The Group stages of the Champions League, Europe’s Premier Football competition gets underway tomorrow night as 32 teams begin the journey that they ultimately hope will finish in a berth in the Final in Milan next May
The pick of the Matchday 1 games looks to be the clash of Manchester City v last season’s UEFA Champions League runners-up Juventus. Both of these Group D rivals had their hopes dashed by FC Barcelona in 2014/15 – City lost 3-1 on aggregate to the eventual champions in the last 16, before Juventus fell by the same scoreline in the final in Berlin.
City’s cross city rivals United face a difficult trip to Holland to take on PSV in a game that will see Memphis Depay makes a swift return to his old stamping ground the club he left in the summer, for their opening Group B fixture. Depay’s return is not the only source of intrigue in a contest which pits home coach Phillip Cocu against Louis van Gaal, a man he played under for both FC Barcelona and the Netherlands.
Real Madrid CF’s 20th group stage campaign begins with an intriguing first-ever encounter with FC Shakhtar Donetsk, who have had matchday one assignments in Spain in their last two seasons. Rafael Benítez takes charge of Madrid for the first time in the competition after his summer appointment. He was a UEFA Champions League winner with Liverpool FC in 2005 and has lifted the UEFA Cup with Valencia CF in 2004 and the UEFA Europa League with Chelsea FC in 2013.
Zlatan Ibrahimović faces his home-town club as Paris Saint-Germain embark on another tilt at European glory with a home game against Malmö FF. Ibrahimović signed for Malmö in 1996, making his senior debut three years later. After 16 goals in 40 league appearances he began his globetrotting tour of Europe’s elite, joining AFC Ajax in 2001.
FC Astana’s first foray into the UEFA Champions League group stage begins with an away game at SL Benfica, who are in the last 32 for the sixth year in a row. Astana are the first ever representatives from Kazakhstan to reach the UEFA Champions League group stage. They secured their success with a 2-1 aggregate victory against APOEL FC in the play-off round. Nemanja Maksimović’s dramatic equaliser six minutes from time in Cyprus proved decisive after Baurzhan Dzholchiyev had sealed a 1-0 first-leg success.
The other ties on the night see Wolfsburg face CSKA Moskva, Galatasary take on Atletico and Sevilla host Mönchengladbach , all the games have a 7.45 (Irish Time) kick off.
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