The 2019/20 Champions League group stage gets underway this week with the four Bundesliga hopefuls all taking to the biggest European stage for the first time this season. Whatever this season holds for Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, RB Leipzig and Bayer Leverkusen, all face their first continental test in the coming days.
Borussia Dortmund v Barcelona (Tuesday)
If BVB thought they were going to be able to ease their way into this season’s Champions League, they were sorely mistaken. Spanish giants Barcelona are the first visitors to the Signal Iduna Park in a match which couldn’t be more of a challenge for the Schwarzgelben. There are of course no easy games in Europe, but this is off the scale in terms of difficulty first time out.
The reigning La Liga champions (they’ve won ten in the last 15 years) are seeking to win a sixth European Cup/ Champions League having last won the trophy in 2015. Ernesto Valverde’s star-studded side are however in the strange position of fifth having lost their season opener to Athletic Bilbao and then being held to a 2-2 draw by Osasuna. This weekend saw them beat Valencia 5-2.
Dortmund bounced back at the weekend after their matchday 3 loss at Hertha Berlin with a 4-0 triumph over Bayer Leverkusen. Paco Alcacer, ex-Barcelona will have a point to prove, as will Real Madrid Loanee Achraf Hakimi.
For two clubs who have been regular European participants, Dortmund and Barcelona have strangely only ever met twice- in the two-legged 1997 European Super Cup. Barca won the first leg at the Nou Camp 2-0 and took the trophy thanks to a 1-1 draw secured in the return leg in Germany. Nevio Scala (remember him!) was the coach at BVB back then with current sporting director Michael Zorc in the line-up.
On Tuesday, Ousmane Dembélé is sure to get a feisty reaction from the home fans should he show his face in the Signal Iduna Park. BVB fans will not have forgiven or forgotten his behaviour in instigating his move to Barcelona.
One to watch: Ansu Fati
With Lionel Messi out with a calf injury for the start of the season, Ernesto Valverde has been forced to change up his line-up and 16-year-old Ansu Fati has been an absolute revelation so far.
Against Valencia at the weekend he became the youngest player in La Liga history to register a goal and an assist in the same game. Messi has been past fit to make the Barca squad, but he might have to take a back-seat for once to the new kid on the block.
Benfica v RB Leipzig (Tuesday)
This is die Roten Bullen’s second appearance in the Champions League following their debut in 2017/18. Back then they didn’t manage to make it out of a group containing Besiktas, Monaco and Porto winning just twice to finish third. They have since had two stabs at the Europa League, but were disappointed to exit last season at the hands of fellow fizzy drink club RB Salzburg.
Julian Nagelsmann will be keen to test himself at this level having seen his previous experience with Hoffenheim cut short at the final qualifying round by Liverpool. Leipzig retained their position at the top of the Bundesliga at the weekend with a 1-1 draw against champions Bayern so are full of confidence.
The Portuguese giants and two-time winners of the European Cup (1961 and 1962) are currently second in their domestic league after a 2-0 win over Gil Vicente this weekend. Having played five games, they’ve won four and lost one (2-0 at home to rivals Porto).
One to watch: Pizzi
Luís Miguel Alfonso Fernandes, to give him his full name, has started the season in great form and scored six goals in five games and added two assists. Playing from a role on the right-hand side of midfield, the 29-year-old will be looking to test a solid Leipzig defence.
Bayern Munich v Crvena Zvezda (Wednesday)
After the disappointment of losing to eventual champions Liverpool at the quarter-final stage last season, Bayern are looking to advance further in this year’s tournament and reclaim the European crown they last won in 2013.
Red Star have had a long qualifying journey to reach the group stage having already faced four rounds. They overcame Swiss side Young Boys on away goals in the last round having previously beaten FC Copenhagen on penalties.
The Serbian side have had quite a journey since their days as European champions in 1991 with their famous side featuring Darko Pancev, Robert Prosinečki and Dejan Savicevic.
They have started the Jelen SuperLiga with a 100% record of six wins from six and gained a 2-1 victory at the weekend against FK Indija thanks to two penalties from Milan Pavkov.
Bayern are undefeated in their last 15 home group games in European competition, having won 14 of those encounters. Their last loss came against Manchester City, back in 2013. They have played Red Star on five previous occasions winning two, drawing one and losing twice.
One to watch: Marko Marin
Fans of the Bundesliga will remember Marko Marin from his previous spells with Werder Bremen and Borussia Mönchengladbach. He was once seen as the ‘Next Big Thing’ in German football but lost his way after moving to Chelsea in 2012.
Loan spells at Sevilla, Fiorentina, Anderlecht and Trabzonspor as well as a move to Olympiacos proved fruitless, but he is now showing his former glory with the Serbian giants.
Bayer Leverkusen v Lokomotiv Moscow
Leverkusen qualified for the Champions League on the last day of last season and the reward comes when they hear the famous European anthem prior to kick-off at the Bay Arena on Wednesday.
The Russian Premier League season is well underway and Lokomotiv, who ended the last campaign as runners-up and Cup winners, sit fifth with nine games played. They have been inconsistent recently with a win, draw and loss in their last three league matches, but their most recent match this weekend saw them beat PFC Sochi 1-0 thanks to a Grzegorz Krychowiak goal.
The win however came at a price with star attacker Anton Miranchuk limping off with an ankle injury. He is doubtful to face the Werkself– as is his twin brother Aleksei, who is also out with a muscular problem.
With Atletico Madrid and Juventus, the other sides in Group D, both Leverkusen and Lokomotiv know full well the importance of a win on the opening matchday.
One to watch: Vedran Ćorluka
Prior to his transfer to Russia, Croatian defender Ćorluka spent a spell on loan at Leverkusen and made seven appearances for the club. A member of Croatia’s World Cup final team, his experience will prove important against the youthful Bayer attack.
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