The 2012-2013 edition of the Champions League kicks off with the group of death on the first day, as Real Madrid hosting Manchester City in the focus of everything, while Dortmund host Ajax. Arsenal get to visit Montpellier while the PSG project continues its way with a return to the best competition in Europe, hosting Dinamo Kyiv.
Group A – Dinamo Zagreb vs FC Porto
Zagreb lost all six matches in their group stage appearance last season, setting a new record for a negative goal difference with -19. This is their fourth time in the Champions League group stage, hoping to somehow, by chance, make it into the knockout round for the first time. They’ve started the season well in Croatia, leading the league after 8 matches with 20 points, with Brazilian Sammir leading the scoring charts with 8 goals. Porto have won two of their first three matches in Portugal this season, tied for the top spot with Benfica. The home side always wins when these two teams meet.
Group A – PSG vs Dynamo Kyiv
After a slow start, Carlo Anccelotti has his team coming together, mostly behind Zlatan Ibrahimovic who has scored five of PSG’s six league goals, helping them to the fourth place with two wins and three draws. The return of the club to the Champions League for the first time since the 2004-2005 season is the big news, although a first year in the competition for a new squad, no matter how shiny and good, is never easy. Dynamo see themselves as legitimate contenders for one of the top two spots, but they’re third in the Ukraine after nine matches and haven’t made it past the group stage in over a decade. PSG are coming together, and should win this one.
Group B – Montpellier vs Arsenal
The return of Olivier Giroud to the club he help lead to a historic title in Ligue 1 would be a much bigger affair if Giroud would have enjoyed a decent start to his Arsenal career, but he hasn’t, which makes his return a bit, well, lackluster. Arsenal are picking up steam in the Premier League, winning their last two matches and conceding only one in their first four. Montpellier, making their debut UCL appearance, have won only one match out of the first five in France, ranked 16th, making this one look like an Arsenal win.
Group B – Olympiakos vs Schalke 04
The eternal (almost) Greek champions are off to another flying start at home, winning the first three matches of the season. At home they’re always a tough side, but Greek club football has fallen behind in recent years due to the economic problems, and it’s hard seeing Olympiacos making their first forray into the knockout stage since the 1998-1999 season. Schalke made it into the semifinal two years ago. They’ve won two of their first three matches in the Bundesliga this season, but will probably be happy to come away with a draw from the European opener.
Group C – AC Milan vs Anderlecht
A club that mostly cleared wages all summer, AC Milan don’t have high hopes for their Champions League season, but no one is expecting anything but a win at home against the Belgian champions. The problem is they’ve lost two of their first three matches of the season, both at home, not exactly breeding confidence. Anderlecht have never won a match on Italian soil and will be missing a couple of key players. They are undefeated, but have won only three of their first seven matches. Despite the problems, this is Milan’s to win.
Group C – Malaga vs Zenit
Malaga lost half of their key players during the summer, but still made it into the Champions League and are off to a great start in Spain, currently ranked second in the league with 10 points in four matches. Zenit are off to a disappointing start despite the impressive additions of Axel Witsel and Hulk, currently ranked fourth in Russia after losing two matches of their first 8. A draw seems like a likely result.
Group D – Borussia Dortmund vs Ajax
Dortmund aren’t perfect in the league like Bayern, but they’ve done very well so far, with their usual brand of exciting soccer, and the combination of Mario Gotze, Marco Reus and Robert Lewandowski ready to take Europe by storm. A year more experienced from this group’s first Champions League experience, anything but the top two spots will be a disappointment, despite the opposition, not meaning Ajax. The Dutch champions have been drawn with Real Madrid for a third straight season, losing some of their best players to more money during the summer. They’re third in the Dutch Eredivisie with three wins and two draws, four points behind the league leaders.
Group D – Real Madrid vs Manchester City
Manchester City arrive at the pressure cooker that is the Santiago Bernabeu feeling pretty confident with a travelling but not fully healthy Sergio Aguero. Real Madrid have won only one match since the beginning of the La Liga, and missing out on three points against Manchester City will just make life for an angry Mourinho and a “sad” Cristiano Ronaldo even harder, although a draw wouldn’t be such a disaster considering their situation. Still, Real haven’t lost at home in 2012.