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Champions League preview: European football returns

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Champions League preview

The Champions League is back this week, as football fans across the world tune in to see Europe’s elite face each other. Eight groups make up 32 teams in this year’s competition, including heavyweight clashes between numerous teams.

Last year’s competition was one of the strangest to date, falling directly in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. However, clubs did not disappoint. 2019 winners Liverpool crashed out in the round of 16, Manchester City were shocked by Lyon and Barcelona were battered by eventual winners Bayern Munich.

Bayern were dominant last year, going undefeated to claim their trophy. They crushed PSG’s hopes of winning their first ever European title, in a 1-0 win in Lisbon back in August.

In the build up to this years campaign, there were some eventful qualifying rounds. Last month saw teams like Benfica and Celtic miss out on a place in this years group stage.

But with the draw made, teams will now be ready to compete to lift the 2020/21 Champions League title. Read on to find out who’s playing who in the first round of fixtures, starting on Tuesday night.

 

Tuesday night

Group E:  Chelsea V Sevilla (8pm)

Chelsea kick off their Champions League campaign against Europa League winners Sevilla at 8pm. After losing to eventual winners Bayern Munich last season in the Round of 16, manager Frank Lampard will be hopeful they can progress further this year.

But a tough opener against Spanish Side Sevilla will test their performance levels on the big stage. A rocky start to their Premier League season leaves them with only two wins in their first five games.

Nevertheless, new signings Timo Werner, Kai Havertz, Thiago Silva and Hakim Ziyech boast plenty of Champions League experience to help them this year.

Sevilla qualified for the group stages by finishing 4th in La Liga last term and winning the Europa league. They beat a strong Inter Milan side 3-2 in an eventful game to win a record breaking sixth Europa league trophy.

Like Chelsea they have only won two games from their first five in the league. The arrival of Ivan Rakitic however from Barcelona will certainly help their team. Manager Julen Lopetegui will be eager to prove that Sevilla can compete amongst the best.

Other game in the group: Rennes v FK Krasnodar (8pm).

 

Group F:  Lazio V Borussia Dortmund (8pm)

German giants Borussia Dortmund take on a talented Lazio side to open Group F. Dortmund finished second to a stunning Bayern Munich team in the Bundesliga last season and were knocked out by finalists PSG in the Round of 16 in the Champions League.

The German side have not progressed past the quarter finals since their appearance in the 2012/13 final against Bayern. This year however, they have a better chance of finishing at the top of their group.

They have only lost once so far in the league and the additions of the talented Haaland and experienced Emre Can will certainly improve their performances.

Lazio however will be tough competition in the opening game. They qualify this year after finishing fourth in the Serie A, but mounted a serious title challenge to try and prevent Juventus winning nine in a row.

Their star striker Ciro Immobile will be Lazio’s biggest threat. He scored an outstanding 36 goals in 37 games in the league last year. However, they did not qualify for last years Champions League and only finished third in their Europa League group.

A poor start to their league season as well makes them the underdogs in this fixture. Nevertheless they will be sure to put up a fight to top Dortmund to the number one spot in Group F.

Other game in the group: Zenit St Petersburg v Club Bruges (5.55pm).

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Group G:  Barcelona V Ferencvarosi TC (8pm)

Spanish giants Barcelona drew Italian champions Juventus in Group G, which will make an enticing game when they face off at the end of the month. However first they must play Hungarian minnows Ferencvarosi TC, who play their first group stage game since the 1995/96 season. 

Barca topped a hard group last season against the likes of Inter Milan and Dortmund. They progressed to the quarter finals before crashing out of the competition at the hands of Bayern, who thrashed them 8-2 in August.

Their worst defeat in European history led to a serious reconstruction for Barcelona. Departures for Luis Suarez, Arturo Vidal, Nelson Semedo and Ivan Rakitic have weakened their squad. However the arrivals of Miralem Pjanic, Sergino Dest and Philippe Coutinho (who was on loan at Bayern), will work to restore their pride once again.

The transfer saga of Lionel Messi over the summer did not help the situation. However, he will continue to be a huge boost for them in this group, after persuading him to stay. Having not won the trophy since 2015, they will definitely be on the warpath to succeed this year.

They face Hungarian champions Ferencvarosi TC, who will undoubtedly have a difficult task on their hands. They pulled off a shock win against Celtic in the first round of qualifying, beat Dinamo Zagreb in the second and won on away goals against Norwegian side Molde FK in the last round.

After battling through qualifying, they deservedly reached the group stages. It is amazing for their club having drawn both Barcelona and Juventus. Staff, players and fans will no doubt be excited to see their team fight against Europe’s elite this year.

Other game in the group: Dynamo Kyiv v Juventus (5.55pm).

 

Group H:  Paris Saint Germain V Manchester United (8pm)

The ‘group of death’ in this years competition is without question Group H. In the first game of the group, the two heavyweights go head to head to fight for the top spot. Last year’s finalists PSG will play three time Champions league winners, Manchester United. 

United missed out on a Champions League place last year, but topped their Europa League group. They ended up being knocked out by eventual winners Sevilla in the semi final, but qualified after finishing third in the Premiership last season.

Manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been under intense pressure after their 6-1 defeat to Spurs last week. Nevertheless, a good victory against Newcastle United and a busy transfer deadline day has given United fans hope for this years European campaign.

The arrivals of Donny Van de Beek, Edinson Cavani and Alex Telles all have plenty of Champions League experience. However, they find themselves in a tough group alongside PSG and RB Leipzig, as they aim to reach the knockout stages.

However, nine time French champions PSG are on a mission to lift the trophy this year. With superstars like Kylian Mbappe and Neymar within their ranks, they will be a hard to team stop.

PSG are still searching for their first European title and came close last season, before losing to Bayern in the final. However, manager Thomas Tuchel and his squad will be eager to dominate this time round, which gives fan an enthralling opener in Group H.

Other game in the group: RB Leipzig v Istanbul Basaksehir (8pm).

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Wednesday night

Group A:  Bayern Munich V Atletico Madrid (8pm)

One of the biggest games of the round, has current Champions League champions face off against Atletico Madrid. Bayern beat PSG 1-0 to go undefeated in the tournament last year. After dominating the Bundesliga as well they will be a force to be reckoned with again in Group A.

Bayern’s star striker Robert Lewandowski has already scored seven goals in four appearances so far this season. He scored 15 goals in this tournament last year along with 34 goals in the league. With him on unstoppable form it will be hard for Atletico to stop him.

The departure of Thiago Alcantara to Liverpool is a big loss to the German giants, nonetheless they have still only lost one competitive match in 2020. The arrival of Leroy Sane and Douglas Costa will also bring added firepower to their squad.

Atletico on the other hand lost to RB Leipzig in the quarter finals last season. After knocking out previous winners Liverpool, Madrid were expected to go through to the semi finals. A disappointing performance however ended their season early.

Unbeaten since the start of this season so far, Atletico will look to continue their run. Luis Suarez now joins them up top to play with the likes of Diego Costa and Joao Felix. Although they lost key midfielder Thomas Partey on deadline day, Lucas Torreira will hope to impress Diego Simeone at the top level.

This game will definitely be one to watch as Bayern’s attacking talents go up against a strong Atletico defence.

Other game in the group: FC Red Bull Salzburg v Lokomotiv Moscow (5.55pm).

 

Group B:  Real Madrid V Shakhtar Donetsk (5.55pm)

Spanish giants Real Madrid start off their campaign against Ukraine champions Shakhtar Donetsk. Group B also consists of Inter Milan and Borussia Monchengladbach who provide tough competition for the knockout places.

Madrid finished second in their group last year and were knocked out in the Round of 16 by Manchester City. The 13 time winners had won it three times in a row from 2015/16 to 2017/18. They have failed to reach the quarter final stage in the last two attempts, so will be looking to amend that this year.

Having won the Spanish league last year they are on good form in domestic competitions. But Madrid president Florentino Perez will be eager to get his hands on the trophy again, increasing the pressure on their manager Zinedine Zidane.

They are the favourites to win this fixture, but Shakhtar can be a hard team to break down. They just missed out on a knockout spot last year and were put into the Europa League competition. Donetsk ended up reaching the semi finals before getting thrashed by Inter Milan 5-0.

Nonetheless, as one of the best teams in Ukraine, they will be strong opponents for Real Madrid to beat in the opening game.

Other game in the group: Inter Milan v Borussia Monchengladbach (8pm).

 

Group C:  Manchester City V FC Porto (8pm)

Pep Guardiola’s City face Portugal’s domestic league winners Porto in an enticing Group C starter. Manchester City will be looking to end their long wait for a Champions League trophy, the main reason why they have invested so heavily over the last couple of years.

After a disappointing loss to Lyon in the quarter finals, City must pick their heads up and focus on this year’s competition. Having enjoyed a large amount of success domestically since Pep took over, European success is next on the list.

They haven’t got off to the best of starts this year, after losing to Leicester City 5-2 a few weeks ago. However it remains their only loss so far and a win against Arsenal on Saturday will give them the confidence they need going into this game.

New signings including Ruben Dias, Nathan Ake and Ferran Torres will help bolster their chances of winning the competition this year.

Porto are arguably City’s hardest opponent in the group and will be tough to beat. They won the Portuguese league last year and topped their Europa League group. However they crashed out in the round of 32 against Bayer Leverkusen.

They will be keen to prove themselves on the big stage this year, and have a good chance if they can overcome City.

Other game in the group: Olympiakos v Marseille (8pm).

 

Group D:  Ajax V Liverpool (8pm)

The last fixtures of this round, see Ajax face the English champions in the Group D opener. Manager Jurgen Klopp returned the Champions League trophy back to Anfield in 2019. However bowed out of the competition to Atletico Madrid in the Round of 16 last season.

They have been an unstoppable force in Europe over the last couple of years, but have got off to a rocky start so far. They haven’t won in their last three games in all competitions, including a 7-2 thrashing at the hands of Aston Villa.

The Reds have also suffered the loss of Virgil Van Dijk with a knee injury at the weekend. Virgil played a pivotal role in their title win last season and will definitely be missed in this fixture. However, new signings Thiago and Diego Jota will help the likes of Mohammed Salah and Sadio Mane produce goals up top.

Ajax are a big threat to them in the group. Having mostly been the underdogs in this competition, they certainly know how to put up a tough fight. In 2019 they stunned Real Madrid and Juventus to reach the Champions League semis.

But last season didn’t live up to expectations. They failed to reach the knockout stages, before losing to Spanish side Getafe on aggregate in the Europa League Round of 32.

After winning the Dutch league last year on goal difference, they have now won four of their last five games this season. The departures of Hakim Ziyech, Donny Van de Beek and Sergino Dest will be a loss to them, but they will still be difficult to beat.

Other game in the group: FC Midtjylland v Atalanta (8pm).

 

We hoped you enjoyed the article ‘Champions League preview: European Football Returns’. Who do you think will win this season’s Champions League? Let us know! 

 

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Joe is an aspiring sports journalist with an excellent knowledge and passion for football and basketball, with a wide-range of understanding in major sports. He studies Multi-Media Journalism at Bournemouth University and is currently completing a ‘year in industry’ placement, beginning his first 3 months here with us at Sporting Ferret! You can contact him on twitter: @joewillis_12

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