With the Champions League Group Stage draw being recently made for this new season, it means European club football is once again go and with 32 teams hoping to make it to the final in Saint-Petersburg next May, only one will eventually be crowned champion.
Before one of the 32 can call themselves winners of such a prestigious tournament, a lot of work will have to be done and with that select panel of clubs being split into eight groups of four, the Group Stage will weed out the challengers and the also-rans.
While with Italian clubs being afforded four automatic qualification berths for the Group Stage, they will hope to be bring success back to the club environment and in doing so, match the national team’s efforts from last summer.
That of course saw Italy win the UEFA European Championships and with such an outcome being a relative surprise, it remains to be seen whether an Italian outfit can once again return to the summit of European football.
Not since Inter Milan got the better of Bayern Munich back in 2010, has an entrant from Serie A ruled the European roost and with more than a decade in the wilderness, the competition has largely been a plaything for Real Madrid and Barcelona.
That’s not to say that the La Liga duo have had it all their own way and when you consider that the Premier League has put forward winning representatives in both 2019 and 2021, English football has also had a lengthy stint in the sun.
While for those who dabble in odds trading, they would have certainly made money on Chelsea’s victory in the competition last season and with Thomas Tuchel’s men acting as underdogs against Manchester City in the final, it was the West Londoners who eventually won in Porto.
That victory in the showpiece event showed just how dominant the Premier League has been in the last three years of the competition as a whole and if Italian clubs are to have any joy this year, they are going to have to get the better of the English counterparts at some point.
Something that AC Milan will need to do as early as the Group Stage itself and with the red and black half of the city being placed in what could be considered the “Group of Death”, there will be little margin for error on offer.
That’s because Stefano Pioli’s men have been paired with 2019 champions Liverpool, last season’s La Liga winners Atletico Madrid and perennial Champions League qualifiers FC Porto of Portugal – a draw that really is as tough as they come.
Such is the pairing that has been afforded to AC Milan, that the club may already have to tailor their hopes of European supremacy this season and perhaps a more realistic option would be a third-place finish in the mini-league.
In doing so, it would mean that AC Milan then drop down to the Europa League instead and it is here where they could find themselves being more of a threat when paired against fellow European opposition.
Then again, to have that attitude before a ball is kicked in anger would be somewhat defeatist and if they can get off the mark early, there is every chance that a head of steam could be crafted by the San Siro outfit.
The key will be to earn six points off of FC Porto and if that is the case, then anything that manager Stefano Pioli can pluck from either Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp, or Atletico Madrid’s Diego Simeone would be considered a huge bonus in their bid for Round of 16 progress.
While looking to make the same progress, are their crosstown rivals Inter Milan and with last season’s Serie A champions being handed a much more favourable draw, failure to make it to the Round of 16 would only be considered a huge disappointment.
The challenge for the blue and black half of Milan is to win their group and potentially avoid all the giants that could await in the first knockout phase and if they can get the better of Real Madrid either home or away, they will give themselves the best possible chance of topping the group.
Moving to Turin now and Juventus may count themselves lucky to be in the competition at all and after securing their qualification berth on the final day of the previous Serie A season, they will look to put a disappointing previous campaign behind them.
Something that should be achieved if they can also advance in the Champions League and with holders Chelsea as the only genuine challenge in Group H, the ‘Old Lady’ should be well placed to finish second in the group.
Of course, we must not get the fourth and final Italian entrant and that is Atalanta and with the Bergamo based side being paired with Villarreal, Manchester United, and Young Boys, qualification for the Round of 16 is by no means a given.