Paris (AFP) – AFP Sports looks ahead to Tuesday’s opening round of group matches in the Champions League as Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City kick off their respective European campaigns (all kick-offs 1945 GMT):
Paris Saint-Germain (FRA) v Arsenal (ENG)
Under-pressure PSG coach Unai Emery makes his Champions League bow with his new charges after leading Sevilla to three consecutive Europa League titles. But on the domestic scene the loss of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and David Luiz, not to mention coach Laurent Blanc, seem to have left a hole in the club’s charisma. The reigning French champions are seventh after four games having been beaten by Monaco and drawn with Saint-Etienne after conceding an injury-time equaliser at the weekend. The good news for PSG is that Blaise Matuidi and Angel di Maria both played at the weekend and showed flashes of their best. Arsenal took a single point from their first two Premier League games but have now won their last two, having come from behind to beat Southampton on Saturday. Arsene Wenger’s side’s have a history of doing well in France, but PSG will look to send an early statement of intent at the Parc des Princes.
At Basel, Switzerland
Basel (SUI) v Ludogorets (BUL)
The hosts are on a run of seven league straight wins, racking up 24 goals along the way, but the Bulgarian visitors will be desperate to make an impact here. Ludogorets recorded a first win for any team from their nation in the group phase against the same opponent two seasons ago. The Swiss then made them pay heavily with a 4-0 win at St. Jakob-Park two weeks later, and Basel have lost just three of their 19 home European games since the start of 2013/14. Ludogorets striker Claudiu Keseru, has who scored in his last three games for the club, has overcome a broken cheekbone but will play the game in a mask.
Dynamo Kiev (UKR) v Napoli (ITA)
Ukraine champions Kiev, in their 16th group stage appearance, made it to the last 16 in 2015/2016, where they met their match in Manchester City. Serie A runners-up Napoli warmed up for their third group stage campaign with an emphatic 3-0 win at Palermo, Jose Callejon netting a double. They failed to make it into the knockout stages in 2013/2014, their last appearance, despite collecting 12 points. Gonzalo Higuain, who scored 36 of last season’s 80-goal haul, left in the summer to champions Juventus. Dynamo, held 1-1 by Shakhtar Donetsk in the league at the weekend, have won six of their eight matches in all comeptitions this term, including the Ukrainian Super Cup.
Benfica (POR) v Besiktas (TUR)
Benfica were beaten by Bayern Munich in the quarter-finals last season while Turkish champions Besiktas will be trying to make it out of the group stages for the first time at the sixth attempt as they return to the competition for the first time since 2009/2010. Benfica’s top scorer last season, Brazilian striker Jonas, is recovering from a right foot injury that has kept him sidelined since August. Cenk Tosun is in good form, netting four times for Besiktas in his last three games. Brazilian left back Adriano missed Saturday’s 2-2 draw at Konyaspor.
At Barcelona, Spain
Barcelona (ESP) v Celtic (SCO)
Celtic face a formidable task as they travel to five-time winners Barcelona, where the Scottish champions suffered their joint-heaviest European defeat — losing 6-1 at the Nou Camp in their last group stage participation in 2013. Despite failing to win their 14 previous trips to play Liga rivals, new manager Brendan Rodgers has been boosted by a perfect start to the season and an emphatic 5-1 win against Old Firm rivals Rangers Saturday. Spanish champions Barcelona, who last won European’s premier club competition in 2015, won all five home fixtures in last season’s campaign, reaching the quarter-finals where they were eliminated by Atletico Madrid. But Luis Enrique’s side are reeling after a shock home defeat to newly-promoted Alaves in La Liga after starting Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez on the bench. Enrique is expected to revert back to his strongest line-up for Celtic’s visit. “We lacked a spark, we lacked a lot of things,” said midfielder Sergio Busquets. “Now we have to think about Celtic because the season rolls on.”
At Manchester, England
Manchester City (ENG) v Borussia Moenchengladbach (GER)
Pep Guardiola’s first Champions League fixture as Manchester City manager will be against a club he knows well in German side Borussia Moenchengladbach. The clubs met in the group stage last season with City winning home and away to reach the semi-finals for the first time before falling 1-0 on aggregate to Real Madrid. City maintained their 100 percent start to the season under Guardiola with a sixth successive victory in a 2-1 derby win at Manchester United. But the Spaniard, who has never failed to make the semi-finals in his seven previous seasons, winning the competition twice with group rivals Barcelona, believes they will have to up their game if they want to aspire to European greatness. “Until now, in the Premier League it has been okay – but to compete against the best clubs in Europe, in this moment with the way we are playing, we are not able to.” Moenchengladbach, who finished fourth in the Bundesliga, returned to Europe’s elite competition for the first time in 37 years last season. They suffered their first reverse of the season in Saturday’s 3-1 loss at Freiburg.
At Eindhoven, Netherlands
PSV Eindhoven (NED) v Atletico Madrid (ESP)
Last season’s beaten finalists Atletico Madrid take on familiar foes PSV Eindhoven against whom they needed a quarter-finals penalty shootout win (8-7) after drawing 0-0 both away and then at home. Dutch coach Philippe Cocu was a slick defender in his playing days and his PSV team and their keeper Jeroen Zoet have kept a clean sheet for 424 minutes during their ongoing six-match unbeaten run. So Atletico will do extremely well to get an away result. Euro 2016 top scorer Antoine Griezmann scored twice and made an assist as Atletico routed Celta Vigo 4-0 at the weekend, but it was their first win for them of this La Liga campaign after two limp draws. Diego Simeone’s highly motivated and tight-knit side face a two window transfer ban, but new signing Kevin Gameiro is settling in nicely ahead of Koke, Angel Correa and Yannick Carrasco. The hosts won all three of their group stage home ties last season seeing off Wolfsburg, CSKA Moscow and Manchester United.
At Munich, Germany
Bayern Munich (GER) v Rostov (RUS)
This is Carlo Ancelotti’s Champions League bow with Bayern Munich, who brought in the affable Italian with his continental pedigree foremost in their minds after his success at AC Milan in 2003 and 2007 and at Real Madrid in 2014. Pep Guardiola’s team cruised through the group phase last season and were eventually beaten on away goals by Atletico. But Tuesday’s visitors, Russian newcomers Rostov, can only have a deep sense of foreboding as they travel to Munich for their Champions League group phase debut. Polish centre-forward Robert Lewandowski scored in Bayern’s 2-0 weekend defeat of Schalke and hammered three past Werder Bremen in their Bundesliga opener. He’s scored eight in his last four outings. Rostov may be no pushovers, however, with a tight defensive record in Russia and having negotiated their way past Anderlecht and Ajax in the qualifying rounds.
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