The Champions League group stage begins this week, with a series of tantalising fixtures live on SuperSport.
Almost all of Europe’s biggest sides will be involved in the first round, with all eight groups boasting immense quality, and a few new faces as well.
While all of the title favourites will be expected to advance from their groups, don’t be surprised if some of the big names struggle after receiving tricky opening draws.
As the likes of Atalanta and RasenBallsport Leipzig demonstrated last term, there’s a growing middle class of European sides who are capable of upsetting the big boys and advancing to the latter stages of the tournament.
Will they kick on this season, and which of the other relatively unfamiliar faces in the UCL could advance to the knockout stages?
The Red Devils had the international break to dwell on their 6-1 demolition at the hands of Tottenham Hotspur, but responded in style against Newcastle United on Sunday, bouncing back from a goal down to win 4-1.
18 months ago, these two sides met in a fascinating Champions League double-header, at the start of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s time in charge, as the spirit of ’99 saw the Red Devils into the final eight.
A year and a half later, and while an argument could be made that United haven’t truly kicked on, despite a strong end to last season, PSG are on a five-game winning streak domestically, and now have the experience of reaching the UCL final.
Thomas Tuchel’s side ultimately fell short against Bayern Munich last term, but having added Rafinha, Moise Kean and Alessandro Florenzi, will be keen to go one step further this time around.
The potential return to the Parc des Princes of United new boy Edinson Cavani is another intriguing subplot to this meeting between Europe’s old and new money.
Juventus will be without Cristiano Ronaldo when they travel away to Dynamo Kyiv on Tuesday, as Group G—the group billed as CR7 vs Lionel Messi—kicks off.
Both they and Barcelona should advance at the expense of Dynamo and Ferancvaros, although the Hungarian heavyweights—who are at the Nou Camp on Tuesday—will note Barca’s mixed start to the season, and their defeat by Getafe on Saturday.
Again, the Blues were hurt by errors from the backline—Kepa Arrizabalaga again a culprit—against Southampton at the weekend, and if Chelsea’s defenders again let Frank Lampard down on Tuesday, expect Sevilla to capitalise.
UEFA Champions League Key Matches | Matchday One
Tuesday 20 October
Dynamo Kyiv vs Juventus | Kickoff at 18:55 (CAT) | SS Premier League (SA) & SS Football Plus (ROA)
PSG vs Manchester United | Kickoff at 21:00 (CAT) | SS Premier League (SA) & SS Football Plus (ROA)
Chelsea vs Sevilla | Kickoff at 21:00 (CAT) | SS Variety 1
Lazio vs Dortmund | Kickoff at 21:00 (CAT) | SS Variety 2 (SA) & SS Premier League (ROA)
Barcelona vs Ferencvaros | Kickoff at 21:00 (CAT) | SS Action
Wednesday 21 October
Bayern Munich vs Atletico Madrid | Kickoff at 21:00 (CAT) | SS Variety 1
Inter Milan vs Monchengladbach | Kickoff at 21:00 (CAT) | SS Variety 2 (SA) & SS Premier League (ROA)
Manchester City vs Porto | Kickoff at 21:00 (CAT) | SS Action
On Wednesday, the likes of Bayern, Man City and Real Madrid are all in action, although the tie of the night could be in Amsterdam, where Ajax host Liverpool.
Jurgen Klopp’s side can rightly be disappointment with their performance in Europe last term, where their exit at the hands of Atletico Madrid contrasted starkly with their rampant domestic form.
This year they’ll be aiming to improve on that return, and while they bounced back from their 7-2 trouncing at the hands of Aston Villa with a strong showing in the derby draw with Everton, the long-term injury to Virgil van Dijk is a hammerblow for Jurgen Klopp’s side’s hopes domestically and in Europe.
Ajax, despite significant departures in recent transfer windows, are seasoned European competitors, and are certainly capable of taking all three points.
Reigning champions Bayern are among the favourites for the crown, but the presence Atletico Madrid and RB Salzburg in their group could yet make things tricky.
Atleti vs Bayern is a European blockbuster by any stretch of the imagination—a rematch of the 1974 European Cup final no less—and having lost their 32-game unbeaten run earlier this season, the Bavarians may find themselves under pressure.
Can Diego Simeone, whose side stumbled in the knockout stages last term, take a major scalp to kick off this campaign as they look to announce their continental credentials.
Also on Wednesday, Manchester City have a stern test when they face FC Porto, Internazionale host Borussia Monchengladbach, while Shakhtar Donetsk are at Real.
Will Los Merengues, who came unstuck in the UCL against City last term, come unstuck in a group containing the proactive pressing teams in Inter, Gladbach and Shakhtar?