The 2022/23 UEFA Champions League group stage gets under way on Tuesday, with plenty of intrigue and tasty fixtures to ensure it begins with a bang.
Tuesday 6 September
Dinamo Zagreb vs Chelsea (18:45)
Thomas Tuchel’s Blues will be looking to kick-start their stuttering campaign, but there are certainly easier places to go – just ask Tottenham. The heralded Dinamo production line continues to churn out brilliant youngsters (keep an eye out for midfielder Martin Baturina) and, allied to proven class in attack, they are always a force. Especially at home: the Modri are unbeaten at Stadion Maksimir in 19 matches in all competitions, winning 16 and drawing three.
Dortmund vs Copenhagen (18:45)
“We are there to compete, create great performances and experiences for our fans,” says Copenhagen coach Jess Thorup. There are few better places than at Dortmund, in front of the famous ‘Yellow Wall’, but aside from a remarkable capitulation against Bremen last month (losing a game they led 2-0 until the 89th minute), BVB look to be adapting well to life without Haaland. Illness deprives them of Sébastien Haller for the time being, but fellow summer signing Karim Adeyemi impressed in last season’s group stage with Salzburg.
Celtic vs Real Madrid (21:00 CET)
What a way to mark your return to this stage of the competition after a four-year absence! This match has been the hottest ticket in town since the draw – the visit of a Real Madrid side that has won five of the past nine Champions League titles will do that. Less expected has been the wave of optimism among the Bhoys, aided by a club-record 9-0 away win at Dundee United last month and then a 4-0 derby win against Rangers at the weekend. “I think we can beat them,” reckons on-song Kyogo Furuhashi.
Sevilla vs Man City (21:00)
Erling Haaland has already registered 27 times in just 25 UEFA club competition games for Molde, Salzburg and Dortmund, and it seems his nose for a goal has been undimmed by the move to England. Sevilla are always a team to be reckoned with in Europe, but Haaland and Co may fancy their chances against a remodelled back line still adjusting to a host of summer departures.
Salzburg vs AC Milan (21:00)
Adeyemi was among several key players to depart the Austrian champions this summer, but Salzburg are a well-oiled machine: the personnel may change yet results seldom dip. Fernando, picked up from Shakhtar, has taken up the goalscoring slack and will surely ask questions of the Milan defence. The Rossoneri won their first Serie A crown in 11 years last season; the next challenge is to rediscover a bit of their old European magic too. A strong start could be key.
Paris Saint-Germain vs Juventus (21:00)
There’s nothing quite like bumping into your ex just a few weeks after a break-up. Ángel Di María spent seven successful seasons at Paris before linking up with Juventus this summer, receiving a standing ovation after bowing out in style in May. The Argentinian may not get quite the same warm welcome on Tuesday as a Juve side that has rather stumbled out of the blocks this season faces a Paris outfit showing real signs of attacking life under new boss Christophe Galtier.
Leipzig vs Shakhtar (21:00)
Christopher Nkunku generated a lot of interest during the summer after plundering 35 goals and 20 assists in all competitions for Leipzig last term. Yet the Bundesliga’s 2021/22 Player of the Season remains at the club and looks to have picked up where he left off; the German side’s early-season issues have been at the other end of the pitch. Shakhtar, based in Kyiv because of the ongoing situation in Ukraine, are more of an unknown quantity. They go into Matchday 1 with just three games under their belt this term.
Benfica vs Maccabi Haifa (21:00)
Maccabi Haifa’s last group stage appearance in 2009/10 ended in disappointment with no goals and no points, though oft forgotten is the fact that five of the losses were narrow 1-0s. The club’s 2022/23 vintage are unlikely to be quite so parsimonious, as evidenced by their remarkable 5-4 aggregate triumph over Crvena zvezda in the play-offs. Nevertheless, Benfica may well appreciate an open game: they have averaged close to three goals per game in a nine-match winning start to the season.