The UEFA Champions League, the most prestigious club competition in world football, returns this week, with 32 of the top sides in Europe battling it out for glory next May.
Here are three games to look out for in the first round of fixtures:-
GALATASARAY vs REAL MADRID
Date: Tuesday, 17th September 2013
Venue: Turk Telekom Arena, Istanbul (19:45 GMT)
These two produced a classic contest in last season’s quarter-final 2nd leg, with the Turkish side’s 3-2 win not quite enough to see them knock out los Blancos.
Fatih Terim’s team still have the superb duo of Didier Drogba and Wesley Sniejder in their ranks, and the two veterans often raise their game in the bigger matches, as Real found out last year. The Turk Telekom Arena will be buzzing with anticipation, producing a hostile atmosphere in the process.
Carlo Ancelotti’s side, meanwhile, are undoubtedly one of the favourites to lift the trophy this season, having not won it since 2002. The arrival of Gareth Bale and Isco means that Madrid have an outstanding front three, with Cristiano Ronaldo teaming up with his new teammates to devastating effect. Defensively they have looked a little suspect so far this campaign, and Galatasaray will target that area.
It should be a fascinating contest, and one that Real Madrid could struggle to come out of with three points.
NAPOLI vs DORTMUND
Date: Wednesday 18th September 2013
Venue: Stadio San Paolo, Naples (19:45 GMT)
Both sides lie top of their respective leagues, and this promises to be a terrific encounter between two of Europe’s most exciting teams.
The Italian outfit are now managed by Rafa Benitez, and he has bought in a number of top players, including Pepe Reina, Dries Mertens and Gonzalo Higuain. Add to that stars who were already at the club, in particular the outstanding Marek Hamsik, and Benitez has an excellent squad at his disposal.
Last year’s finalists, meanwhile, may have lost Mario Gotze to Bayern Munich, but if anything they look even stronger than last season. Gotze was the only key player who left, while the brilliant playmaker Henrikh Mkhitaryan and lightning fast forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang have had great starts to their Dortmund careers. Jurgen Klopp remains one of Europe’s most exciting coaches, and his side are unquestionably one of the best teams in the competition.
In a tough group also containing Arsenal and Marseille, neither side will not want to slip up in their opening game. It will be a tight contest, and one that may end in a share of the spoils.
BARCELONA vs AJAX
Date: Wednesday 18th September 2013
Venue: Camp Nou, Barcelona (19:45 GMT)
This is a fixture that makes all-time great Johan Cruyff immediately spring to mind. The legendary Dutchman has been a hugely key part of both clubs histories, both on and off pitch, and it is a game that always has a special feel about it.
Barcelona have not quite hit top gear yet under Tata Martino, but they still look very formidable. Neymar has fitted nicely into the side, and there are signs that the Brazilian superstar and world’s best player Lionel Messi are creating a great understanding with one another. Defensively they look slightly lacking in depth though, like rivals Real Madrid, and it is an area that could be exploited by Ajax, particularly with Carles Puyol out injured.
The Dutch side are managed by former Barcelona star Frank de Boer, and he has implemented the tactics he learned through playing for the Blaugrana at Ajax. They have a number of exciting young players in their side, inlcuding Ricardo van Rhijn and captain Siem de Jong, who is likely to miss the game through injury.
Like any team facing Barcelona at Camp Nou, this is sure to be a tough night for de Boer’s men, but it will be fascinating to see how the two sides fare when facing a similar style to their own.
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