Unstoppable Erling Haaland will immediately come back to haunt Dortmund by firing Man City to the last 16 as group leaders ahead of his old club in second place, while struggling Sevilla can turn around their poor start to the season by edging Copenhagen to the Europa League spot, writes Ruby Malone.Embed from Getty Images
There’s no doubt about it, Pep Guardiola and his team are on the hunt for the Champions League title this season. It’s the only major trophy that has eluded the Spaniard in Manchester and seems to be his only deficiency, with the club having won four of the last five Premier League titles. But with star signing Erling Haaland spearheading the frontline and their squad depth as impressive as ever, it looks like this could well be City’s year.
The Sky Blues have won four of their six opening games this season and sit second in the league, dropping points in a thrilling 3-3 draw with Newcastle at St James’ Park and in Saturday’s 1-1 draw with struggling Aston Villa. But their 6-0 win over Nottingham Forest last weekend felt like an assertion of their dominance in the league – with Haaland scoring another hat-trick and causing every defender across Europe to quake in their boots. City’s notorious squad depth will, however, certainly be tested mid-October when they will play an arduous four games in nine days. This run kicks off with an away trip to the other Premier League contenders Liverpool (October 16) and ends with a trip to Signal Iduna Park to play Dortmund (October 25). As if that’s not enough, a trip to current league leaders Arsenal and a tough game against Graham Potter’s Brighton are sandwiched in between. Ouch!Embed from Getty Images
Dortmund are no strangers to the Champions League group stages, having made it to this point of the competition every year since 2016. They have only failed to make it through their group twice in this time, one of those being last season’s surprise dumping from Group C. The Black and Yellows finished third behind Ajax and Sporting CP and dropped into the Europa League, where they experienced another shock by being knocked out by Rangers. They will therefore be looking to regain their consistent European form this season.
Dortmund reacted to losing Haaland by signing Ivory Coast international and ex-West Ham striker Sebastien Haller from Ajax in July. However, a shocking testicular tumour diagnosis has sidelined the player for a time and so French forward Anthony Modeste has been brought in from rival Bundesliga club Cologne to provide depth in attack. The Black and Yellows have also shored up their defence with the German duo Nico Schlotterbeck and Niklas Sule. With the 2022 Winter World Cup triggering a seriously congested fixture list, squad depth is exactly what Dortmund will need. Their opening game of the group against Copenhagen is followed by a domestic away trip to RB Leipzig (who finished fourth in the Bundesliga last season) and a trip to the Etihad to face English giants Man City – all in eight days. Offt!Embed from Getty Images
Sevilla are into a solid third consecutive year in the Champions League group stages, but it’s yet to be seen whether they can recover from their hangover from last season. Their promising 2021/22 La Liga title challenge fizzled out with a whimper, with the team winning only three games in their last 12 matches and being pipped to the fourth spot by Atletico Madrid on the final day of the season. The six-time Europa League winners also failed to live up to their reputation in the competition after getting knocked out by West Ham at the last-16 stage. Their European opponents will certainly look to take advantage of this dip in form and confidence.
Sevilla’s dreadful start to this season hasn’t helped raise spirits around the club either – they’ve only managed to pick up a point in their opening four games and have slumped down to 17th in La Liga after losing 3-0 to a revived Barcelona. Their solitary point came in an alarmingly nervy 1-1 draw with newly-promoted Valladolid, who currently sit second from bottom. Sevilla now must host a formidable Man City at Estadio Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan on Tuesday night. One thing’s for sure, they will not be looking forward to seeing Haaland again – the Norwegian played against them for Dortmund in the 2020/21 Champions League round of 16 and scored twice in both legs to secure a 5-4 aggregate win. Then again, who does look forward to coming up against the Norwegian towering striker?Embed from Getty Images
Copenhagen will be delighted with their return to the Champions League group stages after a six-year hiatus. And with good reason — this time last year, they were preparing for their opening game in the third-tier Europa Conference League! The Lions beat Turkish side Trabsponzor 2-1 on aggregate in the play-offs, but this will likely be the end of the road for them. They haven’t made it out of the Champions League group stages since 2010/11 and progression past this tough group just doesn’t look feasible.
The Danish Superliga champions’ sluggish start to their domestic season does not bode well for their ability to seriously compete in Group G either. They’ve only picked up 12 points in eight games and are currently sixth (out of a possible 12) in the league. Things certainly won’t get easier for them as the fixtures ramp up and they’ll be thrown straight in at the deep end when they face Dortmund at Signal Iduna Park on Tuesday.Embed from Getty Images
Must-watch game: Dortmund v Manchester City
Haaland’s return to Signal Iduna Park is not something you’re going to want to miss. The Norwegian scored an incredible 62 goals in 67 Bundesliga appearances for Dortmund, but now it will be the Yellow Wall’s turn to batten up the hatches and prepare for the onslaught! He won’t be the only familiar face making a comeback either — Man City also signed Dortmund’s centre-back Manuel Akanji on the final day of the transfer window. The Swiss made over 100 appearances for the Bundesliga club and if he gets the minutes, will be back within a mere two months of leaving. As if you need more reasons to switch on for this game, Man City also knocked Dortmund out of the 2020/21 Champions League quarter-final with a 4-2 aggregate, so the Black and Yellows will be out for revenge!
Tuesday, September 6: Dortmund v Copenhagen, 5:45pm; Sevilla v Man City, 8pm
Wednesday, September 14: Man City v Dortmund; Copenhagen v Sevilla, both 8pm
Wednesday, October 5: Man City v Copenhagen Sevilla v Dortmund, both 8pm
Tuesday, October 11: Copenhagen v Man City, 5.45pm; Dortmund v Sevilla, 8pm
Tuesday, October 25: Sevilla v Copenhagen, 5.45pm; Dortmund v Man City, 8pm
Wednesday, November 2: Man City v Sevilla; Copenhagen v Dortmund, both 8pm.
Dangerman player: Erling Haaland
It’s the obvious choice, but there just aren’t many players that get close to Haaland when it comes to goal scoring threat. He’s the definition of a dangerman! The Norwegian’s brace in Dortmund’s 2-2 Champions League draw with Sevilla last season saw his 20th goal in the tournament, making him the youngest player ever to reach this number in the competition, and in fewer games than anyone else. The colossal frontman’s move to the Premier League this summer hasn’t slowed him down either, taking no time to bed into arguably the most competitive league in the world. He’s already claimed a Premier League record after scoring nine goals in his first five games, before extending his haul to 10 in six yesterday. On top of that, he’s notched back-to-back hat-tricks and is only one of five other players to do so in 30 years of the competition… at 22 years old. Scary!
Finishing place predictions: 1. Manchester City, 2. Dortmund, 3. Sevilla, 4. Copenhagen
Most would have called Man City to top this group last season and now Guardiola has added strikers Haaland and Julian Alvarez, it seems like a no-brainer. Dortmund’s experience in the competition will get them the second spot, which leaves the other two to scrap it out for the all-important third position. If Sevilla can swiftly turn their terrible start to the season around, they should just have enough talent to secure the Europa League spot.
Follow Ruby on Twitter @RubyGMalone