Welcome to a new series from Bavarian Football Works we call “The Calm Before” where we take a look at the at the biggest stories in the leagues we cover. They won’t just be stories about Bayern Munich — sure, some weeks Bayern will be on here — but they’ll be the most important storylines in the UEFA Champions League, the Bundesliga, and the DFB-Pokal as a whole.
Today, we kick off the Group Stage of the UEFA Champions League with a slate of games that should be challenging, yet inviting for a number of reasons. We’ll start with the defending champions:
Title Holders Chelsea begin to defend their crown
We shouldn’t forget the position Chelsea were in before the knockout stages began. Amid an identity and tactical crisis of sorts, they turned to former PSG boss Thomas Tuchel to lead their side forward. What they got in the second half was a resurgent side that rose up to finish 4th in the Premier League and come runners up in the FA Cup. But it was thanks to a Kai Havertz goal in the 42’ that won Chelsea their second UEFA Champions League title. Now, they look to continue their dominance in Europe. Bolstered by new target man Romelu Lukaku and facing a relatively easy group (Juventus, Zenit St. Petersburg, Malmö), the Blues look to start their campaign off right when they play Zenit at home.
Bayern Munich - Barcelona meet for the first time since 8-2 in 2020
It has been exactly 396 days since Bayern Munich took FC Barcelona behind the proverbial woodshed in the quarterfinals of the 2020 UEFA Champions League. A scoreline of 8-2 is shocking and distressing to many, but it highlighted a sense that Barcelona was declining. With their style of play seemingly laying on the shoulders of one player — Lionel Messi — the team couldn’t find a way to create chances in front of the next outside one goal from Luis Suarez. Even with Messi and Suarez on the pitch — and in bringing on players like Antoine Griezmann — they could not stop the bleeding. Now, Barcelona are in a true identity crisis. With a mountain of debt resulting in the sale of Griezmann and the losses of Messi and Suarez, the team seems to have no identity. Manager Ronald Koeman seems to be unaffected by the loss of talent saying, “Thanks to me, this club has a future.” We can get a glimpse into that future today.
Cristiano Ronaldo returns in red
The last time the Portuguese striker was wearing a Manchester United shirt, he was using it to wipe sweat off his brow and tears off his face as his side lost to Barcelona in Rome in the 2009 UEFA Champions League Final. The following summer, he left for Real Madrid where he reached his true peak. Now, at 36, Ronaldo is far from that: he’s slower, scored in Italy at a much lower rate than his standard, and has seemed to drop in his technical ability ever so slightly. But don’t tell United fans that. Over the weekend, his brace in a 4-1 Manchester United debut win over Newcastle United had fans singing his praises and reminiscing the memories of years gone by. Now, they hope he can keep that momentum going when the team plays their first group stage match in Switzerland against BSC Young Boys.
Can the new Salzburg wunderkind start strong in the UCL?
In what has recently become an almost yearly tradition, Red Bull (whoops, excuse me) FC Salzburg have an attacking talent — or talents — that dazzle and surprise the European football elite in the Europa League and Champions League. In the 2017/2018 season, it was Munas Dabbur (now with Hoffenheim) and Hwang Hee-chan (on loan to Wolverhampton) taking Marco Rose’s side all the way to the Europa League semifinals. The 2019/2020 season saw the exploits of Takumi Minamino be brilliant enough to conjure a move to Liverpool. And teammate Erling Haaland was so impressive he’s only gone on to become the striker of the future. Last season, Hungarian Dominik Szoboszlai worked wonders to force an internal move up the ladder to RB Leipzig. This year, the talent is 20-year-old German striker Karim Adeyemi. The former Bayern Munich academy prospect has really shown out for his club and country — bagging six goals in seven games in the Ö. Bundesliga and scoring his first international goal for Die Mannschaft on his debut. They face a tough Sevilla FC side in their first game of the Group Stage.
Can Juventus, Villareal get a good start after sputtering in home leagues?
Two teams suffering from the same problem: they should be successful but they just can’t string it together. For the Yellow Submarine — coached by Unai Emrey — the start to the La Liga season has been painful. After three games, the team has managed three points from three draws — good for 13th in the league. The first two were 0-0 results and this last weekend’s game should have been a win over Atletico Madrid, were it not for a 90+5’ own goal to make the game 2-2. After winning the Europa League last season, this team needs a result early in this tournament to jump start their season.
Same goes for Juventus, but the situations are different. Sure, losing a player like Cristiano Ronaldo will hurt, but with talented players like Paolo Dybala, Federico Chiesa, and new acquisition Manuel Locatelli there should be no reason why they are suffering. But they are. In three league games, Juventus sit in 16th. Drawing the first game of the season to Udinese isn’t great — but following that up with a loss to Empoli is embarrassing. Last weekend’s loss to Napoli just compounded the issues. New manager Massimiliano Allegri needs to find a way to unite the team and move forward.
Of the two, Juventus faces the easier task against Swedish side Malmö. Villareal, meanwhile, take on Atalanta.
Here’s today’s slate of games (all times Eastern U.S.)
- Sevilla v. FC Salzburg (Estadio Ramón Sánchez-Pizjuán - Sevilla, ESP)
- BSC Young Boys v. Manchester United (Wankdorfstadion - Bern, SUI)
- Barcelona v. Bayern München (Camp Nou - Barcelona, ESP)
- Chelsea v. Zenit St. Petersburg (Stamford Bridge - London, UK)
- Dynamo Kiev v. SL Benfica (Olympic National Sports Complex - Kiev, UKR)
- LOSC Lille v. VfL Wolfsburg (Stade Pierre-Mauroy - Lille, FRA)
- Malmö FF v. Juventus (Eleda Stadion - Malmö, SWE)
- Villareal CF v. Atalanta B.C. (Estadio de la Cerámica - Villareal, ESP)