Yesterday, UEFA held the group stage draw for the 2015-16 Champions League, sorting 32 of the best teams in Europe into their opening matchups. While Matchweek 1 is still a few weeks away, we’re already excited for some of the clashes to come. Here are the fixtures we’re looking forward to most.
1. Bayern Munich v Arsenal
When this draw was announced yesterday, Arsenal Twitter was thrown into a tumult. Wailing, gnashing of teeth, rending of garments, you get the picture. Bayern Munich has served as a sort of boogeyman for Arsenal in the Champions League, having bounced them out in the Round of 16 in 2012-13 and 2013-14. And while Arsenal is a stronger team than in recent seasons, Bayern Munich is still, well, Bayern Munich. If Arsenal wants to conquer Europe, they need to face their fear, let it pass through them, and where the fear has gone there shall be nothing. Arsenal have the talent and tactical acumen to capitalize on any mistakes Bayern make— and they will make mistakes, they’re still only human.
2. Real Madrid v Paris Saint-Germain
Here are two clubs with seemingly unlimited funds who could sign almost any player they want. While they’re not quite on equal footing, these are still two teams near the summit of European football. Real Madrid will be looking to make a big statement in the group stages in their bid to reclaim the European Cup, while PSG are eager to prove they’re capable of getting past the quarterfinals and make a legitimate bid for the trophy. This will be clash between some of the biggest names in Europe with more than a handful of winners medals between the two teams. Expect fireworks.
3. Chelsea v Porto
Also known as the José Mourinho Derby. The Special One spent two years on the touchline for Porto before moving on to his first stint at Chelsea, winning two Primeira Liga titles with the former and then winning two Premier League titles with the latter. This matchup won’t have much in terms of explosive football, but the narrative will be irresistible— particularly if Chelsea continues to struggle as the group stages begin. As for Porto, they’ll be doing their best to ignore the Ghosts of Football Past and fight to fend of Dynamo Kyiv for a place in the knockout rounds.
4. PSV Eindhoven v Manchester United
As reigning Eredivisie champions PSV are no slouches, and they will be ready for Manchester United. For their part, the Red Devils will be looking to reestablish themselves in Europe’s premier competition after their brief absence. Yet the big story from this fixture will be Memphis Depay, the 21 year old wunderkind who moved from PSV to United over the summer. After scoring that brace against Brugge in the playoff round, everyone’s waiting for Memphis to explode into the dominant young winger he’s seemingly destined to be. Two matches against his former club will provide an excellent opportunity for him to take his game to the next level, as well as vault United back into European Powerhouse territory.
5. Roma v Leverkusen
While not a marquee matchup per se, this may end up being the more interesting clash of the group stages. The two teams, both dark horse contenders for their respective league titles, have left their mark in Europe with two of the most quietly brutal midfield lines out there. Roma boast the likes of Daniele De Rossi and Miralem Pjanic, plus the addition of some blistering pace and trickery out wide thanks to Chelsea loanee Mohamed Salah. Meanwhile, Leverkusen, heirs to the Gegenpress Terror that Borussia Dortmund abdicated last season, have their stuff locked down tight in the middle of the park thanks to the likes of Lars Bender, Karim Bellarabi, and Hakan Çalhano?lu. If you’re into pro wrestling, think of Roma-Leverkusen as a high-flying clash between two cruiserweights with lots of technical acumen and boundless energy. In a competition that is football’s equivalent of Hollywood summer blockbusters, Roma-Leverkusen could well be the mid-budget action thriller that surprises critics and audiences alike.