Champions League | Condensed version set to kick off

PSG and Manchester United clash on the opening day

A condensed version of the Champions League group stage finally gets under way on Tuesday, with COVID-19-related disruptions an ever-present threat hanging over the competition.

The 32-team contest will start one month later than usual, a knock-on effect of the pandemic interrupting last season for three months, although the group stage will finish as usual in early December with six match-days squeezed into a 50-day period.

It kicks off with a heavyweight clash between Paris St. Germain and Manchester United on Tuesday in Group H, bringing back memories of the English side’s comeback two seasons ago when it won on away goals after losing 2-0 at home.

Barcelona hosts Hungarians Ferencvaros, back in the group stage after a 25-year absence, in another Tuesday match, while Wednesday’s games include titleholder Bayern Munich v Atletico Madrid and Ajax v Liverpool.

UEFA settled on the new time-frame in early June when the pandemic appeared to be under control in Europe. But with the recent surge in infection numbers around the continent, it has begun to look increasingly ambitious.

Ronaldo to miss opener

Cristiano Ronaldo is among the players who have tested positive recently, and he will miss Juventus’ opening match away to Dynamo Kiev on Tuesday.

The Portuguese could also be forced to sit out the following week’s match at home to Barcelona, when he is due to face his old rival Lionel Messi for the first time in over two years.

UEFA has drawn up a detailed health protocol which, in principle, allows teams to play even if members of the squad test positive.

As long as a team has a minimum of 13 available players including one goalkeeper, matches can go ahead.

Clubs will also be allowed to field players who were not initially registered for the competition to make up the numbers.

However, UEFA recognises that national authorities could intervene and order an entire team into quarantine, as happened in a European under-21 qualifier between Iceland and Italy.

Forfeiting matches

UEFA’s rules say that teams may have to forfeit matches in the Champions League, particularly if they fail to inform it of restrictions imposed by local authorities on either themselves or the visiting team.

However, UEFA says it may also reschedule matches in some cases and has set a deadline of Jan. 28 for them to be played, giving clubs a potential seven-week extension to complete their fixtures.

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