What to watch out for in the Champions League
The long and winding road to Cardiff opens this week with matchday one of the 2016/17 UEFA Champions League season – and there are some fascinating match-ups right from the off.
Paris hope for Emery impact
The days when Zlatan Ibrahimović ran riot and Laurent Blanc looked on approvingly are over at the Parc des Princes – and Unai Emery’s new-look side have yet to find their feet. Friday’s 1-1 draw with St-Étienne again suggested the French champions miss their Swedish talisman, but Emery boasts real European pedigree after his trio of UEFA Europa League triumphs with Sevilla, while his team still contains considerable talent. That may be why Gunners forward Olivier Giroud is taking nothing for granted. “Paris will regroup and they’re the favourites,” he said. “If he’s having a good night, [Edinson] Cavani can hurt us – especially with his shooting.”
Paris v Arsenal – Tuesday
Gladbach visit fortress City
City are now unbeaten in six home matches in UEFA competition, since a 2-1 loss to Juventus on matchday one last term. They have not conceded against European visitors in four games. The last team to breach them on home soil? Borussia Mönchengladbach in a 4-2 defeat on matchday six last season. Given the mood Josep Guardiola’s team look to be in – they have won six from six under the Spaniard – the Bundesliga side appear to have their work cut out this time around.
Manchester City v Gladbach – Tuesday
Daunting task for Rostov
Rostov make their competition bow against genuine European heavyweights. “For us it will be a big ask to play Bayern in their own stadium, but we should manage,” said midfielder Aleksandr Erokhin. The Russian hopefuls have lost key centre-back Ivan Novoseltsev to Zenit while another defender, Fedor Kudryashov, is suspended for three games after a red card against Ajax in the play-offs. Assistant coach Dmitri Kirichenko has things firmly in perspective, though. “I believe it would have been more difficult against Barcelona than against Bayern,” he said.
Bayern v Rostov – Tuesday
Eagles forced to turn to youth
Benfica have been dealt an injury crisis up front before facing Beşiktaş. Jonas returned from ankle surgery last month only to suffer a relapse, while Raúl Jiménez and Kostas Mitroglou both came back from the international break injured. With youngster Luka Jović already sidelined, it meant Benfica met Arouca on Friday without four forwards, prompting coach Rui Vitória to start 19-year-old Gonçalo Guedes up front, with 17-year-old José Gomes – top scorer and Golden Player at this summer’s UEFA European Under-17 Championship – on the bench. ‘Zé Golo’ may make his European bow should Jonas and Mitroglou not recover by Tuesday.
Benfica v Beşiktaş – Tuesday
Sporting set for Ronaldo reunion
A visit to Real Madrid is always special, but Wednesday’s trip will bring added spice for Sporting as they face Cristiano Ronaldo – the player they brought through their ranks until he left for Manchester United aged 18. The fans, of course, are buzzing with excitement, and all 4,000 away tickets sold out in a day. The game will also feature five UEFA EURO 2016 winners, with Madrid’s Ronaldo and Pepe reunited with Rui Patrício, William Carvalho and Adrien Silva, who said: “We’re no longer wearing the same colours: we will be opponents, not friends.”
Real Madrid v Sporting CP – Wednesday
Juve’s Dybala out to nutmeg ‘El Mudo’
Italian champions Juventus open up against UEFA Europa League holders Sevilla. The game will be a special one for Argentina forward Paulo Dybala, who is looking forward to facing his countryman and one-time Palermo team-mate Franco Vázquez. The two scored 23 goals between them in Serie A in 2014/15 with the Sicilian side. “I called ‘El Mudo’ (The Mute) straight after the draw,” Dybala said. “What did I tell him? I told him that I would nutmeg him during the game!”
Juventus v Sevilla – Wednesday
A new chapter for Leicester
Leicester City’s Premier League title triumph represented one of the great sporting shocks of all time. Now they get their just reward. “I’ve missed the Champions League – I love the song,” said manager Claudio Ranieri, whose team, as English champions, went into Pot 1 in last month’s group stage draw despite having one of the lowest coefficient rankings. “I think I’ll tell my players to enjoy the music – all their life they have watched on TV and now they are playing.” The Foxes have previously only played eight matches in European competition.
Club Brugge v Leicester – Wednesday