Liverpool faces Napoli again as Van Dijk takes Player of the Year honor

Holder Liverpool will face Napoli in the Champions League group stage for the second season running while Barcelona was placed in the toughest section in Thursday's draw.
Liverpool faces Napoli again as Van Dijk takes Player of the Year honor

Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk poses with the UEFA Men’s Player of the Year award during the UEFA Champions League Group Stage draw at Grimaldi Forum in Monaco on Thursday. The Dutchman also won the Defender of the Season honor.

European champion Liverpool received a relatively kind draw for the group stage of this year's UEFA Champions League with Italy's Napoli its toughest opponent in Group E.

Juergen Klopp's side, which beat Tottenham Hotspur in June's final to win its sixth European Cup, will also face Austria's Salzburg and Belgian side Genk.

The draw in Monaco produced two fascinating groups which should deliver a real battle for qualification with Barcelona facing Borussia Dortmund, Inter Milan and Slavia Prague in Group F.

Group D is also a mouth-watering prospect with Italian champion Juventus taking on Atletico Madrid, Bayer Leverkusen and Lokomotiv Moscow.

Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane will return to his homeland France for a clash with Paris Saint-Germain in Group A which also includes Club Brugge of Belgium and Turkey's Galatasaray.

Last year's runner-up Tottenham faces German champion Bayern Munich as well as Greek side Olympiakos and Serbia's Red Star Belgrade in Group B.

English Premier League champion Manchester City was handed the kindest draw of all four English representatives, with Pep Guardiola's men coming up against Italian debutant Atalanta along with Shakhtar Donetsk and Dinamo Zagreb in Group C.

Perhaps the most balanced section sees Russia's Zenit Saint Petersburg, Benfica of Portugal, French Ligue 1 side Lyon and RB Leipzig of Germany clash in Group G. The first fixtures in all groups will be played on September 17 and 18.

Liverpool faces Napoli again as Van Dijk takes Player of the Year honor

Former France midfielder Eric Cantona is presented with the UEFA President's Award by UEFA chief Aleksander Ceferin in Monaco on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Liverpool center-back Virgil van Dijk won the UEFA Men's Player of the Year award, edging out Barcelona's Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo of Juventus, while Lucy Bronze took the women's prize.

Dutchman Van Dijk starred as Liverpool won the UCL last season with a 2-0 final victory over Tottenham in Madrid.

"I need to thank my teammates, without them I would not have achieved what I have achieved," Van Dijk told BT Sport.

"It's been a long road and it's part of my journey. I'm very proud to get this trophy. It's credit to everyone who has helped me."

The 28-year-old is the first defender to win the award since the inaugural edition in 2010-11.

Full-back Bronze won the Women's Champions League title with Lyon before helping England reach the women's World Cup semifinals.

Liverpool also had Alisson Becker named the best goalkeeper, while Messi settled for being the best striker and Ajax Amsterdam's Frenkie de Jong as best midfielder.

Earlier, former France great Eric Cantona gave a typically perplexing speech after collecting the UEFA presidential award at the UCL draw.

Cantona said "only accidents, crimes, wars will still kill us, but unfortunately crimes and wars will multiply. I love football".

It came after Cantona, who was fondly referred to as King Eric by fans of former club Manchester United, was asked to give his thoughts on receiving the accolade in Monaco.

Dressed in a red shirt and grey cap, Cantona started off by invoking William Shakespeare's King Lear: "As flies to wanton boys, we are for the gods."

He added: "They will kill us for the sport. Soon the science will not only be able to slow down the aging of the cells, soon the science will fix the cells to the state and so we will become eternal."

Cantona was known as an original thinker on and off the pitch, and has a history of making nonsensical statements.

At a news conference in February 1995 after he was handed an eight-month ban for jumping into the stands and kicking a fan in England, Cantona's only comment before walking out of the room was: "When the seagulls follow the trawler, it's because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea."

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