Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Champions League back with Messi, no Mbappe

The Champions League returns on Tuesday to a very different European soccer 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 favorites for the European title fell into slumps at home.
Meanwhile, one standout team before the World Cup, Napoli, has marched on and aims for its first quarterfinals 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, and English title holder Manchester City faces Premier League charges of financial wrongdoing that can one day stop the club entering future Champions Leagues.
It adds up to plenty of drama even before soccer’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 won’t have at Parc des Princes are 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, is out most of February with a thigh injury.
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 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 is another and visits Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday, when Club Brugge hosts Benfica.
Four more first-leg games are scheduled February 21-22.


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