Sep 16, 2013, 5:37 AM EDT
David Moyes has been to Champions League before: One time; in 2005; with Everton exiting after group stage. Suffice to say expectations will be much higher this time, with Manchester United fans unlikely to have forgotten the controversial circumstances that saw them eliminated last year by Real Madrid.
Group A play sees Manchester United start their quest for redemption against Bayer Leverkusen, a team whose Bundesliga form suggest they could be a dark horse to challenge for the group’s top spot. With Skahktar Donetsk (visiting Real Sociedad) struggling in the Ukrainian Premier League, the meeting at Old Trafford could provide quick insight into the group’s balance.
Group B’ has two teams who will have title aspirations, with both Real Madrid and Juventus starting on the road. Los Blancos return to Istanbul for a rematch of last season’s quarterfinal against Didier Drogba, Wesley Sneijder, and Galatasaray, while the Italian champions visit Danish powers FC Copenhagen.
Group C favorites Paris Saint-Germain, coming off their most impressive performance of the season (at 2-0 win Friday at Bordeaux), travels to Greece to face Olympiacos, while Sacha Klejstan and Anderlecht’s visit to Lisbon to face Benfica will provide an early peek as to who will be PSG’s main rivals.
And in Group D, two renown bosses make their Champions League debuts with their new teams. Pep Guardiola has the unenviable task of trying to guide Bayern Munich to last year’s heights. The European champions start their defense against CSKA Moscow. Meanwhile, Manuel Pellegrini takes Manchester City to the Czech Republic to face Viktoria Plzen, with the Sky Blue’s hoping to improve upon last year’s fourth place group stage finish.
2:45 p.m. Eastern kickoffs
Manchester United (England) vs. Bayer Leverkusen (Germany)
Real Sociedad (Spain) vs. Shakhtar Donetsk (Ukraine)
FC Copenhagen (Denmark) vs. Juventus (Italy)
Galatasaray (Turkey) vs. Real Madrid (Spain)
Bayern Munich (Germany) vs. CSKA Moscow (Russia)
Viktoria Plzen (Czech Republic) vs. Manchester City (England)
Olympiacos (Greece) vs. Paris Saint-Germain (France)
Benfica (Portugal) vs. Anderlecht (Belgium)
Two teams perfect in league play will meet in Naples in the day’s marque matchup, with Rafa Benítez (right) and Napoli hosting last year’s finalists, Borussia Dortmund. BVB sits on top of the Bundesliga at 5-0-0 while Napoli lead Serie A with a perfect record through three rounds, but teams managing to excel despite the offseason loss of arguably their best players (Mario Götze for Dortmund; Edinson Cavani with Napoli).
In Group F’s other game, Olympique Marseille, the only team in this group not on top of their domestic league, will look to slow down the Premier League-leading Gunners when Arsenal comes to town. OM, who won their first three games of the Ligue 1 season, sit fourth in France, while Arsenal have amassed a five-game winning streak between the Premier League and Champions League qualifying.
In Group E, José Mourinho and Chelsea welcome a talented but outgunned Swiss champion, Basel, while Schalke, knockout round qualifiers last year, will hope to avoid an upset when Romanian champions Steaua Bucharest visit the Veltins-Arena. Recovering from a slow start to the season, Schalke have won three in a row.
Porto, the “seeded team” in Group G, are in Vienna to face Austria Wien, a match where the Portuguese champions will be pressed to take full points. With Atlético Madrid and Zenit St. Petersburg (meeting in Madrid) also in the group, points dropped against the Austrians could end up deciding who’s still playing Champions League soccer come 2014.
And in Group H, Bojan Krkic’s circuitous route back to the Nou Camp end when his new team, Ajax, visit Spanish champions Barcelona. Meanwhile in Italy, AC Milan will hope their indifferent form in Serie A doesn’t carry over against a Celtic team coming off an appearance in last year’s knockout stage.
2:45 p.m. Eastern kickoffs
Schalke (Germany) vs. Steaua Bucharest (Romania)
Chelsea (England) vs. Basel (Switzerland)
Austria Wien (Austria) vs. FC Porto (Portugal)
Atletico Madrid (Spain) vs. Zenit St. Petersburg (Russia)
AC Milan (Italy) vs. Celtic (Scotland)
Barcelona (Spain) vs. Ajax (Netherlands)
Marseille (France) vs. Arsenal (England)
Napoli (Italy) vs. Borussia Dortmund (Germany)
The chaos that is the 24-game Europa League day be will feature a couple of squads that can claim Champions League quality (Tottenham, Fiorentina most notably). They’ll host two of the day’s marque matches, while names like Valencia, Lyon — clubs that we more often find in Champions League — begin this year’s sojourn in UEFA’s second-level competition. Matches to watch:
- Valencia vs. Swansea City – Michael Laudrup will be familiar with the Mestalla from his time coaching and playing in Spain, but his team will be short on rest after playing Monday in Liverpool.
- Fiorentina vs. Paços de Ferreira – Last year’s third-place finishers in Portugal get the misfortune of opening their tournament in Florence, though Vincenzo Montella’s side will be without Mario Gomez, who went down with a knee injury this weekend.
- Real Betis vs. Olympique Lyonnais – At one time they were automatic to make Champions League’s knockout stage. Now Lyon start their campaign in Spain, having previous been relegated to Europa League by another Spanish side (Real Sociedad).
- Tottenham Hotspur vs. Tromsø – André Villa-Boas won this tournament at Porto and took it seriously in his debut season at White Hart Lane, possibly to their detriment of Spurs’ Champions League hopes. Back in Europa, Tottenham open with a team who will draw them north of the Arctic Circle in the reverse fixture.
1:00 p.m. Eastern kickoffs
Valencia (Spain) vs. Swansea City (Wales/England)
St. Gallen (Switzerland) vs. Kuban Krasnodar (Russia)
Dinamo Zagreb (Crotia) vs. Chornomorets (Ukraine)
PSV (Netherlands) vs. Ludogorets (Bulgaria)
Salzburg (Austria) vs. Elfsborg (Sweden)
Standard Liege (Belgium) vs. Esbjerg (Denmark)
Zulte-Waregame (Belgium) vs. Wigan Athletic (England)
Maribor (Slovenia) vs. Rubin Kazan (Russia)
Fiorentina (Italy) vs. Paços de Ferreira (Portugal)
Pandurii Targu Jiu (Romania) vs. Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk (Ukraine)
Eintracht Frankfurt (Germany) vs. Bordeaux (France)
Maccabi Tel Aviv (Isreal) vs. APOEL (Cyprus)
3:05 p.m. Eastern kickoffs
Thun (Switzerland) vs. Rapid Wien (Austria)
Freiburg (Germany) vs. Slovan Liberec (Czech Republic)
Estoril (Portugal) vs. Sevilla (Spain)
Real Betis (Spain) vs. Olympique Lyonnais (France)
Vitoria Guimaraes (Portugal) vs. Rijeka (Croatia)
Apollon (Cyprus) vs. Trabzonspor (Turkey)
Lazio (Italy) vs. Legia Warszawa (Poland)
Sheriff (Moldova) vs. Anzhi Makhachkala (Russia)
Tottenham Hotspur (England) vs. Tromsø (Norway)
PAOK (Greece) vs. Shakhter Karagandy (Kazakhstan)
Maccabi Haifa (Israel) vs. AZ Alkmaar (Netherlands)
Dynamo Kyiv (Ukraine) vs. Genk (Belgium)
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