KEIR RADNEDGE in MONTE CARLO: Champions League holders Real Madrid will launch the defence of the crown lifted in 2016 and 2017 against Borussia Dortmund, Tottenham Hotspur and APOEL of Cyprus.
Coach Zinedine Zidane’s world, European and Spanish champions were handed their latest challenge at the group stage draw in the Grimaldi Forum here during European federation UEFA’s traditional club season launch.
Madrid also had an ‘event’ of their own to celebrate with Zidane having agreed a contract extension until 2020 for what a statement described as “conditions that the club leaders have deemed appropriate.”
Zidane has guided Madrid to seven national and international titles since taking over from Rafa Benitez in January last year.
Champions League history is being made this season with no fewer than five English clubs involved in Madrid’s initial rivals Tottenham as well as Chelsea and Manchester City plus Liverpool and Manchester United.
Liverpool earned their presence after completing, on Tuesday, a 4-2 aggregate qualifying victory over Germany’s Hoffenheim while United entered the draw by virtue of their victory in last season’s Europa League.
United face a early date with history. Their Group A opponents include Benfica whom they beat, famously, to win the European Champions Cup for the first time at Wembley in 1968.
Group A: Benfica, Manchester United, Basel, CSKA Moscow.
Group B: Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain, Anderlecht, Celtic.
Group C: Chelsea, Atletico de Madrid, Roma, Qarabag.
Group D: Juventus, Barcelona, Olympiacos, Sporting Clube.
Group E: Moscow Spartak, Sevilla, Liverpool, Maribor.
Group F: Shakhtar Donetsk, Manchester City, Napoli, Feyenoord.
Group G: Monaco, Porto, Besiktas, RB Leipzig.
Group H: Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Tottenham, APOEL.
** Antoine Griezmann, Atletico de Madrid’s France top scorer, has been suspended for two LaLiga games after being sent off in Saturday’s 2-2 draw against Girona. Griezmann was booked for diving then shown a second yellow card for dissent.
** Manuel Neuer is scheduled to make his return to duty for Bayern Munich on Saturday against Werder Bremen. The Germany goalkeeper underwent surgery after fracturing a foot in his club’s quarter-final defeat by Real Madrid in last season’s Champions League quarter-finals.
** Zlatan Ibrahimovic has re-signed for Manchester United on a one-year contract. The 35-year-old former Sweden striker scored 28 goals in 46 appearances last season. Ibrahimovic was released in June after his season was cut short by a knee injury but he is expected to be fit in December.