds the trophy to Bayern's collection (above); Bayern striker Robert Lewandowski was voted UEFA Men's Player of the Year (top)

While Ferencváros are going back to the future, for four other clubs the 2020/21 group stage offers a first step altogether into the UEFA Champions League spotlight. Turkey’s champions İstanbul Başakşehir had not even played in Europe before 2015 but now have visits to the Parc des Princes and Old Trafford on their Group H schedule. The presence in the same section of Leipzig, last term’s surprise semi-finalists, offers them a reminder of the impact that a less established side can make. The same goes for Midtjylland in Group D, where the Danish newcomers will face an Atalanta side that reached the quarter-finals on its debut appearance last season, as well as Liverpool and Ajax.    

As for this year’s two other new boys, Krasnodar first kicked a ball in Europe in 2014 and Rennes in 1965. One has waited longer than the other for the opportunity among the elite that now awaits both in Group E, where they’ll face Sevilla and Chelsea. “Ultimately it’s the holy grail for a club to get into this kind of competition,” said the Rennes coach, Julien Stephan, though he also acknowledged his sense of regret that a packed Roazhon Park will not be part of the experience.

“Missing the passion of the fans and the strength that they could have given us during this period will be a real handicap, but we’ll look for other resources and we will find other sources of motivation,” he said.

Those words were spoken before the UEFA Executive Committee confirmed yesterday that it would allow the partial return of spectators for UEFA matches where local laws permit, with the number of spectators capped at a maximum of 30 per cent of stadium capacity and no away supporters allowed.

What this will mean for each club remains to be seen. The fact that Budapest hosted the UEFA Super Cup will give hope to Ferencváros fans, though a personal wish is that at least some Atalanta supporters will get to see their club’s first UEFA Champions League fixtures in Bergamo (after the San Siro staged their 2019/20 games).

As for on-field predictions, after last season’s Champions League concluded with that 8-2 drubbing for Barcelona, both Lyon and Leipzig reaching the last four and a final played on 23 August that still feels like yesterday, it seems foolhardy to look too far ahead at this unique, uncertain moment in time. Tuesday 20 October – the latest-ever start date of the group stage – will have to do for now.

Penalty Pedigree

Etiam erat velit scelerisque in dictum non. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at. Scelerisque felis imperdiet proin fermentum leo. Nibh tortor id aliquet lectus proin nibh nisl. Nulla at volutpat diam ut venenatis. At urna condimentum mattis pellentesque id nibh tortor id aliquet. Leo a diam sollicitudin tempor id eu nisl nunc mi. Dui vivamus arcu felis bibendum ut. Pharetra convallis posuere morbi leo urna molestie. Adipiscing at in tellus integer feugiat scelerisque. In arcu cursus euismod quis. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at lectus urna duis. Facilisi nullam vehicula ipsum a arcu cursus. At tempor commodo ullamcorper a lacus vestibulum sed arcu non. Ipsum dolor sit amet consectetur adipiscing elit pellentesque habitant. Vitae sapien pellentesque habitant morbi tristique senectus. Eget nullam non nisi est sit amet facilisis. Ipsum consequat nisl vel pretium lectus quam. Elit sed vulputate mi sit amet mauris commodo quis. Pretium fusce id velit ut tortor pretium viverra suspendisse potenti.

Blog

Ready to go again

New faces, old foes and a first step on the next Champions League adventure – Simon Hart takes stock of the group stage draw and looks ahead to the 2020/21 campaign

Perhaps it was Didier Drogba recalling that his debut in the competition was now 18 years ago, or Kevin De Bruyne revealing his boyhood hero was Michael Owen, but for some of us, Thursday’s Champions League group stage draw did not just have us looking forward but back too. And not just to double-check that the early Noughties were really quite so long ago.

For supporters of certain clubs, certain fixtures will have immediately sparked memories of past encounters. Bayern v Atlético in Group A and Juventus v Barcelona in Group G are rematches of past finals, while in Group D Liverpool and Ajax will be reunited for the first time since a 1966/67 second-round tie remembered for a foggy night in Amsterdam when Johan Cruyff & co prevailed 5-1.

Even before the draw, fans were looking both ways at Hungary’s Ferencváros: to past deeds and to the possibility of fresh ones too. After all, the club’s group stage return coincides with the 25th anniversary of their last Champions League participation. The months of the Covid-19 pandemic have been a fertile time for football nostalgia and Ferencváros’s Hungarian international midfielder Gergő Lovrencics has not been immune to it: prior to their play-off win over Molde he sat down to watch a documentary of that 1995/96 campaign, drawing inspiration.

“The way that team got to the group stage, they were a real team, so I appreciate their success – and after we watched the documentary, we Hungarians understood that they did well because they stuck together, they combined Hungarians with players from overseas and functioned as a real team,” he said. “We also played like a real team,” he added of a qualifying effort which included victories over Djurgårdens, Celtic and Dinamo Zagreb before the away-goals triumph over Molde.

In that 1995 group stage, Ferencváros lost 6-1 at Real Madrid yet earned a more creditable 1-1 home draw with the Spanish giants. Lovrencics had been dreaming of the Santiago Bernabéu – “I've been a Real Madrid fan since I was a kid” – but now he has the next-best thing with a trip to Barcelona. Ferencváros will also face Juventus in an encounter that will take their older followers on an even deeper meander into the past: it was against the Turin club that they won the 1965 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup final (one of three European finals that this famous club contested between 1965 and 1975).  

“There is the culture here – Ferencváros is a very historical club,” said their coach, Serhiy Rebrov, who has his own personal reunion in store with Group G’s other club, Dynamo Kyiv, where he made his name in the late 90s.

Coach Hansi Flick adds the trophy to Bayern's collection (above); Bayern striker Robert Lewandowski was voted UEFA Men's Player of the Year (top)

While Ferencváros are going back to the future, for four other clubs the 2020/21 group stage offers a first step altogether into the UEFA Champions League spotlight. Turkey’s champions İstanbul Başakşehir had not even played in Europe before 2015 but now have visits to the Parc des Princes and Old Trafford on their Group H schedule. The presence in the same section of Leipzig, last term’s surprise semi-finalists, offers them a reminder of the impact that a less established side can make. The same goes for Midtjylland in Group D, where the Danish newcomers will face an Atalanta side that reached the quarter-finals on its debut appearance last season, as well as Liverpool and Ajax.    

As for this year’s two other new boys, Krasnodar first kicked a ball in Europe in 2014 and Rennes in 1965. One has waited longer than the other for the opportunity among the elite that now awaits both in Group E, where they’ll face Sevilla and Chelsea. “Ultimately it’s the holy grail for a club to get into this kind of competition,” said the Rennes coach, Julien Stephan, though he also acknowledged his sense of regret that a packed Roazhon Park will not be part of the experience.

“Missing the passion of the fans and the strength that they could have given us during this period will be a real handicap, but we’ll look for other resources and we will find other sources of motivation,” he said.

Those words were spoken before the UEFA Executive Committee confirmed yesterday that it would allow the partial return of spectators for UEFA matches where local laws permit, with the number of spectators capped at a maximum of 30 per cent of stadium capacity and no away supporters allowed.

What this will mean for each club remains to be seen. The fact that Budapest hosted the UEFA Super Cup will give hope to Ferencváros fans, though a personal wish is that at least some Atalanta supporters will get to see their club’s first UEFA Champions League fixtures in Bergamo (after the San Siro staged their 2019/20 games).

As for on-field predictions, after last season’s Champions League concluded with that 8-2 drubbing for Barcelona, both Lyon and Leipzig reaching the last four and a final played on 23 August that still feels like yesterday, it seems foolhardy to look too far ahead at this unique, uncertain moment in time. Tuesday 20 October – the latest-ever start date of the group stage – will have to do for now.

Penalty Pedigree

Etiam erat velit scelerisque in dictum non. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at. Scelerisque felis imperdiet proin fermentum leo. Nibh tortor id aliquet lectus proin nibh nisl. Nulla at volutpat diam ut venenatis. At urna condimentum mattis pellentesque id nibh tortor id aliquet. Leo a diam sollicitudin tempor id eu nisl nunc mi. Dui vivamus arcu felis bibendum ut. Pharetra convallis posuere morbi leo urna molestie. Adipiscing at in tellus integer feugiat scelerisque. In arcu cursus euismod quis. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at lectus urna duis. Facilisi nullam vehicula ipsum a arcu cursus. At tempor commodo ullamcorper a lacus vestibulum sed arcu non. Ipsum dolor sit amet consectetur adipiscing elit pellentesque habitant. Vitae sapien pellentesque habitant morbi tristique senectus. Eget nullam non nisi est sit amet facilisis. Ipsum consequat nisl vel pretium lectus quam. Elit sed vulputate mi sit amet mauris commodo quis. Pretium fusce id velit ut tortor pretium viverra suspendisse potenti.

Perhaps it was Didier Drogba recalling that his debut in the competition was now 18 years ago, or Kevin De Bruyne revealing his boyhood hero was Michael Owen, but for some of us, Thursday’s Champions League group stage draw did not just have us looking forward but back too. And not just to double-check that the early Noughties were really quite so long ago.

For supporters of certain clubs, certain fixtures will have immediately sparked memories of past encounters. Bayern v Atlético in Group A and Juventus v Barcelona in Group G are rematches of past finals, while in Group D Liverpool and Ajax will be reunited for the first time since a 1966/67 second-round tie remembered for a foggy night in Amsterdam when Johan Cruyff & co prevailed 5-1.

Even before the draw, fans were looking both ways at Hungary’s Ferencváros: to past deeds and to the possibility of fresh ones too. After all, the club’s group stage return coincides with the 25th anniversary of their last Champions League participation. The months of the Covid-19 pandemic have been a fertile time for football nostalgia and Ferencváros’s Hungarian international midfielder Gergő Lovrencics has not been immune to it: prior to their play-off win over Molde he sat down to watch a documentary of that 1995/96 campaign, drawing inspiration.

“The way that team got to the group stage, they were a real team, so I appreciate their success – and after we watched the documentary, we Hungarians understood that they did well because they stuck together, they combined Hungarians with players from overseas and functioned as a real team,” he said. “We also played like a real team,” he added of a qualifying effort which included victories over Djurgårdens, Celtic and Dinamo Zagreb before the away-goals triumph over Molde.

In that 1995 group stage, Ferencváros lost 6-1 at Real Madrid yet earned a more creditable 1-1 home draw with the Spanish giants. Lovrencics had been dreaming of the Santiago Bernabéu – “I've been a Real Madrid fan since I was a kid” – but now he has the next-best thing with a trip to Barcelona. Ferencváros will also face Juventus in an encounter that will take their older followers on an even deeper meander into the past: it was against the Turin club that they won the 1965 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup final (one of three European finals that this famous club contested between 1965 and 1975).  

“There is the culture here – Ferencváros is a very historical club,” said their coach, Serhiy Rebrov, who has his own personal reunion in store with Group G’s other club, Dynamo Kyiv, where he made his name in the late 90s.

Coach Hansi Flick adds the trophy to Bayern's collection (above); Bayern striker Robert Lewandowski was voted UEFA Men's Player of the Year (top)

While Ferencváros are going back to the future, for four other clubs the 2020/21 group stage offers a first step altogether into the UEFA Champions League spotlight. Turkey’s champions İstanbul Başakşehir had not even played in Europe before 2015 but now have visits to the Parc des Princes and Old Trafford on their Group H schedule. The presence in the same section of Leipzig, last term’s surprise semi-finalists, offers them a reminder of the impact that a less established side can make. The same goes for Midtjylland in Group D, where the Danish newcomers will face an Atalanta side that reached the quarter-finals on its debut appearance last season, as well as Liverpool and Ajax.    

As for this year’s two other new boys, Krasnodar first kicked a ball in Europe in 2014 and Rennes in 1965. One has waited longer than the other for the opportunity among the elite that now awaits both in Group E, where they’ll face Sevilla and Chelsea. “Ultimately it’s the holy grail for a club to get into this kind of competition,” said the Rennes coach, Julien Stephan, though he also acknowledged his sense of regret that a packed Roazhon Park will not be part of the experience.

“Missing the passion of the fans and the strength that they could have given us during this period will be a real handicap, but we’ll look for other resources and we will find other sources of motivation,” he said.

Those words were spoken before the UEFA Executive Committee confirmed yesterday that it would allow the partial return of spectators for UEFA matches where local laws permit, with the number of spectators capped at a maximum of 30 per cent of stadium capacity and no away supporters allowed.

What this will mean for each club remains to be seen. The fact that Budapest hosted the UEFA Super Cup will give hope to Ferencváros fans, though a personal wish is that at least some Atalanta supporters will get to see their club’s first UEFA Champions League fixtures in Bergamo (after the San Siro staged their 2019/20 games).

As for on-field predictions, after last season’s Champions League concluded with that 8-2 drubbing for Barcelona, both Lyon and Leipzig reaching the last four and a final played on 23 August that still feels like yesterday, it seems foolhardy to look too far ahead at this unique, uncertain moment in time. Tuesday 20 October – the latest-ever start date of the group stage – will have to do for now.

Read the full story
Sign up now to get access to this and every premium feature on Champions Journal. You will also get access to member-only competitions and offers. And you get all of that completely free!

Perhaps it was Didier Drogba recalling that his debut in the competition was now 18 years ago, or Kevin De Bruyne revealing his boyhood hero was Michael Owen, but for some of us, Thursday’s Champions League group stage draw did not just have us looking forward but back too. And not just to double-check that the early Noughties were really quite so long ago.

For supporters of certain clubs, certain fixtures will have immediately sparked memories of past encounters. Bayern v Atlético in Group A and Juventus v Barcelona in Group G are rematches of past finals, while in Group D Liverpool and Ajax will be reunited for the first time since a 1966/67 second-round tie remembered for a foggy night in Amsterdam when Johan Cruyff & co prevailed 5-1.

Even before the draw, fans were looking both ways at Hungary’s Ferencváros: to past deeds and to the possibility of fresh ones too. After all, the club’s group stage return coincides with the 25th anniversary of their last Champions League participation. The months of the Covid-19 pandemic have been a fertile time for football nostalgia and Ferencváros’s Hungarian international midfielder Gergő Lovrencics has not been immune to it: prior to their play-off win over Molde he sat down to watch a documentary of that 1995/96 campaign, drawing inspiration.

“The way that team got to the group stage, they were a real team, so I appreciate their success – and after we watched the documentary, we Hungarians understood that they did well because they stuck together, they combined Hungarians with players from overseas and functioned as a real team,” he said. “We also played like a real team,” he added of a qualifying effort which included victories over Djurgårdens, Celtic and Dinamo Zagreb before the away-goals triumph over Molde.

In that 1995 group stage, Ferencváros lost 6-1 at Real Madrid yet earned a more creditable 1-1 home draw with the Spanish giants. Lovrencics had been dreaming of the Santiago Bernabéu – “I've been a Real Madrid fan since I was a kid” – but now he has the next-best thing with a trip to Barcelona. Ferencváros will also face Juventus in an encounter that will take their older followers on an even deeper meander into the past: it was against the Turin club that they won the 1965 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup final (one of three European finals that this famous club contested between 1965 and 1975).  

“There is the culture here – Ferencváros is a very historical club,” said their coach, Serhiy Rebrov, who has his own personal reunion in store with Group G’s other club, Dynamo Kyiv, where he made his name in the late 90s.

Coach Hansi Flick adds the trophy to Bayern's collection (above); Bayern striker Robert Lewandowski was voted UEFA Men's Player of the Year (top)

While Ferencváros are going back to the future, for four other clubs the 2020/21 group stage offers a first step altogether into the UEFA Champions League spotlight. Turkey’s champions İstanbul Başakşehir had not even played in Europe before 2015 but now have visits to the Parc des Princes and Old Trafford on their Group H schedule. The presence in the same section of Leipzig, last term’s surprise semi-finalists, offers them a reminder of the impact that a less established side can make. The same goes for Midtjylland in Group D, where the Danish newcomers will face an Atalanta side that reached the quarter-finals on its debut appearance last season, as well as Liverpool and Ajax.    

As for this year’s two other new boys, Krasnodar first kicked a ball in Europe in 2014 and Rennes in 1965. One has waited longer than the other for the opportunity among the elite that now awaits both in Group E, where they’ll face Sevilla and Chelsea. “Ultimately it’s the holy grail for a club to get into this kind of competition,” said the Rennes coach, Julien Stephan, though he also acknowledged his sense of regret that a packed Roazhon Park will not be part of the experience.

“Missing the passion of the fans and the strength that they could have given us during this period will be a real handicap, but we’ll look for other resources and we will find other sources of motivation,” he said.

Those words were spoken before the UEFA Executive Committee confirmed yesterday that it would allow the partial return of spectators for UEFA matches where local laws permit, with the number of spectators capped at a maximum of 30 per cent of stadium capacity and no away supporters allowed.

What this will mean for each club remains to be seen. The fact that Budapest hosted the UEFA Super Cup will give hope to Ferencváros fans, though a personal wish is that at least some Atalanta supporters will get to see their club’s first UEFA Champions League fixtures in Bergamo (after the San Siro staged their 2019/20 games).

As for on-field predictions, after last season’s Champions League concluded with that 8-2 drubbing for Barcelona, both Lyon and Leipzig reaching the last four and a final played on 23 August that still feels like yesterday, it seems foolhardy to look too far ahead at this unique, uncertain moment in time. Tuesday 20 October – the latest-ever start date of the group stage – will have to do for now.

Penalty Pedigree

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