UCL Preview: Familiar foes meet again, Ludogorets dream start at Anfield?, more

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

By MATTHEW LEVINE
Staff Writer

Manchester City just can’t seem to catch a break when it comes to their Champions League group draws. They also can’t escape Bayern Munich.

This is the third time in the last four years they have been drawn in the same group. The two clubs will kick-start their campaigns against each other this week.

Manchester City has had trouble making it out of the group stage as they typically are looking up at Bayern Munich. Last year they did as well, although they made it to the knockout stage for the first time.

In the two match-ups in the group stage last season, Manchester City lost both of them. This year will be an equally difficult task to defeat a very strong Bayern side. However, the Barclays Premier League club will look to get their campaign started on the right foot. If they can hold the German giants to a draw, that would be akin to a victory.

What To Look For

1. More Familiar Foes– Two clubs meeting for the third time in four years. Manchester City and Bayern Munich aren’t the only ones to breed a rivalry through familiarity.

Arsenal and Borussia Dortmund once again meet in the Champions League group stage. last season, both clubs won at the other’s ground – Dortmund 2-1 at the Emirates and  Arsenal 1-0 at the BVB Stadion.

Germany is where the two clubs will begin their Champions League campaign. It will be Arsenal’s 17th consecutive year in the group stage.

The Gunners are looking thin at the back with Nacho Monreal and Mathieu Debuchy injured. Kieran Gibbs has just gotten fit recently and Calum Chambers inexperience in this competition could be where Dortmund look to exploit.

The Gunners will need another strong game from Danny Welbeck up top. More importantly, Mesut Ozil needs to start playing up to his full potential.

2. Can Ludogorets dream continue?– Ludogorets became the world’s darling in the competition after Cosmin Moti‘s heroics in the previous round. However, the group stage is a whole different proposition.

Heading to Anfield and facing a Liverpool side that is back in the Champions League after a five year absence could spell trouble for the Bulgarian side. However, it will no doubt be a game they savor as it’s the club’s first ever appearance at this stage.

The Reds put in a lackluster performance in their most recent fixture in a 1-0 loss to Aston Villa. They will need a much more fluid attack to start their Champions League campaign.

Behind Mario Balotelli and Daniel Sturridge, if they both start, should be able to knife through the Ludogorets backline.  

3. Returning champs get started– After defeating bitter rivals Atletico Madrid in last year’s Champions League final – the club’s 10th European title.

They will get their title defense started against FC Basel, a club that has never won a game in Spain.

While there has been some unrest in the ranks of Real Madrid with several top players leaving and Cristiano Ronaldo reportedly unhappy, the title-holders should still be able to get a win.

The club still has too much firepower to not breakdown a Basel defense. In front of the home crowd, it very well could be a big win for Los Blancos.

4. Counting more Costa goals?– Diego Costa has gotten off to a fine start to life as a Chelsea player. He has already scored seven goals in four games.

If he starts for Chelsea in the Champions League, could he add to his goal tally?

FC Shalke could provide a difficult test, although the German club struggled against the Blues last season home and away. Chelsea ran out 3-0 winners in both of those games.

What Costa has shown that has been most impressive, is his instinctual ability to be in the right place at the right time. He is certainly a poacher with several of his goals in a Chelsea shirt being in or around the six-yard box.

Chelsea will look for Costa to continue that goal-scoring form and he’s one player that the Schalke backline will need to know his whereabouts at all times.

5. Roma returns to Champions League– After three seasons out of the competition, AS Roma is back. Their first test will be against CSKA Moscow in Group E.

Not only have Roma been out of the Champions League for three seasons, they spent the last two years out of any European competition. They will look to get off to a good start in their return.

Radja Nainggolan has had a fine season in the early stages of Serie A and will look to continue that in the upcoming European fixture.

After an exit in the group stages last season, CSKA will hope for better results. They struggled away from home, losing all three. They will start their campaign in Italy.