Excited for the Champions League? Buzzing for those mid-week matches? Well, the 8-month-long European competition begins tomorrow and the elite battle it out to crown themselves king. However, there are a total of 106 matches, just in the group stages! And trust me, you don’t want to be stuck watching AEK Athens vs Benfica. So, here are 5 matches that you cannot afford to miss in the group stages.
#1 Manchester United vs Juventus - Old Trafford, 24th October, 12:30 AM [IST]
Surely to be one of the most exciting matches this year, you can expect fireworks from both sides. Juventus have a stunningly good team, with Alex Sandro, Douglas Costa, Paulo Dybala and of course Cristiano Ronaldo lining up for the Bianconeri.
They have done some great work in the transfer market too, not only signing CR7 but also reuniting their “BBC” defensive trio of Barzagli, Bonnuci and Chiellini. Manchester United only bought Fred and Diogo Dalot in the window, but after all the drama surrounding Paul Pogba and Jose Mourinho, it finally feels like United have begun to click like a team with Jesse Lingard, Romelu Lukaku and Luke Shaw emerging as key players.
United do have issues in defence, however, and a tough European night in Manchester will be quite a test for Jose’s boys. Also, as Ronaldo returns to Old Trafford and Pogba plays his former employers, it’ll be a night of supreme football and rekindling old friendships.
#2 Borussia Dortmund vs Atletico Madrid - Signal Iduna Park, 25th October, 12:30 AM [IST]
When Atletico Madrid won the Europa league, people were impressed. When they added signings including exciting wingers Thomas Lemar and Gelson Martins AND retained Antoine Griezmann, is when people really took notice.
But it wasn’t until they beat Real Madrid 4-2 in the UEFA Super Cup until did people really know that Los Rojiblancos are gunning for glory in Europe this season. With a ludicrously talented back line consisting of Diego Godin and Jose Gimenez, partners at international level, along with new signing French World Cup winner Lucas Hernandez, Atletico are a rock at the back.
While the Madrid side may have had a superb last season, such can hardly be said of their opponents, Dortmund. They finished 29 points behind champions Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga and lost Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – their star striker. However, they have signed both Barcelona forward Palco Alcacer (on loan) and Alex Witsel.
Also, with exciting American playmaker Christian Pulisic and 18-year-old English winger Jadon Sancho under Marco Reus’ captaincy, Dortmund can dream big. Look out for this one, a battle of two teams with immense talent, hungry to assert themselves in Europe.
#3 Tottenham Hotspur vs Barcelona - Wembley, 4th October, 12:30 AM [IST]
When you look at the Spurs’ roster, it is quite understandable why they didn't make a single signing this season. Their team is studded with stars! They have World Cup winning captain Hugo Lloris in goal and a strong defensive unit with Belgian pair Jan Vetronghen and Toby Aldeweireld and assist-man Kieran Trippier.
Their attack is led by Harry Kane and alongside him are Eriksen, Alli, Son and now Lucas Moura. It’s fair to say Spurs are a cohesive unit. Last season, when Barcelona drew Roma in the quarter-finals, everybody thought they had it easy. But lo and behold, Roma came back in the second leg to surprise everyone and beat Barcelona.
This year, Barca return with their fearsome attack of Messi, Coutinho, Dembele and Suarez with a mission. Hoping to avoid a slip like last year, the Spanish champions should play an enthralling match at Wembley, that should put up an atmosphere that’ll be deafening. Spurs will want to show that they can beat a European giant and will hope not to misstep like they did last year vs Juventus.
#4 Liverpool vs Paris Saint-Germain - Anfield, 19th September, 12:30 AM [IST]
It’s remarkable how similar these two teams are. Both have terrifying front three’s, both sit on top of their league tables and both their managers have managed Dortmund in the past.
Bench strength was an issue for Liverpool last year and after suffering a painful defeat to Real Madrid in the final last year, Liverpool has boosted their squad with new midfielder Naby Keita, attacker Xherdan Shaqiri and goalkeeper Alisson.
Their front three of Salah, Mane and Firmino ran riot last year in the Prem and will be a stern test for Paris’ defensive line. Paris will require nerves of steel to face the rousing Anfield crowd and are unlikely to be able to match Liverpool’s midfield (do keep an eye out for how PSG’s Rabiot though)but the real battle will be between PSG’s attack consisting of Neymar, Cavani and Mbappe and Liverpool’s newly famed defensive line.
It will be interesting to see how Liverpool’s young full-backs deal with the threat of Mbappe and Neymar – especially since Alexander-Arnold and Robertson love to bomb forward in attack. The quality of this match should be phenomenal and if nothing else watch this match purely for the joy of watching Neymar, Mane, Salah and Mbappe on the same pitch.
#5 Inter Milan vs Tottenham Hotspur - San Siro, 18th September, 10:25 PM [IST]
The last time these sides had met at the San Siro, Gareth Bale had announced himself on the world stage with a stunning hat-trick. Now, eight years on, Bale is long gone but Spurs will be looking to bring back some of his form when they travel to Milan.
Post the legendary era of Mourinho, Zanetti and their 2010 Champions League triumph, Inter Milan has been rather low key in the Europe scene. However, this summer, the blue side of Milan has been the place to be.
They added the experience of Belgian mid-fielder Radja Nainggolan from Roma and winger Keita Balde along with defender Sime Vrsaljko both on loan. Also, electrifying winger Lautaro Martinez joined Mauro Icardi and Ivan Perisic to form one of the best front three’s in Italy.
Inter’s defence will have to be careful of Spurs fullbacks Rose and Trippier who will bomb forward, often launching crosses into the box. Icardi should rival Kane for the goals in a game that’ll surely be attacking. If this match is even a shade of what it was last time at the San Siro, then we’re in for a good night.