Champions League group stage: meet the teams
Friday, September 10, 2021
Key players, top signings, ones to watch: all you need to know about the 32 teams in the 2021/22 group stage.
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Holders Chelsea are among the 32 teams looking to make it all the way to the final in Saint Petersburg in this season's competition.
UEFA.com profiles all the contenders.
UEFA coefficient ranking (end of 2020/21): 53
How they qualified: Italian runners-up
Last season: UEFA Europa League round of 16 (L 1-2agg vs Man. United)
Best European Cup performance: winners (1962/63, 1968/69, 1988/89, 1989/90, 1993/94, 2002/03, 2006/07)
Coach: Stefano Pioli
The former defender has won over everybody at Milan with his calm and relaxed approach – not to mention good results, including qualification for the Champions League after a seven-year wait and a season in which the Rossoneri flirted with the Scudetto.
Key player: Zlatan Ibrahimović
At 39, the Swedish striker is still going strong. He not only scored 15 goals in 19 Serie A games last season but his presence and leadership undoubtedly helped the entire Rossoneri squad to improve. "You see Zlatan and you play better," said right-back Davide Calabria.
Big summer signing: Olivier Giroud
Milan struggled in games when Zlatan was not available last season. That should not happen now thanks to the presence of the experienced French international, who joined from Chelsea. Many, however, believe that the two strikers can also do great things together. The experience and talent are certainly there.
One to watch: Brahim Díaz
When Hakan Çalhanoğlu left Milan to join rivals Inter, the 22-year-old Spaniard immediately took the No10 shirt, a clear sign of his intention to have a more prominent role with the Rossoneri this season despite scoring seven goals in 39 matches in all competitions last season.
Did you know?
Despite being the second most successful team in the competition with seven triumphs, Milan have not played a game in the Champions League since 11 March 2014, when they lost 4-1 against Atlético.
UEFA coefficient ranking (end of 2020/21): 17
How they qualified: Dutch champions
Last season: group stage (UEFA Europa League quarter-finals)
Best European Cup performance: winners (1970/71, 1971/72, 1972/73, 1994/95)
Coach: Erik ten Hag
Amid speculation about his future, the much-coveted 51-year-old extended his contract by a year last season. Having already turned Ajax into a powerhouse in the Netherlands, Ten Hag will be keen to replicate the performances in Europe that took his side agonisingly close to reaching the 2019 UEFA Champions League final.
Key player: Dušan Tadić
The Serbian's Ajax statistics are phenomenal: 78 goals and 71 assists in 153 matches. Playing wide on the left or as a false nine, he is extraordinarily adept at holding up the ball and creating space for team-mates to exploit, while his finishing with both feet is generally exquisite.
Big summer signing: Steven Berghuis
The Dutch international winger made the unusual step of joining straight from Ajax's rivals Feyenoord, but the promise of trophies and UEFA Champions League action was too strong to resist. His superb crossing, dead-ball deliveries and unerring eye for goal will bring even greater menace to the Ajax attack.
One to watch: Ryan Gravenberch
The 19-year-old became a vital cog in the Ajax midfield last season, playing in 47 Eredivisie, cup and European matches. He also picked up the first of his seven Dutch caps. This elegant, strong, smart and skilful product of the Ajax youth development system has everything required to reach the very top.
Did you know?
This was the first summer since 2015 that Ajax didn't sell a player from their own academy for at least €13m.
UEFA coefficient ranking (end of 2020/21): 27
How they qualified: third in Italy
Last season: round of 16 (L 1-4agg vs Real Madrid)
Best European Cup performance: quarter-finals (2019/20)
Coach: Gian Piero Gasperini
The 63-year-old tactician is the mastermind behind Atalanta's miracle results in recent years, including three consecutive third-place finishes in Serie A and the Champions League quarter-finals in 2020. "Facing Gasperini's Atalanta is like going to the dentist," says Manchester City coach Pep Guardiola.
Key player: Robin Gosens
Gosens (Germany) and Joakim Mæhle (Denmark) were among the most exciting wing-backs at this summer's EURO. With Atalanta using a three-man back line, wingers become crucial, and Gosens has proved he can do it all on that left flank.
Big summer signing: Merih Demiral
Replacing Cristian Romero, who joined Tottenham, is not an easy task, but Demiral has shown great potential in the first part of his career. Centre-backs usually improve drastically under Gasperini, and the Turkish international could benefit from this move.
One to watch: Matteo Lovato
The same thing can be said for Lovato. The Italy Under-21 international joined in the summer from Verona after a convincing season with the Scaligeri, which featured 24 appearances.
Did you know?
Of all the teams that have debuted in the UEFA Champions League since 2003/04, Atalanta are only the third to qualify for the knockout phase in both of their first two appearances – Villarreal and Sevilla are the others.
Atlético de Madrid
UEFA coefficient ranking (end of 2020/21): 6
How they qualified: Spanish champions
Last season: round of 16 (L 0-3agg vs Chelsea)
Best European Cup performance: runners-up (1973/74, 2013/14, 2015/16)
Coach: Diego Simeone
Approaching ten years at the helm, Simeone has coached Los Rojiblancos to two Europa League titles, two UEFA Super Cups and two Champions League finals. Last season, he added a second Liga title to show his powers remain undiminished.
Key player: Luis Suárez
Signed from Barcelona in summer 2020, the Uruguayan striker has proved an inspired acquisition. He plundered 21 league goals in 2020/21, the last of them ensuring his club would claim their first title for seven years.
Big summer signing: Antoine Griezmann
Look who's back. The France striker may have to win over the fans again after his departure to Barcelona two year ago, but he returns as the fifth most prolific scorer in Atleti history, having struck 133 goals in 257 games between 2014 and 2019. "This is the best place for me to be happy on and off the pitch," he says.
One to watch: João Félix
Still only 21, there is surely more to come from the club's record signing. Nevertheless, he still made it into double figure for goals last season, with his ability and industry endearing him to Simeone.
Did you know?
Last season, Koke became the first player to make 100 appearances in European competition for Atlético.
UEFA coefficient ranking (end of 2020/21): 4
How they qualified: third in Spain
Last season: round of 16 (L 2-5agg vs Paris)
Best European Cup performance: winners (1991/92, 2005/06, 2008/09, 2010/11, 2014/15)
Coach: Ronald Koeman
A Camp Nou favourite as a player, Koeman is overseeing a changing of the guard at Barça at the start of the club's post-Lionel Messi era. His debut season brought victory in the Copa del Rey and the club will want more silverware this term to show life goes on.
Key player: Frenkie de Jong
A key figure since joining from Ajax in 2019, De Jong has slotted in seamlessly in the middle of the park. His crisp passing and clever use of the ball mean he looks every inch the classic Barcelona midfielder, while his tireless running and work ethic make him invaluable for Koeman.
Big summer signing: Memphis Depay
Barcelona fans need a new hero and in Depay it looks like they may have found their man. Not lacking in confidence, the Dutchman has has quickly established himself as central to the team's attacking play.
One to watch: Pedri
The midfielder has been a revelation for club and country over the past 12 months. Former Barça and current Spain coach Luis Enrique says that what Pedri can do "has never been done before by an 18-year-old, not even by Andrés Iniesta".
Did you know?
Barcelona's last Champions League game before Messi appeared for the club in Europe was a 1-1 home draw with Celtic in November 2004.
UEFA coefficient ranking (end of 2020/21): 1
How they qualified: German champions
Last season: quarter-finals (L on away goals vs Paris)
Best European Cup performance: winners (1973/74, 1974/75, 1975/76, 2000/01, 2012/13, 2019/20)
Coach: Julian Nagelsmann
The 34-year-old has big shoes to fill after Hansi Flick's reign. In 2016, he became the youngest coach in Bundesliga history when he took the Hoffenheim reins aged 28, leading them into the Champions League by finishing fourth the following season. He continued to impress in two seasons at Leipzig prior to joining Bayern in the summer.
Key player: Robert Lewandowski
The relentless Polish marksman hit new highs last term, scoring a record 41 German league goals as Bayern sealed a ninth consecutive title. He also rose to third on the list of all-time scorers in the Champions League by overhauling Raúl González.
Big summer signing: Dayot Upamecano
The 22-year-old centre-back went from strength to strength after joining Leipzig from Salzburg in 2017, impressing under Nagelsmann in the Champions League in recent seasons. The strong, pacy defender fills the void left by the departed David Alaba and Jérôme Boateng.
One to watch: Jamal Musiala
Became the youngest player to represent Bayern in the Bundesliga, aged 17 years and 115 days, in June 2020 and three months later broke the record for the club's youngest goalscorer too. Ended last season with seven goals from 37 appearances.
Did you know?
Bayern established a new landmark Champions League winning streak of 15 games last season before drawing at Atlético on Matchday 5.
UEFA coefficient ranking (end of 2020/21): 24
How they qualified: play-offs (W 2-1agg vs PSV Eindhoven)
Last season: third qualifying round (L 1-2 vs PAOK)
Best European Cup performance: winners (1960/61, 1961/62)
Coach: Jorge Jesus
The 67-year-old faces the challenge of getting the Eagles back on track after they failed to pick up any silverware in the first year of his second spell in charge. During his first stint, from 2009 to 2015, Jorge Jesus became the most successful coach in the club's history by winning ten trophies: three League titles, a Portuguese Cup, a Super Cup and five League Cups.
Key player: João Mário
The 28-year-old won the Portuguese Liga last term with Sporting CP while on loan from Inter. He only arrived at Benfica this summer but has made an instant impact with his organisational skills, vision and ability to dictate the pace of the game. "He adds class to the team," says Jesus of the midfielder, a UEFA EURO 2016 winner with Portugal.
Big summer signing: Roman Yaremchuk
Groomed at Dynamo Kyiv but signed from Gent, the 1.91m-tall forward will be looking to impress on his debut in the UEFA Champions League proper. The 25-year-old helped Ukraine to reach the quarter-finals of UEFA EURO 2020 with two goals and one assist in five matches.
One to watch: Gonçalo Ramos
The Benfica academy graduate made his first-team debut in July 2020 as a late substitute in a 4-0 win at CD Aves, and marked it with two goals in six minutes. A quick forward who can also operate as an attacking midfielder, the 20-year-old boasts an eye for goal and has shone at youth level for both the Eagles and Portugal.
Did you know?
The Lisbon giants have reached seven European Cup finals, but have lost their last five (most recently against Milan in 1990) after winning the competition in 1961 and 1962.
UEFA coefficient ranking (end of 2020/21): 30
How they qualified: Turkish champions
Last season: UEFA Europa League third qualifying round (L on penalties vs Rio Ave)
Best European Cup performance: quarter-finals (1986/87)
Coach: Sergen Yalçın
The first player to turn out for all of Turkey's big four – Beşiktaş then Fenerbahçe, Galatasaray and Trabzonspor – the midfielder moved into coaching in the Black Eagles' youth ranks and returned after a ten-year absence to take the top job in 2020, winning a domestic double in his first season.
Key player: Rachid Ghezzal
The French-born Algerian international winger had a great loan spell last term, scoring eight goals and setting up 17 more. Beşiktaş needed to put in a huge effort to sign him from Leicester on a permanent basis, with city rivals Galatasaray taking a close interest.
Big summer signing: Valentin Rosier
The signing of Brazilian forward Alex Teixeira was a coup, yet fans also swarmed to the airport this summer to greet Frenchman Rosier when he rejoined for a second season after being loaned last term by Sporting CP. Plenty of big clubs had been alerted to his skills and assists during Beşiktaş's double success of 2020/21.
One to watch: Ersin Destanoğlu
Beşiktaş have made a major goalkeeping reinforcement with the addition of the experienced Mert Günök; however, youth-team product Ersin has kept his place in the starting line-up, albeit amid heightened interest in the 20-year-old from foreign clubs.
Did you know?
Beşiktaş have fewer fans than Galatasaray and Fenerbahçe (their capital rivals are backed by an estimated 33% and 29% of the Turkish population), but their followers are seen as being the most passionate and the loudest. A cheer of 132 decibels was recorded in the wake of their 2-1 Champions League win against Liverpool on 24 October 2007 – approximately equivalent to the sound of a military jet taking off.
UEFA coefficient ranking (end of 2020/21): 11
How they qualified: UEFA Champions League winners
Last season: winners (W 1-0 vs Man. City)
Best European Cup performance: winners (2011/12, 2020/21)
Coach: Thomas Tuchel
Took over in January and immediately went 14 games unbeaten – the longest run without defeat at the start of a tenure by any manager in the club's history. The former Mainz and Dortmund coach was a runner-up with Paris in 2020 before going one better with the Blues last season.
Key player: N'Golo Kanté
Revitalised under Tuchel, playing in the German coach's 'double six' alongside Jorginho, the France midfielder was sensational last term. The indefatigable 30-year-old was named man of the match in both legs of the semi-final against Real Madrid and then the showpiece success over Manchester City.
Big summer signing: Romelu Lukaku
Chelsea's record signing and Belgium's all-time top goalscorer is a huge addition to their forward line. The 28-year-old bagged 24 league goals as Inter won their first Scudetto for 11 years in 2020/21, after prolific spells at Anderlecht, West Brom, Everton and Manchester United previously.
One to watch: Callum Hudson-Odoi
Another player from the conveyor belt of Chelsea youth products and still only 20, the graceful attacking midfielder has gradually become more influential under Tuchel and offers goals and creativity.
Did you know?
Édouard Mendy kept nine clean sheets in 12 Champions League matches last season, the most in a single campaign by a goalkeeper for an English side in the competition's history.
UEFA coefficient ranking: 41
How they qualified: Belgian champions
Last season: group stage (UEFA Europa League round of 32)
Best European Cup performance: runners-up (1977/78)
Coach: Philippe Clement
After winning the Belgian title with Genk in 2018/19, Clement returned to Club Brugge, where he had spent a decade as a defender and several more years on the coaching staff. He has led his side to the Belgian title in both of his seasons in sole command.
Key player: Noa Lang
The 22-year-old Dutchman came through the youth systems at Feyenoord and Ajax before making the switch to Club Brugge in the summer of 2020. He immediately became a key player and crowd favourite, and scored 16 goals in 29 league appearances last season.
Big summer signing: Owen Otasowie
A United States international, the versatile 20-year-old midfielder signed from Wolverhampton Wanderers in the summer. At 1.91m tall, Otasowie has been compared to Paul Pogba and should give Club Brugge more power in midfield.
One to watch: Charles De Ketelaere
Named Belgium's 'Promising Talent of the Year' across all sports in 2020, the left-footed attacking midfielder has made a very strong impression. Two goals and an assist in six UEFA Champions League games last season earned the 20-year-old a Belgium call-up.
Did you know?
Last season, Club Brugge booked their place in the Belgian league's title play-offs with a record-breaking 16-point lead. That lead was halved for the four-team deciding group, and Club Brugge almost lost out, taking the title despite finishing the campaign level on points with Genk.
UEFA coefficient ranking (end of 2020/21): 14
How they qualified: third in Germany
Last season: quarter-finals (L 2-4agg vs Man. City)
Best European Cup performance: winners (1996/97)
Coach: Marco Rose
Ex-Hannover and Mainz player Rose started his coaching career – like Jürgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel – at Mainz, as assistant coach. Led Salzburg to back-to-back Austrian titles from 2017–19, then guided Mönchengladbach into the UEFA Champions League, where they reached the 2020/21 last 16 before the coach headed for Dortmund.
Key player: Erling Haaland
The son of ex-Norway star Alf-Inge Haaland, the 21-year-old is already one of the most feared strikers in the world. As a 19-year-old, he scored a hat-trick for Salzburg in his first ever UEFA Champions League outing and has not looked back. Has averaged a goal a game in his first three seasons at Dortmund.
Big summer signing: Donyell Malen
The 22-year old-Dutch international has big shoes to fill, since he was signed as a replacement for Manchester United-bound Jadon Sancho. At PSV Eindhoven, Malen scored 40 goals in 81 league matches, and he will look to maintain that record as he lines up alongside Haaland and Marco Reus.
One to watch: Youssoufa Moukoko
Ten months ago, Moukoko became the Bundesliga's youngest ever player and then took the equivalent record for the UEFA Champions League in December, aged 16 years and 18 days. Nominally behind Haaland and Malen in the queue for a first-team place, the German U21 international's time will come soon.
Did you know?
Dortmund were eliminated in last season's quarter-finals, but Haaland still ended the campaign as the UEFA Champions League's top scorer with ten goals in eight matches.
UEFA coefficient ranking (end of 2020/21): 31
How they qualified: Ukrainian champions
Last season: group stage (UEFA Europa league round of 16)
Best European Cup performance: semi-finals (1976/77, 1986/87, 1998/99)
Coach: Mircea Lucescu
The 76-year-old won eight league titles, six Ukrainian Cups and the 2008/09 UEFA Cup during his 12 years at Shakhtar Donetsk, then returned to Ukraine last summer to take charge of the Pitmen's arch-rivals. Lucescu's first season in Kyiv was a triumph as he steered Dynamo to a domestic treble.
Key player: Vitaliy Buyalskiy
The versatile 28-year-old midfielder has flourished following Lucescu's decision to play him higher up the pitch as a No10. With his relentless movement in search of space and threatening thrusts forward, he was a key attacking element for Dynamo last season, with nine goals and as many assists in 35 games.
Big summer signing: Eric Ramírez
The 22-year-old Venezuela striker got 16 goals and seven assists in the 2020/21 Slovak Super Liga for Dunajská Streda, and signed a five-year deal with Dynamo in July. Expect good things.
One to watch: Illia Zabarnyi
The centre-back became the youngest player to represent Ukraine at a major championship, featuring against the Netherlands at EURO 2020 aged 18 years and 285 days. In quick time, Zabarnyi has become a key player for club and country since making his senior debut last September.
Did you know?
Last season, Lucescu became the oldest coach to take charge of a UEFA Champions League match; he was 75 years and 83 days old when his side tackled Juventus on Matchday 1.
UEFA coefficient ranking (end of 2020/21): 26
How they qualified: Italian champions
Last season: group stage (fourth place)
Best European Cup performance: winners (1963/64, 1964/65, 2009/10)
Coach: Simone Inzaghi
A Serie A and three-time Coppa Italia winner as a player with Lazio, the 45-year-old also brought a domestic cup to Rome during his five seasons in charge. From a tactical viewpoint, he appears to offer continuation from the Antonio Conte reign.
Key player: Nicolò Barella
Awarded the honour of best midfielder in Serie A last season, the 24-year-old is already the complete player and was pivotal in their charge to the title. Capable of playing a creative role, sitting deep or going box to box, Barella made 46 appearances for Inter last term then helped the Azzurri to UEFA EURO 2020 glory.
Big summer signing: Edin Džeko
The 35-year-old will have the difficult task of replacing Lukaku in the centre of the Nerazzurri attack. He cannot compete with his predecessor in terms of physical strength, but he certainly has other weapons and will try to use his refined technique to involve his team-mates more in the attacking game.
One to watch: Denzel Dumfries
Talking about difficult tasks, the new signing from PSV Eindhoven will have to replace Achraf Hakimi on the right side of the Inter midfield, but his pace could become a key weapon for the Nerazzurri. The 25-year-old has already played 25 games with the Netherlands, scoring two goals in the EURO group stage this summer, but will have to adapt quickly to Serie A football.
Did you know?
Inter have failed to progress from the Champions League group stage in each of the last three seasons.
UEFA coefficient ranking (end of 2020/21): 5
How they qualified: fourth in Italy
Last season: round of 16 (L on away goals vs Porto)
Best European Cup performance: winners (1984/85, 1995/96)
Coach: Massimiliano Allegri
The 54-year-old returns to the bench with a mission after two sabbatical years. He led Juventus to the UEFA Champions League final in both 2015 and 2017 but lost on each occasion.
Key player: Paulo Dybala
After a difficult last season under Andrea Pirlo, the 27-year-old Argentinian will be hoping to thrive again under Allegri – a coach who knows how to utilise his qualities. In his seventh term in Turin, the quick and agile 'La Joya' could shine this season.
Big summer signing: Manuel Locatelli
The 23-year-old left his mark on this summer's EURO with a series of convincing performances for Italy, including two goals in the group stage game against Switzerland. Juventus have had a few problems in midfield in recent years and the former Sassuolo man could be the answer.
One to watch: Federico Chiesa
After tasting EURO success with Italy, the attacking winger will be called upon to continue his progression and become a real leader of this Juventus team.
Did you know?
Juve have reached the final five times since their last victory in 1996 but have always failed to add a third success in the competition. No team has lost more finals than them either (seven).
UEFA coefficient ranking (end of 2020/21): 21
How they qualified: German runners-up
Last season: round of 16 (L 0-4agg vs Liverpool)
Best European Cup performance: semi-finals (2019/20)
Coach: Jesse Marsch
The United States-born coach first moved to Europe to take charge of Salzburg, where he won back-to-back Austrian doubles before stepping up to join Leipzig. His challenge now is to fill the gap left by Julian Nagelsmann's departure for Bayern München.
Key player: Dani Olmo
A 2019 U21 EURO winner with Spain, the Barcelona academy graduate joined Leipzig last year after an unconventional five-year detour at Dinamo Zagreb. One of Spain's top performers at EURO 2020, the attacking midfielder ended the summer with an Olympic silver medal.
Big summer signing: André Silva
After scoring 28 Bundesliga goals in 32 matches for Eintracht Frankfurt, the Portuguese forward was a man in demand in the summer. Leipzig signed him, and he could be a great addition to a side who have lacked an out-and-out finisher since Timo Werner left for Chelsea.
One to watch: Brian Brobbey
The striker scored on his senior Ajax debut against Fortuna Sittard a year ago, and did not look out of place in the UEFA Champions League or UEFA Europa League last season. Dortmund and Bayern München had an eye on the 19-year-old, but he joined Leipzig in June.
Did you know?
Founded in 2009, RB Leipzig were promoted to the Bundesliga for the first time in 2016. Since then, they have made it to the UEFA Champions League four times and the UEFA Europa League once.
UEFA coefficient ranking (end of 2020/21): 9
How they qualified: third in England
Last season: quarter-finals (L 1-3agg vs Real Madrid)
Best European Cup performance: winners (1976/77, 1977/78, 1980/81, 1983/84, 2004/05, 2018/19)
Coach: Jürgen Klopp
Liverpool coach since 2015, Klopp led the Reds to UEFA Champions League glory in 2018/19, and their first English title in 30 years the following season. A striker turned defender at Mainz, he started his coaching career with the club then won two Bundesliga titles with Dortmund before heading to Anfield.
Key player: Mohamed Salah
The Egyptian forward has been the face of this Liverpool side since arriving from Roma in 2017. A star at Basel, he first moved to England with Chelsea in 2014, but has become a major talent since joining the Reds, his pace, intelligence and finishing helping him to rack up 25 UEFA Champions League goals for the club.
Big summer signing: Ibrahima Konaté
The Leipzig central defender was Liverpool's only major signing of the summer of 2021, with the 1.94m-tall central defender winning acclaim for his passing as well as his resilience in defence. Likened by some to Reds team-mate Virgil van Dijk, the 22-year-old has slotted straight into the first team.
One to watch: Curtis Jones
With 18-year-old winger Harvey Elliott picking up an ankle injury ahead of the start of the campaign, 20-year-old midfielder Jones looks the most likely of the Reds' youngsters to feature. Born in Liverpool, he will look to build on an impressive first UEFA Champions League season in 2020/21.
Did you know?
Liverpool have been European champions six times – more than any other English side. That is as many titles as Bayern München, with AC Milan and Real Madrid the only sides to have won more.
UEFA coefficient ranking (end of 2020/21): 109
How they qualified: French champions
Last season: UEFA Europa League round of 32 (L 2-4agg vs Ajax)
Best European Cup performance: round of 16 (2006/07)
Coach: Jocelyn Gourvennec
Made his name in six seasons with Guingamp, winning the French Cup for only the second time in their history in 2014. Had a second spell there following his stint at Bordeaux and is now trying to fill Christophe Galtier's shoes after two years without a club.
Key player: Sven Botman
LOSC's ability to sign and develop young players in recent years has been nothing short of miraculous and the Dutch centre-back is testament to their eye for talent. Only joined the club last summer yet played 47 times in his first season and is a commanding figure despite only turning 21 in January.
Big summer signing: Amadou Onana
The sale of Boubakary Soumaré has left a hole in LOSC's midfield and the 20-year-old could be the one to fill it. Like Botman, he arrives without a huge amount of experience – 26 games for Hamburg in his case – but Onana may be another diamond to polish.
One to watch: Jonathan David
Another summer 2020 arrival, this time from Gent, who hit the ground running with 13 league goals in his first Ligue 1 campaign. The 21-year-old forward has already struck 15 times in 18 matches for Canada too.
Did you know?
LOSC are in the group stage for the seventh time but have only qualified for the last 16 on one occasion.
UEFA coefficient ranking (end of 2020/21): 88
How they qualified: play-offs (W 3-2agg vs Ludogorets)
Last season: UEFA Europa League play-offs (L 1-3 vs Granada)
Best European Cup performance: runners-up (1978/79)
Coach: Jon Dahl Tomasson
Former Denmark striker Tomasson made the short trip across the Öresund Strait in early 2020, leaving a position as assistant coach of the Danish national team. He led Malmö to the Swedish league title in his first season and is in contention for a repeat in 2021.
Key player: Anders Christiansen
The Denmark midfielder came to Malmö in 2016, helping them win the league in his first year. He has since added two more league titles, while his playmaking skills have also earned him two Allsvenskan Player of the Year awards, most recently in 2020.
Big summer signing: Sergio Peña
The attacking midfielder joined Malmö after this summer's Copa América, where he started all seven matches as Peru reached the semi-finals. Not a newcomer to European football, he played for Granada in Spain, Tondela in Portugal and most recently Emmen in the Dutch Eredivisie, until their relegation in May.
One to watch: Veljko Birmančević
A quick midfielder and forward who likes to challenge defenders and find space, the 23-year-old Serbian had been scouted by Malmö for a year before his signing this winter. Got his first Allsvenskan goal 12 minutes into his first start and has kept impressing both in Sweden and Europe, scoring in both legs of the play-off against Ludogorets.
Did you know?
Malmö have made it to their third UEFA Champions League group stage, following their 2014/15 and 2015/16 campaigns. No other Swedish club have reached this stage since Helsingborg in 2000/01.
UEFA coefficient ranking (end of 2020/21): 3
How they qualified: English champions
Last season: runners-up (L 0-1 vs Chelsea)
Best European Cup performance: runners-up (2020/21)
Coach: Josep Guardiola
One of the most decorated coaches in the game, the 50-year-old won this competition twice with Barcelona but will be desperate to end his ten-year wait for a third triumph. Has scooped three league titles apiece at the helm of the Catalan club, Bayern and City, and more honours will surely follow.
Key player: Kevin De Bruyne
The 30-year-old schemer passed 250 appearances for the club last season and remains a talismanic figure in their midfield despite the riches around him. Won the PFA Players' Player of the Year award for the second consecutive season last term.
Big summer signing: Jack Grealish
A midfielder with outstanding dribbling ability and capable of dictating play, Grealish became the most expensive English player in history when he moved from Aston Villa in the summer. The 26-year-old has also forced his way into the England set-up in the past 12 months.
One to watch: Phil Foden
The talented midfielder has been afforded more game time for club and country in each of last four seasons, with the 2020/21 campaign yielding a more starring role. Still only 21, Foden made 50 appearances for the club last term and scored 16 goals.
Did you know?
Guardiola reached his eighth UEFA Champions League semi-final last season – the joint-most in the history of the competition alongside José Mourinho.
UEFA coefficient ranking (end of 2020/21): 7
How they qualified: English runners-up
Last season: group stage (UEFA Europa League runners-up)
Best European Cup performance: winners (1967/68, 1998/99, 2007/08)
Coach: Ole Gunnar Solskjær
The 'Baby-Faced Assassin' of United folklore, super-sub striker Ole Gunnar Solskjær stepped up to become the Red Devils' manager in 2018 after making his mark in his native Norway at Molde. He led the team to last season's UEFA Europa League final and a second-placed finish in the Premier League.
Key player: Bruno Fernandes
A hat-trick against Leeds in United's first Premier League game this season set a daunting pace for the buccaneering Portuguese midfielder. UEFA Europa League top marksman with eight strikes in 2019/20, he scored 18 Premier League goals in 2020/21 and logged 12 assists too.
Big summer signing: Jadon Sancho
The winger left Manchester City to join Dortmund as a teenager and returned to the so-called Rainy City this summer after seizing his opportunity to shine in the Bundesliga. With plenty of skill and trickery on the ball, the 21-year-old also caught the eye for England at EURO 2020 and has won over 20 caps.
One to watch: Mason Greenwood
The 19-year-old has proved himself to be a versatile forward over the course of three seasons in the United first team, with Solskjær insisting he has "turned into a man" over the last 12 months. Expect him to challenge for a starting slot during the campaign.
Did you know?
United have been English champions a record 20 times, but they have only won two major titles – the 2015/16 FA Cup and the 2016/17 UEFA Europa League – since Sir Alex Ferguson stepped down in 2013 after 27 years in charge.
UEFA coefficient ranking (end of 2020/21): 8
How they qualified: French runners-up
Last season: semi-finals (L 1-4agg vs Man. City)
Best European Cup performance: runners-up (2019/20)
Coach: Mauricio Pochettino
The brains behind Tottenham's surprise run to the 2019 final, the Argentinian replaced Thomas Tuchel at the Paris helm in January, 20 years after joining the club as a defender. Briefly a team-mate of Diego Maradona, 'Poch' now coaches several other high-profile compatriots, none more so than Lionel Messi.
Key player: Neymar
Now in his fifth season in Paris, a fit Neymar is a force to be reckoned with. The Brazilian has managed not far off a goal per game since arriving in France, gathering plenty of silverware. The UEFA Champions League crown he so covets has thus far eluded him at Paris, but having been reunited with Messi, his team-mate in Barcelona's 2014/15 win, hopes are higher than ever.
Big summer signing: Lionel Messi
It still feels like unreal, but after 21 years, 778 games and 672 goals for Barcelona, the mercurial Messi will wear a different shade of blue and red this season. Joining as a free agent, the 34-year-old is expected to be the jewel of a dazzling attacking crown that also includes Neymar, Kylian Mbappé and Ángel Di María.
One to watch: Gianluigi Donnarumma
Paris pulled off a real coup in signing the man named Player of the Tournament at UEFA EURO 2020 as a free agent. Incredibly, the 22-year-old Italy No1 is not absolutely nailed on for a starting spot as the incumbent is a man with three UEFA Champions League winners' medals to his name: Keylor Navas.
Did you know?
When Paris eliminated Bayern in the 2020/21 last eight, it was the first instance in Champions League history of the previous season's losing finalists eliminating the holders in the knockout stage.
UEFA coefficient ranking (end of 2020/21): 16
How they qualified: Portuguese runners-up
Last season: quarter-finals (L 1-2agg vs Chelsea)
Best European Cup performance: winners (1986/87, 2003/04)
Coach: Sérgio Conceição
The architect of Porto's return to the pinnacle of Portuguese football, Sérgio Conceição's first four seasons in charge have brought Porto two league titles, a Portuguese Cup and two Super Cups. Already a fan favourite as a player, he earned a renewed contract and will be aiming for the UEFA Champions League knockout phase again.
Key player: Otávio
Once an attacking midfielder, the Brazilian has broadened his brief and has been a key member of Porto's starting XI for a few years. He can play as a classic No10, deeper in midfield or on either flank, and brings grit and skill to every role, as well as plenty of assists.
Big summer signing: Pepê
The Dragons have a good track record with South American wingers and the 24-year-old Brazilian is showing plenty of promise. He has remarkable pace and above-average technique, and is strong in one-on-ones too, with a good record in terms of goals and assists.
One to watch: Luis Díaz
The Colombian winger made a splash last season with two goals in his first two UEFA Champions League games and will look to keep that momentum going. His stunning dribbling and long stride make the 24-year-old Porto's main source of creative inspiration.
Did you know?
In 2020/21, Porto surpassed Benfica's Portuguese record of 114 wins in the European Cup, and they are now two ahead on 116.
UEFA coefficient ranking (end of 2020/21): 2
How they qualified: Spanish runners-up
Last season: semi-finals (L 1-3agg vs Chelsea)
Best European Cup performance: winners (1955/56, 1956/57, 1957/58, 1958/59, 1959/60, 1965/66, 1997/98, 1999/2000, 2001/02, 2013/14, 2015/16, 2016/17, 2017/18)
Coach: Carlo Ancelotti
The man who led Madrid to the 'Décima' in 2014 is back for a second spell in charge. He is one of only three managers to have won the European Cup/UEFA Champions League on three occasions, so expectations will be high.
Key player: Thibaut Courtois
A star performer since arriving from Chelsea in 2018, the Belgium goalkeeper has just recently inked a new deal, keeping him at the club until 2026.
Big summer signing: David Alaba
The former Bayern man needs little introduction to followers of the European game and is seen as the man to fill Sergio Ramos's boots at the back. With ten German league titles and two UEFA Champions League crowns already, the versatile left-footer undoubtedly has pedigree.
One to watch: Vinícius Júnior
The Brazilian forward is growing in stature at Madrid, becoming a more regular starter and increasing his consistency. His double against Liverpool in last season's quarter-final opener provided proof of his class.
Did you know?
Real Madrid have never failed to make it through the group stage of the UEFA Champions League.
UEFA coefficient ranking (end of 2020/21): 23
How they qualified: play-offs (W 4-2agg vs Brøndby)
Last season: group stage (UEFA Europa League round of 32)
Best European Cup performance: group stage (1994/95, 2019/20, 2020/21, 2021/22)
Coach: Matthias Jaissle
It was a big surprise when Salzburg announced that a 33-year-old, who had never coached a top-flight team, would be their new leader. Once a defender for Hoffenheim, the German gained coaching experience as an assistant at Brøndby and made the step up to Salzburg's senior team after two years in command of their U18s, meaning he is already on board with the club's principles of aggressive, high-tempo football.
Key player: Zlatko Junuzović
Salzburg have a relatively youthful squad, so the 33-year-old Junuzović has an important role to play on and off the pitch. Signed in 2018, the former Austria international and Werder Bremen regular is the heart and motor of Salzburg's midfield.
Big summer signing: Nicolás Capaldo
Newly arrived from Boca Juniors, the 22-year-old is considered to be one of Argentina's most promising players. Capaldo is an aggressive, dynamic midfielder who is not expected to take long to acclimatise to the challenges of European football.
One to watch: Karim Adeyemi
The striker has big shoes to fill but could be the next top-class forward to come off the Salzburg production line after Patson Daka and Erling Haaland. The 19-year-old German is quick, versatile and shows no mercy in front of goal.
Did you know?
By reaching the group stage for a third successive season, Salzburg have matched the Austrian record set by Sturm Graz, who had three in a row from 1998 to 2000.
UEFA coefficient ranking (end of 2020/21): 12
How they qualified: fourth in Spain
Last season: round of 16 (L 4-5agg vs Dortmund)
Best European Cup performance: quarter-finals (1957/58, 2017/18)
Coach: Julen Lopetegui
The former Spain and Real Madrid coach took over in summer 2019 and did not take long to make his mark on the club, leading them to UEFA Europa League glory in his debut season. He backed that up with consecutive top-four finishes to secure UEFA Champions League football at the Sánchez-Pizjuán once again.
Key player: Youssef En-Nesyri
The Moroccan forward combines energy, pace, power and directness up top and is a nightmare for defenders. His six goals in last season's UEFA Champions League, combined with 18 in the Liga, show he has an eagle eye for goal too.
Big summer signing: Erik Lamela
The Argentinian arrives in southern Spain after eight years in England with Tottenham Hotspur and has already made quite the impression, scoring twice on his league debut to help his new club defeat Rayo Vallecano.
One to watch: Óscar Rodríguez
A Real Madrid youth product, Rodríguez has found a home in Seville, becoming a regular in midfield for Lopetegui and earning his first call-up to the Spanish national team. At 23, there is plenty of room for improvement and growth.
Did you know?
Sevilla are European royalty, having won the UEFA Cup/Europa League a record six times, with all of those titles coming in the last 15 years.
UEFA coefficient ranking (end of 2020/21): 18
How they qualified: play-offs (W 3-2agg vs Monaco)
Last season: group stage (UEFA Europa League round of 16)
Best European Cup performance: quarter-finals (2010/11)
Coach: Roberto De Zerbi
Following a first season without a major trophy since 2014/15, Shakhtar replaced Luís Castro as their coach. After spells with Serie A sides Palermo and Benevento, De Zerbi moved to Sassuolo in 2018 and impressed by making them one of the most exciting, attacking sides in Italy.
Key player: Marlon
The 26-year-old centre-back joined Shakhtar this summer after three seasons under De Zerbi at Sassuolo. In Barcelona's ranks from 2016–18, the Brazilian made his club debut in a UEFA Champions League group stage game against Celtic on 23 November 2016. His impressive defending and build-up play have quickly become a key feature of the new-look Shakhtar.
Big summer signing: Lassina Traoré
The 20-year-old Burkina Faso striker was signed from Ajax and immediately became one of the Pitmen's biggest attacking threats, scoring regularly in the early weeks of the campaign.
One to watch: Anatolii Trubin
A tall and agile goalkeeper with great reflexes and excellent footwork, Trubin bloomed in last season's group stage, starting five of Shakhtar's six games and keeping three clean sheets. The 20-year-old has since made his Ukraine debut, and was an unused member of their UEFA EURO 2020 squad.
Did you know?
Shakhtar have reached the group stage for the 16th time but have been eliminated in the group stage in 11 of the previous 15 campaigns, including the last three.
UEFA coefficient ranking (end of 2020/21): 108
How they qualified: play-offs (W 3-0agg vs Dinamo Zagreb)
Last season: second qualifying round (L 1-2 vs Qarabağ)
Best European Cup performance: group stage (2021/22)
Coach: Yuriy Vernydub
Captain of the Zenit side that won the Russian Cup in 1998/99, Ukrainian coach Vernydub twice led Zorya Luhansk into the UEFA Europa League group stage before winning the 2020 Belarusian title as coach of Shakhtyor Soligorsk. Joined Sheriff last December and led them to another Moldovan league success.
Key player: Frank Castañeda
Top scorer in the Moldovan elite with 28 goals in 2020/21, the Colombian forward is great at finding space in the box and loves cutting in from the flanks to score. He was a menace again in qualifying en route to the group stage.
Big summer signing: Dimitris Kolovos
The Greek international spent last season at Sheriff on loan from Panathinaikos – and after ten goals in 22 league games, the club were eager for more. They got their man in July, and the attacking midfielder quickly proved his worth with a thunderous volley against Zagreb during Sheriff's qualifying campaign.
One to watch: Keston Julien
Born in Port of Spain, the Trinidad & Tobago international left home to sign for Slovakian side Trenčín as a teenager. Having moved on to Sheriff in 2020, the composed left-back won a title in his first campaign in Moldova and has looked solid in his first season in UEFA club competition.
Did you know?
Since winning their first league crown in 2000/01, Sheriff have only missed out on the title twice, claiming 19 crowns overall. Of course, they are also the first Moldovan side ever to reach the group stage.
UEFA coefficient ranking (end of 2020/21): 32
How they qualified: Portuguese champions
Last season: UEFA Europa League play-offs (L 1-4 vs LASK)
Best European Cup performance: quarter-finals (1982/83)
Coach: Rúben Amorim
Came into the club in March 2020 with only 13 games experience as Braga coach. Fast-forward 12 months and the 36-year-old former Portugal midfielder had led them to a first Liga title in 19 years. They set a league record for the longest unbeaten run in a single season – going 32 matches without defeat – and beat Braga in the League Cup final too.
Key player: Sebastián Coates
Sporting's 2020 Player of the Year was the key component of a miserly defence that conceded 20 goals and kept as many clean sheets in 34 games. The 30-year-old, who has passed 40 caps for Uruguay now, is also an aerial presence in both areas.
Big summer signing: Pablo Sarabia
Brought in on loan from Paris Saint-Germain, the versatile winger brings deft technique plus regular goals and assists. The former Madrid youngster managed 43 strikes in 151 games for Sevilla before his move to France and has impressed for Spain too, registering twice at UEFA EURO 2020.
One to watch: Pedro Gonçalves
Had only scored seven career goals for Famalicão before joining Sporting in August 2020 but ended his first season at the Lisbon giants as the league's top scorer with 23. The 23-year-old has started this campaign in similar form after winning his first two caps for Portugal in June.
Did you know?
Sporting have progressed from the group stage on only one of their eight attempts in the Champions League era.
UEFA coefficient ranking (end of 2020/21): 22
How they qualified: UEFA Europa League winners
Last season: UEFA Europa League winners (W on penalties vs Man. United)
Best European Cup performance: semi-finals (2005/06)
Coach: Unai Emery
The former Almería and Valencia coach made the UEFA Europa League his own with a hat-trick of successes at Sevilla. Led Paris to a league and cup treble in 2018 and Arsenal to a European final a year later, before joining Villarreal in summer 2020 – and promptly winning the Europa League again.
Key player: Gerard Moreno
Struck 20 goals in 2019/20 and 30 last season in all competitions. The highest-scoring Spanish scorer in the Liga in both of those campaigns, the 29-year-old has cemented himself in the national team set-up as well off the back of those prolific efforts.
Big summer signing: Boulaye Dia
The 24-year-old Senegalese striker had a breakthrough season with Reims last term, scoring 16 goals and winning his first five international caps. Could prove the perfect foil for Moreno if the pair's link-up play in the UEFA Super Cup is anything to go by.
One to watch: Yeremi Pino
The talented attacking midfielder made his Villarreal debut last season, two days after his 18th birthday, and has not looked back. Ended the campaign with seven goals in 37 games and became the youngest Spanish player to start a major European final.
Did you know?
The Yellow Submarine beat Manchester United 11-10 on penalties to seal their first European silverware in last season's Europa League final, but for coach Unai Emery it was a record fourth success as a coach in the competition.
UEFA coefficient ranking (end of 2020/21): 103
How they qualified: fourth in Germany
Last season: UEFA Europa League play-offs (L 1-2 vs AEK Athens)
Best European Cup performance: quarter-finals (2015/16)
Coach: Mark van Bommel
A UEFA Champions League regular with Barcelona and Bayern München, the 44-year-old took the Wolfsburg job this summer, having previously spent a year in charge of one of his old clubs, PSV Eindhoven. The ex-Netherlands youth coach has replaced Oliver Glasner, who left for Frankfurt.
Key player: Wout Weghorst
After two successful years at AZ Alkmaar, the 1.97m-tall Weghorst hit the ground running following his move to Wolfsburg in 2018, scoring over 50 Bundesliga goals in his first three seasons. He also played in all four of the Netherlands' EURO 2020 games, scoring against Ukraine.
Big summer signing: Lukas Nmecha
The 23-year-old winger spent half a season on loan at Wolfsburg in 2019 and has now signed from Manchester City on a long-term basis. Born to a German mother and a Nigerian father, Nmecha played for England at youth level but switched to Germany, and scored four goals at this year's U21 EURO, including the final-winner against Portugal.
One to watch: Ridle Baku
One of Germany's key men in that 2021 U21 EURO success, right-back Baku was among the star performers in the final against Portugal. Won his first senior Germany cap in November 2020 and is tipped for a bright future under new national team coach Hansi Flick.
Did you know?
Since Wolfsburg won the Bundesliga in 2008/09, only two other clubs have won the Germany title: Borussia Dortmund (twice) and Bayern Munich (ten times).
UEFA coefficient ranking (end of 2020/21): 42
How they qualified: play-offs (W 6-4agg vs Ferencváros)
Last season: third qualifying round (L 0-3 vs Midtjylland)
Best European Cup performance: semi-finals (1958/59)
Coach: David Wagner
A one-time Mainz team-mate of Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp, the former Huddersfield and Schalke boss pitched up in Switzerland earlier in the summer and has made an immediate impression, guiding Young Boys to a place in Europe's elite for the first time since 2018.
Key player: Vincent Sierro
The tall, elegant midfielder makes YB tick. Full of energy off the ball and clever on it, the multilingual Sierro has made himself indispensable in the heart of midfield since joining from Freiburg in 2019.
Big summer signing: Wilfried Kanga
The striker has been eased in since his arrival from Kayserispor but is expected to compete with Meschack Elia, Jordan Siebatcheu and Nicolas Moumi Ngamaleu for a place in YB's dynamic forward line.
One to watch: Cédric Zesiger
Scorer of the opening goal in YB's play-off second-leg triumph in Budapest, the centre-back has thrived since becoming the leader of a young defensive unit in the injury-enforced absence of captain Fabian Lustenberger.
Did you know?
Founded in Berne, Young Boys' name was based on that of Basel-based Old Boys. YB have won the last four Swiss titles, but their triumph in 2017/18, which kicked off that run of success, was their first since 1985/86.
UEFA coefficient ranking (end of 2020/21): 28
How they qualified: Russian champions
Last season: group stage (fourth place)
Best European Cup performance: round of 16 (2011/12, 2013/14, 2015/16)
Coach: Sergei Semak
A five-time Russian champion as a midfielder, Semak moved into coaching in 2013. Following spells as an assistant coach with Zenit and Russia, he took sole command of Ufa, leading them to a club-best sixth-placed top-flight finish in 2017/18. Zenit boss since May 2018, he has steered the team he once played for to three successive championships.
Key player: Sardar Azmoun
In his prime at 26, Azmoun is one of Zenit's biggest attacking threats, and also one of Iran's all-time top scorers. With 17 goals, he was top scorer in the 2019/20 Russian Premier League, and he hit 19 more last season, ending the campaign just one goal shy of his Zenit strike partner Artem Dzyuba.
Big summer signing: Claudinho
Fresh from winning Olympic gold with Brazil in Tokyo, the 24-year old attacking midfielder joined Zenit from RB Bragantino. He boasts an eye for goal, as he showed by finishing as joint-top scorer in Brazil's Serie A in 2020 with 18 strikes.
One to watch: Kirill Kravtsov
A product of the Zenit academy, the tall, 19-year-old midfielder earned his league debut in spring 2021 and is making an increasingly forceful case for a starting place in Semak's side, despite very tough competition.
Did you know?
Zenit's space-age home, the Saint Petersburg Arena, will stage the 2022 UEFA Champions League final. It was also the venue for seven games at UEFA EURO 2020.