Champions League Preview: Germany’s Finest Kick-Off the Group Stage

With league football very much up and running across Europe, attention now turns to the Champions League as the continent’s premier club competition gets underway with the start of the group stage. Thirty two sides are looking for glory, but only one will succeed. Let’s take a look at what matchday 1 has in store for Germany’s hopefuls.

Club Brugge v Borussia Dortmund (Tuesday 20:00 BST)

The Schwarzgelben will be looking to put their dismal performance in last season’s Champions League group stage firmly behind them when they face Belgian champions Club Brugge in their Group A opener. Drawn last year against Real Madrid, Tottenham and APOEL, BVB failed to register a single win and were held twice by the Cypriot minnows.

They dropped into the Europa League reaching the round of 16 before falling to Red Bull Salzburg. New trainer Lucien Favre will be looking to take his talented squad into the knock-out stage of this seasons Champions League and with a group also including Atletico Madrid and Monaco, three points against Brugge would seem a must.

Dortmund have started the Bundesliga season well with seven points from three games. Friday night saw them dispose of Eintracht Frankfurt 3-1 at the Signal Iduna Park with debut goals from Abdou Diallo, Marius Wolf and Paco Alcácer.

Brugge were somewhat surprise champions in Belgium last season under rookie trainer Ivan Leko and realistically will be looking to gain experience rather than genuinely believing they can progress. Their last Champions League outing in 2016-17 saw them lose all six group games scoring just twice and conceding fourteen.

There is a little history between the two sides with four previous European meetings. Both sides have won twice, although Brugge will cite their 5-0 win over BVB in the 1987 UEFA Cup as one of their finer moments.

The start of the Jupiler League has gone well for the defending champions with six wins and a draw from their opening seven fixtures. Like Dortmund, their most recent win came on Friday as they downed Lokeren 2-1 at home.

One to watch: Hans Vanaken

27-year-old midfielder Vanaken got his first call-up to the Belgian national side in the recent friendly with Scotland on the back of an impressive season last year and an equally good start this time around. He led the league on assists last season and so far in this one, has four assists and one goal to his credit.

He has some way to go to become a regular in the national side with the competition ahead of him, but the talent is there. It will be interesting to see the match-up between him and compatriot Alex Witsel in midfield.

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Schalke v FC Porto (Tuesday 20:00 BST)

After a three-year absence Schalke 04 are back in the Königsklasse and looking to show that last season’s second place finish was no flash in the pan. Young coach Domenico Tedesco now gets the opportunity to test himself at the highest level having shown incredible promise during his debut season in the Bundesliga.

Of all the German sides in this season’s Champions League, the Königsblauen have perhaps drawn the easiest of groups, although they would be extremely wise not to underestimate any of their opponents. Lokomotiv Moscow and Galatasaray are both sides they will be confident of beating, while their opening day opposition FC Porto should be their toughest foe.

A poor start to the Bundesliga was compounded at the weekend with a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Borussia Mönchengladbach and the pressure is starting to mount for Schalke. Porto and their next opponents in the Bundesliga, Bayern Munich, will offer little respite.

Both of Schalke’s previous two outings in the Champions League saw them reach the round of 16 and a repeat of that would represent a real success for the Gelsenkirchen side.

FC Porto won their 28th Primeira Liga title last season with a seven-point advantage over rivals Benfica.  Their European pedigree is rich with two European Cups and two UEFA Cup/ Europa League triumphs and the Dragões will be a tough nut for Schalke to crack.

They have begun the defence of their domestic title with three wins from four games, but did suffer a surprise home defeat to Vitoria de Guimares on matchday 3.

One to watch: Vincent Aboubakar

With last season’s top scorer Moussa Marega out of favour following his failed move to the Premier League, the goalscoring onus will fall once again on Cameroon striker Aboubakar.

The 26-year-old bagged himself 15 league goals last season and also finished as their leading European scorer with five and has already scored three this season.

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Shakhtar Donetsk v Hoffenheim (17:55 BST)

After seeing their Champions League debut spoilt by eventual finalists Liverpool last season, this is the second bite of the cherry for Hoffenheim as they finally take their place in the group stage on the big stage. There are probably fewer smaller towns taking part in this season’s competition than Sinsheim (population 35,500), but Julian Nagelsmann’s side fully deserve their place at the top table after a couple of fantastic Bundesliga campaigns.

They have a tough opener away at Champions League veterans Shakhtar Donetsk which will serve as a good indicator of their credentials. The Ukrainian side are somewhat in transition having lost key players Darijo Srna, Fred (Manchester United), Bernard (Everton) and Facundo Ferreyra (Benfica) in the summer and it will be interesting to see how coach Paulo Fonseca manages to bed in their replacements.

Once against he’s gone Brazilian (no not down there!) bringing in replacements and the early signs in the Ukrainian Premier League are good with seven wins from their first eight matches. Junior Moraes has seven league goals already and compatriot Marlos has five.

The conflict in the Donbass region means that the Hirnyky (the miners) play their matches 150 miles to the North in the Metalist Stadium in Kharkiv.  Hoffenheim travel east on the back of a disappointing Bundesliga defeat at the hands of newly promoted Fortuna Düsseldorf.

One to watch: Taison

Another Brazilian the Hoffenheim defenders need to be extremely wary of is Taison. His pace up front is a potent weapon for Shakhtar and he’s always good for a goal. The 30-year-old was a member of Brazil’s 2018 World Cup squad after earlier being courted by Ukraine as a naturalized player.

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Benfica v Bayern Munich (Wednesday 20:00 BST)

After six consecutive Bundesliga triumphs, Bayern Munich will once again go into the new season with one eye firmly trained on the Henkelpott, that has eluded them since their historic treble season of 2013. Five years without getting their hands on the Champions League trophy will irk the powers that be at the Allianz Arena and even though they have a new coach in Niko Kovac, the pressure is on to deliver.

Group E contains two teams with huge names in Ajax and Benfica, but both are pale imitations of the great teams that gained their famous reputations. Ajax with four wins and Benfica with two shouldn’t prove too much of an obstacle for Bayern with AEK Athens making up the group.

As predicted, Bayern have started the season in imperious form winning all three of their games. The latest of which was a relative stroll against Bayer Leverkusen.

The Portuguese side from Lisbon host the Bavarians at the Estádio da Luz and are looking to defend their own unbeaten start to the season. They share the lead at the top of the Liga NOS table with Sporting and Braga, who also have ten points from three matches.

One to watch: Pizzi

The Portuguese midfielder has made a fine start to the new season with four goals and two assists already. A journeyman with eight clubs on his CV over the past seven years, it looks like he is hitting a real purple patch in form at Benfica.

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Mathew Burt

A year spent living in Bremen got Mathew hooked on the Bundesliga with regular visits to the Weser Stadion getting in the way of his studies. Back in the UK now, he still keenly follows the Grün-Weißen and German football in general. Follow him on Twitter @matburt74.

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