And so it begins. The 2014-2015 Champions League kick off its group stage with the defending champions in action, hosting the always dangerous FC Basel. Liverpool make their return to the competition after five seasons, playing at home against Ludogorets of Bulgaria, while the most interesting encounter is the now almost annual match between Dortmund and Arsenal in Group D.
Juventus – Malmo: This is the first time in the Champions League group stage for the Swedish champions and current league leaders, so one might imagine expectations aren’t that high. For Juventus, who failed to get past the group stage a year ago, it’s a bit different, bringing in Patrice Evra and Alvaro Morata among other smaller signings to try and rectify that issue. Missing Andrea Pirlo and Arturo Vidal could prove to be a big deal to handle for the home side.
Olympiacos – Atletico Madrid: A summer of great change for the Spanish champions, reaching the final of the competition last season. From the start of things, including the win over Real Madrid in their most recent derby, it seems like the transition has gone well. Olympiacos have spent just over £20 million in an attempt to make it back into the last 16, where they were stopped last season.
Liverpool – Ludogorets: It’s going to be a special evening at Anfield, with Liverpool playing in the competition for the first time since 2009. Mario Balotelli will hope to score his first goal for his new club and erase the disappointing home loss to Aston Villa from the minds of fans. Ludogorets have something of a goalkeeping crisis at the moment, with their emergency signee possibly not being cleared to play by UEFA.
Real Madrid – Basel: There’s nothing like exploding on someone after a frustrating loss. The defending champions of the competition will try and get over their stumbling start to the season in Spain hoping that Basel, off to another solid start in Switzerland, won’t prove to be the giant killers they’ve been against Premier League clubs in the past.
Monaco – Leverkusen: Despite all the money thrown into the Monaco project initially, don’t expect to see them do too well in the Champions League. The former finalists (2004) have players declaring this match isn’t too important for them. Leverkusen, leading the Bundesliga at the moment, have much bigger ambitions than their opponents and overall a much better team.
Benfica – Zenit: The Russian visitors are looking tremendous so far in their home league with seven wins out of seven so far, getting an incredible contribution from Hulk, scoring five goals and adding five assists. Former Benfica player Ezequiel Garay is now playing for Zenit, hoping to make it difficult for the Portuguese champions, coming off an impressive 5-0 win over Setubal in which Talisca scored a hat trick.
Dortmund – Arsenal: The match of the day, as the two teams clash once again in the group stage. Arsenal have drawn their last three league matches, keeping them quite far away from league leaders Chelsea already. Dortmund have already lost one league match but it seems like their new signings and especially returnee Shinji Kagawa are starting to get comfortable with Klopp’s system.
Galatasaray – Anderlecht: Anderlecht never make it out of the group stage, but they’re hoping for some success in this campaign, so far doing well in the league, going undefeated through the first seven matches. Galatasaray brought in Cesare Prandelli after failing to win a championship last season but not going on a spending spree, hoping the foundations are strong enough to get them past the group stage in a difficult group for a third straight season.