Times flies when you’re having fun, doesn’t it? It’s mad to think, but it’s September already. And the start of another epic year of top drawer European football. After a summer of huge spending by some of the world’s biggest clubs, this year’s Champions League is going to be a real clash of the titans. A true battle of the behemoths like never before.
Will Spain continue their club dominance over the competition? Barca and Real have shared the trophy between them over the past four years. And, again, Zinedine Zidane’s men from the capital will start as favourites. But with Pep’s City boys spending big, just like Jose’s charges from the red half of Manchester, could the title be heading to England? Big-spending PSG might have something to say about that. As might German giants Bayern Munich, the class acts of Juventus and a whole host of others clubs besides.
But let’s begin at the beginning, shall we? The first round of group games are coming up very soon. Let’s see who the British sides are facing and focus on them a little first. There are some big, big clubs lined up ready to upset the Blighty apple cart in their first games…
Manchester United Vs. FC BASEL
Jose Mourinho’s first Champions League campaign as Manchester United manager kicks off with a relatively easy opener against Swiss outfit FC Basel on Tuesday night. Raphaël Wicky and his men may be the reigning Swiss Super League and Swiss Cup holders, but they’ve not had the best of starts to their new season. An opening day reverse to Young Boys was a shock to the system that kicked Basel up the backside a little. They went on to win their next three matches. But they’re now winless in their last three. So confidence isn’t exactly high in the camp at the moment.
As for big names in their squad, well, they don’t really have any. Unless you mean ‘big names’ literally. In which case you can probably count former former misfiring Norwich City ‘striker’ Ricky van Wolfswinkel, who signed on loan from Vitesse Arnhem in the summer.
Basel are no slouches and are easily Switzerland’s classiest side (not that that’s saying much, obviously). But while dangerous at times, they’ll do well to beat a strong United side at Old Trafford. We expect Lukaku, Pogba, Matic & Co. to get all three points here. And with some ease.
Celtic Vs. PARIS ST. GERMAIN
Celtic eased past potentially tricky Kazakh opposition FC Astana in their play-off game and can go into this fixture confident of giving another good account of themselves. Leigh Griffiths is in decent goal scoring form and it’s likely to be a lively evening at Celtic Park. But talk will, inevitably, revolve around a certain Brazilian. Neymar’s sensational – and fairly expensive – move from Barcelona over the summer dominates any Paris St. Germain conversation. So much so that their loan signing of Europe’s hottest young talent Kylian Mbappe has almost flown under the radar.
PSG are expected to win, of course. They’ll expect to win, the media will expect them to win, their fans will expect them to win. And so do we. But probably not by a huge margin. Sure, they’ve got Neymar, Mbappe, Cavani, Motta, Pastore, Di Maria, Thiago Silva, Dani Alves, Julian Draxler and a whole host of others, but… Actually. What were we saying…?
No, no. We’ll stick with with it. PSG to sneak a win in a high-scoring affair.
Chelsea Vs. FK QARABAG
They may sound more like something you’d take your shopping home in, but we can assure you that Qarabag are a real football club. They’re an Azerbaijani side from Agdam, but they play out of Baku because of a civil war in their region. They dominate their domestic league, but aren’t the pushovers in Europe that you might expect. Of 18 Champions Leagues games they’ve played in, they’ve actually won nine. Okay, those are mostly qualifiers, but The Horseman are no Sunday League mugs.
Qarabag don’t have any star names, but their South African striker Dino Ndlovu knows where the goal is. And he has a fantastic name. So watch out for him. Former Birmingham City midfielder Michel might not have pulled up many trees at St. Andrews, but he’s pivotal for his new side.
Don’t expect a cricket score here, but do still expect a fairly routine side for Antonio Conte’s men.
Liverpool Vs. SEVILLA
Reds fans will remember the last time they met Sevilla – May 2016 in Basel. A stunning second half comeback saw Los Rojiblancos win yet another Europa League. Liverpool will be hoping for a better result this time out with their new and improved squad.
Eduardo Berizzo’s side can boast a line-up consisting of talent like Simon Kjær, Éver Banega, Steven N’Zonzi and newly-nabbed from Manchester City, Jesus Navas and Nolito. But Sevilla – much like Atletico Madrid – are a side that always consist of more than the sum of their parts. They just perform well, regardless of their coach, squad, formation or approach. So Jurgen Klopp will need to get his tactics spot on to win this. Our thoughts? A score draw.
Manchester City Vs. FEYENOORD
Gifted perhaps the easiest opening draw, Manchester City will respect their Dutch opponents, but not be terribly fearful of them. True, Feyenoord won the Eredivisie last season, but it’s been fourteen years since they last made an appearance in the Champions League group stages. Last year they exited at the group stages of the Europa League and not too many people fancy the Rotterdam side to progress to the knockouts here.
Ranked 89th in the UEFA coefficients, Gio van Bronckhorst’s men have never played any of their Group F rivals before. But the former Barca and Arsenal man in charge has done a fantastic job so far and he won’t stand for any slouching. He’ll set them up not to get trounced at the Etihad and we can see them avoiding that fate. Still, though… They’ll leave England empty handed.
Spurs Vs. BORUSSIA DORTMUND
They might have lost Ousmane Dembele to Barcelona recently, but Borussia Dortmund are still a formidable side for Tottenham to face in their opening Champions League game. Especially when playing ‘at home’ isn’t really much of an advantage for you. Last season saw Die Borussen the target of a terrorist attack and the club had the strength of mind to play the next day regardless. So that shows just some of the character the Dortmunders are capable of demonstrating.
Spurs can boast some pretty slick players in their squad, but then so can their first opponents in this year’s competition. Everyone knows about the attacking talents of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Mario Götze. But don’t forget they’ve got the likes of Marco Reus and Andriy Yarmolenko in their starting line-up too.
This one’s tricky to call, but if Spurs don’t arrest their Wembley problem, it could cost them big here. We’re going to guess that they can’t and that they lose this by the odd goal.
How do you see the clubs from the UK faring in this first Champions League matchday? Let us know your thoughts in the comments or on Facebook or Twitter…