Europe’s elite are gearing up for the 2018 Champions League as the group stage gets under way on September 12. Reigning champions Real Madrid are going for an unprecedented three-in-a-row, but Cristiano Ronaldo and co. will face stiff opposition in the race for continental dominance.
Tough Challenge for Barcelona
Buffons Last attempt
The Group of Death
PSG’s red hot form
United’s long wait for European competition
o This is United’s 21st appearance in the UEFA Champions’ League group stage, and only four times have they failed to make the next round. Two of those eliminations have come in their last four participations however; the English club finished third in their section in both 2011/12 and on their last appearance in 2015/16.
o This is FC Basel’s eighth group stage campaign, and their fourth in five years. Last term they came 4th in Group A, collecting just two points from their six outings.
o United are unbeaten in 18 European home games (W14 D4), going back to a 2-1 home loss to Real Madrid in the 2012/13 UEFA Champions League round of 16 second leg.
o Basel’s record against English teams is W6 D8 L12; away it is W1 D5 L7.
Top 10 Players to watch out for this season
Dele Alli personifies Tottenham’s surprising struggles in Europe over the past two seasons. The attacking midfielder has picked up as many red cards as he has scored goals in continental competition. However, there is no doubting the fact that the 21-year-old is one of the most exciting talents to emerge in England over the past two decades, a player blessed with terrific skill and an uncanny knack of arriving in the area, unmarked, at precisely the right time. Indeed, Alli has drawn comparisons with Steven Gerrard but Jamie Redknapp, says even his former Liverpool team-mate wasn’t “displaying the same kind of authority as Dele at the same age”. The challenge for Alli now is to show that he can be just as influential and successful as Gerrard in the Champions League.
Paulo Dybala: this 23 year old Argentine, is the Juve’s attacking jewel, the side with a structured defence he is a spark among them, he has impressed everyone with his absolute clinical finish. Paul Pogba calls him “Square R2” as that’s the combination you press on PlayStation to do a turn and shot. His double strike against the Catalans made the world notice him even more. The Argentine marksman was crucial in Juventus’ 3-0 win over Barcelona in Turin last season in the semi-final first leg, scoring two brilliant goals to help knock the Catalans out.
Daniele De Rossi, Roma’s long-time ‘capitan futuro’, has finally realised his destiny, with the iconic Francesco Totti having retired at the end of last season. However, the midfielder, 34, knows that this is the beginning of the end for him, admitting that the two-year contract he signed in May “could be the last of my footballing career”. As a result, he is determined to make every second count, so expect a man renowned for his ferocity to give everything he has left to help 1984 European Cup finalists Roma at the very least go beyond the quarter-finals of the Champions League for the first time in their history.
Just three years after scoring the winning goal in the 2014 World Cup final, Mario Gotze’s career was in jeopardy, with the Borussia Dortmund ace having been forced to take an indefinite break from the game to deal with a rare metabolic disorder. Happily, the 25-year-old, considered by Ottmar Hitzfeld to be one of the finest talents that Germany has ever produced, is now back where he belongs, on a football pitch, having made his first appearance in seven months in BVB’s Bundesliga opener against Wolfsburg at the weekend. A welcome return to the Champions League is now on the horizon.
While playing for Everton last season, Romelu Lukaku was asked how he viewed himself in relation to world-class strikers such as Robert Lewandowski and Luis Suarez. “It’s difficult to compare at the moment,” he mused. “They have the Champions League platform on which to show what they can do.” A £75 million summer switch to Manchester United later and the big Belgian striker, who has made a fine start to his Old Trafford career, now finally has the chance to prove that he belongs among Europe’s elite.
It did not take Alvaro Morata long to realise that the pressure of playing in the Premier League as Chelsea’s record signing would be more intense than it had been as Real Madrid’s super-sub. “I’ve only had two pre-season games, 15 minutes officially and a missed penalty, and [the press] are already killing me, so I know what’s ahead,” the Spain international said after his squandered spot-kick in the Community Shield loss to Arsenal. With Diego Costa still in exile, it is Morata who will spearhead Chelsea’s attack upon their return to the Champions League – and he will be expected to further enhance the already stellar reputation he gained with Real and Juventus as a man for the big occasion.
The weight of expectancy has never been an issue for Neymar. He has made light of it for Santos, Barcelona and Brazil, so it is hardly surprising, then, that he has made such a sensational start to his Paris Saint-Germain career, following his world-record €222 million transfer from Camp Nou. “People think that leaving Barca is to die, but no, it’s the opposite: I’m more alive than ever,” he declared. However, while his move was about many things, including his personal interests, the primary reason that PSG were willing to pay his release clause is that they wanted a player capable of winning them the Champions League.
Barcelona have hijacked Borussia Dortmund forward Ousmane Dembele for an initial £96.8m, potentially rising to £135.5m. The deal is the second most expensive of all time, eclipsed only by Neymar’s recent £200m move to Paris St-Germain. The 20-year-old France international signed a five-year contract at the Nou Camp and will be playing alongside Messi and Suarez. Last season, Dembele scored 10 goals and provided 21 assists as Dortmund finished third in the Bundesliga, won the German Cup, and reached the Champions League quarter-finals. It will be a crucial season for him as he is expected to fill the major void after Neymar’s exit to PSG
When Mats Hummels heard that Hoffenheim starlet Niklas Sule could be joining him at Bayern Munich, the veteran defender was ecstatic: “I would say Niklas is more than just a talent,” he gushed. “He has enormous potential but is already an accomplished centre-back.” Indeed, Chelsea also bid for Sule at the same time as Bayern only for the 21-year-old to choose the Bavarians, explaining “they’re among the top three clubs in the world, so I didn’t have to think about it for long”. Some doubted whether Sule would see much game time at the Allianz Arena but he looks set to play a major part in their 2017-18 campaign, having netted on his Bundesliga debut for Bayer at the weekend.
Liverpool spent have spent a significant chunk of their summer trying to fend off Barcelona’s interest in Philippe Coutinho. They could be subjected another torturous transfer saga next year because Sadio Mane looks poised to light up this season’s Champions League. Many pundits and supporters questioned the decision to pay Southampton £34m for the winger last summer but the Senegal international is probably already worth three times this figure.
UEFA Champions League 2017/18, Wednesday, 13th September 2017, Kick-off 12:15 A.M., Live and Exclusive on SONY TEN 1 and SONY TEN 1 HD
UEFA Champions League 2017/18, Thursday, 14th September 2017, Kick-off 12:15 A.M., Live and Exclusive on SONY TEN 1 and SONY TEN 1 HD
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