After the few weeks of club action, the best in Europe step it up a notch as they begin UEFA Champions League play on Tuesday. A total of 16 matches are scheduled for the 18th and 19th, and it is important for a lot of these teams to get out to a good start, even if it is just group play. Teams will be playing periodically throughout the new months, finishing with the championship at Wembley stadium next May.
There are several great matchups to start out UEFA Champions League group play. Here’s a look at five of the most intriguing matchups, with predictions to go along with the previews.
Manchester City @ Real Madrid
The constant talk the past few weeks surrounding Real Madrid has been centered around star Cristiano Ronaldo. The marquee player is rumored to be dissatisfied with his current situation, and that has so far been a bit of a distraction for this talented squad. They will need all of their focus to hold serve at home and pick up a win, or even a draw, against a talented Manchester City team.
Going into Tuesday’s matchup, Real Madrid is the healthier of the two squads. Micah Richards and Pablo Zabaleta will both most likely be out of the lineup for Manchester City, which makes it all the more difficult for the road team.
Playing La Liga and EPL matches are different than Champions League play, so that should be good news for both teams. Real Madrid gets the honor of playing at home, but this matchup has draw written all over it. Both of these teams are not quite where they want to be yet, but both will find a way to score at least once and take a point away from the matchup.
Arsenal @ Montpellier
Montpellier is the defending Ligue 1 champions, so you know they would love a chance to knock off perennial English Premier League contender Arsenal to show just how good the soccer is in their league. Not only do they have that as motivation, but Arsenal also signed striker Olivier Giroud away from Montpellier this offseason. Needless to say, these two teams are not too fond of each other.
Arsenal is the better team, but Montpellier gets a look at them at home. This could be the type of game Montpellier needs, since they have lost three of their first five games in league play. Not only that, but the Arsenal Gunners are not a very good team on the road. Look for this to be a close game with some fireworks. Montpellier needs this win more, and a home win can really turn the talented team around.
Pick: Montpellier 3-2
Juventus @ Chelsea
Group E gets off to an intriguing start as defending UEFA Champions League title holders Chelsea host the winner of Serie A, Juventus. Obviously, both teams would love to get a slightly easier first opponent, but it is a chance for both teams to get an early gauge as to where they are.
Both teams are playing well in their club leagues back home, leading the EPL and Serie A currently. Even though Chelsea is defending their crown, they lost a slew of key players, headlined by Didier Drogba. So far the replacements have been good, but they will have to bring their best game to knock of Junventus.
Since UEFA Champions League started in 1992, fans are well aware that there has never been a repeat champion. While history might not seem to be on the side of Chelsea, they should also take in consideration that Juventus has not won a match in England in their last 11 tries. All of these factors lead up to a potential tie, and that should be what people end up predicting.
Pick: 1-1 Draw
Valencia @ Bayern Munich
Bayern Munich might come into this contest as the hottest club team in the world. Since the beginning of the 2012-2013 campaign, they have gone 5-0-0 and have won their five matches by an 18-3 margin. That is simply unheard of in soccer at the highest level. They get the luxury of playing at home in their first UEFA Champions League game, but they draw a tricky opponent in Valencia.
Valencia has faced both La Liga powers already this season, losing a tough 1-0 match to Barcelona and drawing with Real Madrid. They are not going to back down from Bayern Munich, even if they are a bit overmatched and on the road.
Bayern Munich is one of those teams who genuinely believe they can come home with the UEFA Champions League title. They will be focused and ready to play the first match, not looking past one of the toughest openers this week. Valencia will make things interesting, but Bayern Munich just simply outclasses them on the pitch.
Pick: Bayern Munich 2-0
Galatasaray @ Manchester United
After last year’s debacle in UEFA Champions League play, not to mention seeing crosstown rival Manchester City take home the EPL title, Manchester United is looking to have a bounce back 2012-2013 campaign. It all starts at home against Galatasaray, the top team in the Turkish Super Lig.
Manager Sir Alex Ferguson kept stars Robin van Persie, Shinji Kagawa and Antonio Valencia out of Saturday’s EPL game to make sure they were ready for Wednesday’s showdown in the UEFA Champions League. Galatasaray has a lot of veterans on their team, and they do not back down from any team.
At the end of the day, Manchester United is the superior team in every facet of this matchup. Their stars are rested, and van Persie will be looking to make a splash on the UEFA Champions League scene now that he is wearing red.
Galatasaray might sneak a goal in, but at the end of the day Manchester United is just too talented not to come away with three points at home. Look for a solid win to open up play this week for the home club.
Pick: Manchester United 3-1