James Dutton takes a closer look at the standout matches in the first half of Matchday 1 of the 2012-13 Champions League season…
Paris Saint Germain v Dynamo Kiev
PSG return to Champions League for the first time since 2004, and this time the eyes of Europe are upon them. Having been purchased by the Qatar Investment Authority in the summer of 2011 PSG have assembled a dynamic multi-national side with a Champions League winning manager, Carlo Ancelotti, in charge. With an attack spearheaded by the magnificent Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who has made a blistering start to the domestic season, and supplemented by Argentine duo Ezequiel Lavezzi and Javier Pastore, the French side will pose countless problems against a Dynamo Kiev side still struggling to replicate their glorious campaigns of the 1970s, 80s and 90s. A midfield that boasts Portuguese international Miguel Veloso and former Tottenham midfielder Niko Kranjcar should not be underestimated, but they will struggle to score against a solid defence PSG that comprises of Thiago Silva, Diego Lugano, Alex and Mamadou Sakho.
Montpellier v Arsenal
Arsene Wenger has guided Arsenal into their fifteenth consecutive Champions League campaign, which begins with a short trip to the south of France, where they face last season’s surprise champions. Montpellier’s maiden Ligue 1 triumph saw them qualify for the Champions League for the first time in their history, though they have since lost their top-scorer, Olivier Giroud, who will lineup for their English opponents. Boasting a wealth of Champions League experience and with new signings Santi Cazorla and Lukas Podolski bedding in nicely, Wenger will be confident of picking up the three points.
Málaga v Zenit St. Petersburg
Another European club to have benefited from a Sheikh takeover, Spanish football’s nouveaux riches have, however, encountered difficulties since qualifying for this season’s competition. Failure to pay players’ wages has led to a mini-exodus, headed by Santi Cazorla, but Malaga have retained the services of their experienced manager Manuel Pellegrini, and an abundance of attacking talent including Joaquin, Javier Saviola and Julio Baptista. Zenit, the 2008 UEFA Cup champions, have added star quality to their squad in the summer; Hulk and Axel Witsel have both joined in €40million deals to supplement a potent side that includes Russian stars Aleksander Kerzhakov, Igor Densiov and Portuguese centre-back Bruno Alves. Zenit could prove themselves to be a dark horse in this season’s competition.
Real Madrid v Manchester City
Manchester City can count themselves extremely unfortunate to have once again been pitted within a so-called ‘Group of Death’, that consists of four domestic champions. Mancini’s side face a baptism of fire at the Bernabeu, but Jose Mourinho’s all-star team has struggled in La Liga so far this season. Mancini’s failure to add attacking stardust to his team over the summer transfer window could prove costly as he looks to improve on their group stage elimination last season, as will a leaky defence that has already conceded six goals this season. Real Madrid’s attacking riches of Cristiano Ronaldo, Mesut Özil and Ángel di María will surely prove too much for City.
Borussia Dortmund v Ajax
Borussia Dortmund have captured the imaginations of football purists across the continent over the past few seasons. Their enigmatic Jürgen Klopp has assembled a gluttony of young talent; despite losing Shinji Kagawa over the summer, the majority have remained. German wonder kids Mario Gotze and Marco Reus will look to supply the lethal Robert Lewandowski as Dortmund seek to improve on a disappointing group stage elimination last season. Their opponents Ajax remain a giant of the European game only in name. The Dutch champions will pin their hopes on young Danish prodigy Christian Eriksen, but they will struggle to make an impression in this group.
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