It’s that time of the year, about 4-5 weeks into the season, when we can finally mark the beginning of the single most popular football club competition - the UEFA Champions League. Time for football to fill our Tuesdays and Wednesday as well, since viewing the weekend maches are clearly not enough. I already reviewed the situation in the groups in more detail right after the draw, now let’s see where the European grands stand on the verge of the first matches.
I’m going to start straight away with one of my favorite teams AC Milan, as I am a fan of the ‘toughest tasks first’ theory. Milan obviously going through a painful transition, after separating with 10 players this summer and getting 6-7 good, but mostly inexperienced signings. The defensive struggles started to show in preseason and are more than obvious now. Allegri’s tactical decisions are often criticized (and really seem to be lacking) while talents standby unused. This Milan will need a slow breakthrough, as a sudden changeover isn’t likely to occur. The performance in the first CL match therefore, is extremely important. They are meeting Anderlecht FC, who have history with Milan and will seek to start to get an early win against them to solidify their position in this seemingly easy group (but featuring the dangerous Zenit FC).
Allegri’s problems have no end.
The perplexing question is how will Real Madrid fare? They’ve had tough time in Primera Division so far, losing two of the first four matches. They did have an amazing season where they defeated everybody convincingly, so I was expecting a speedy start in the home championship. Could it be the loss of Esteban Granero that CR7 is sadsies over? Or there are actual internal issues between players and Morohno that we are not aware of? Either way, we will find out in the first Champions League game against Man City. Being that Real is the team with considerable CL experience, I expect them to come through, however their behaviour will certainly be under the microscope.
With these two having troubles, were does that leave the other Euro grands?
FC Barcelona have been nothing but spectacular in their first four games in the league. New head coach? No problem. Barca’s current team has never been characterized by the internal issues that plague the rival Real. Their first game with Spartak Moskva would be the right time to establish themselves as favorites.
Bayern M have also been stellar in their Bundesliga matches, and their wins are somewhat due to the great incorporation of the new signings. Mario Gomez has not been missed, even though I do wish him a successful recovery soon. Bayern will be willing and eager to set the tone of the competition early by winning against Spanish giant Valencia.
Manchester United also accomplished the heavy task of incorporating their new signings into the team quite well. Sir Alex rested RVP and Kagawa in the game against Wigan this Saturday, possibly to give them a break between international duty and Champions league duty. Sir Alex has many options and no significant injuries on his CL team. And he is working within an easy group, if we listen to the haters. No apparent reason MUFC should fail to qualify for the second phase, but then again last year’s fiasco comes to mind quite often.
What is going on? Sir Alex feels helpless during last year’s match against Basel FC
Defending champions (really) Chelsea FC had a lukewarm start but following the start of the Premier League they have performed quite well, mainly due to the smooth cohesion of the regulars with the new dangers like Eden Hazard.
Italian grand Juventus have been convincing at the start of this year, and there is no sign that they are influenced by Conte’s absence on the pitch (he is still a figure quite present in the planning and training). Their first match is tough, as they are facing Chelsea, however there is truly no reason they would not shine and come out as the winners.
Who I really think will have a great ride in the course of the groups is Arsenal FC - they are in a great shape and have finally settled in the new players among their ranks. Coming out after a really successful weekend at home (6-1 against Sunderland?) and minding their excellent CL record it isn’t too hard to predict their first match. Facing Montpellier (where they snatched Olivier Giroud from) should fit their style of play quite well.
PSG also recovered from the slow start of the season and are now ready for this challenge. It will be interesting to see what picks Ancelotti makes for Tuesday, most of the experts betting on Thiago Silva starting rather than new signing van der Wiel, because of his CL experience, Having Ibrahimovich also does not hurt, as he has played in the CL with different clubs and is familiar with facing a variety of European oppositions.
PSG training before tomorrow’s match against Dynamo Kiev
You can find the full schedule for Tuesday and Wednesday’s matches here. What are you looking forward to seeing? I will surely be watching Milan’s first clash, as well as Real’s kick off match in the ‘group of death’ with Man City.