Champions League previews – Matchday 1

The Champions League returns tonight with eight group matches, including the holders Real Madrid against FC Basel and 2013 losing finalists, Borussia Dortmund, in action against Arsenal.

All matches kick off at 19:45 (BST)

Group A

Olympiakos v Atletico Madrid 

Diego Simeone has warned his side that Olympiacos “will probably be the most difficult game in the group” while boss of the Greek outfit, Michel, thinks last year’s runners-up have a good chance of reaching the final for the second year running. Simeone will watch tonight’s game from the stands as he is currently serving a touchline ban.

Both sides are unbeaten so far in their domestic leagues, as Atletico downed rivals Real Madrid on Saturday.

Atletico visit Greece with a full squad to choose from as Simeone has no players injured or suspended. But, Olympiacos will miss Giannis Maniatis and Dimitris Siovas who are both struggling with ankle problems.

Juventus v Malmo 

Juventus boss Massimiliano Allegri has set his side the target of reaching the quarter-finals at the least in this season’s Champions League. Malmo manager Age Hareide has admitted that his team represents Juventus’ easiest match in Group A, but has also tipped his side to do well against the Italian champions.

Juventus are without midfielders Andrea Pirlo (hip injury) and Arturo Vidal (thigh). New striker Alvaro Morata is sidelined with a knee problem, The Italian Andrea Barzagli is out with a calf injury and Argentine striker Carlos Tevez could miss out after having problems with his thigh. Also out are Roberto Pereyra who is suspended, and Italy centre-back Giorgio Chiellini, who may return from a calf problem, but is a doubt.

Swedish side Malmo are only missing two players, Simon Thern who broke his fibula, and Ricardinho who has a knee injury, but could be without Erik Johansson who was recently ill.

Group B

Liverpool v Ludo Razgrad

Liverpool are determined to do well in the Champions League after a five-year absence, and will treat Luogorets “as if the are Real Madrid”. Meanwhile Ludogorets have never been in the group stage of the Champions League, so they are equally excited for their debut.

Liverpool will be without Emre Can and Lazar Markovic who are both suspended, England pair Daniel Sturridge and Glen Johnson who are both out with thigh problems and young English full-back Jon Flanagan who is struggling with a knee injury. Also, Martin Skrtl and Joe Allen are doubtful with knee injuries.

Ludo Razgrad have just Vlad Stoyanov and Ivan Cvorovic who are suspended and out with a shoulder problem respectively.

Real Madrid v FC Basel

Real coach Carlo Ancelotti wants his side to stand up after recent disappointing results, including a home derby defeat to local rivals Atletico Madrid.

He has also confirmed that his first choice keeper will continue to be Iker Casillas, after stating that “there is no debate” surrounding the two choices.

FC Basel manager Paulo Sousa is seeking to bring his club to “another level”, and is also convinced that Madrid will soon be back to their best.

Dani Carvajal and Sami Khedira are out of the Madrid squad with hamstring problems, whilst Jese Rodriguez also misses out with a knee injury.

Basel will be without Philipp Degen with a foot injury, Ivan Ivanov with a knee injury and Marcelo Diaz who is suspended.

Group C

Benfica v Zenit

Ex-Spurs, Chelsea and Porto boss Andre Villas-Boas has stated his Russian side Zenit would settle for a draw in Portugal, but Jorge Jesus the Benfica boss will be expecting a win at home.

Jorge Jesus has said that Group C is too close to call, with the other two teams being Monaco and Bayer Leverkusen, and this promises to be a tight contest against a strong Russian team who are on a ten-match winning streak and include three former Benfica players.

Axel Witsel and Javi Garcia are set to face their former club, but the fixture could come too soon for Ezequiel Garay, who would like to play against his ex-club but is doubtful with an unknown injury. AVB also has Viktor Fayzulin suspended, while Brazilian winger Hulk could miss the game with a hip problem.

For Benfica, first team keeper and new signing Julio Cesar is out with a thigh injury and Silvio has a problem with his leg.

Monaco v Bayer Leverkusen 

Monaco are returning to the Champions League for the first time in a decade, and stirker Dimitar Berbatov comes up against the German side he played the most matches for (154), and scored the most goals (69).

Leverkusen have won 5 of their 6 games since the beginning of their season, and are also sitting at the top of the Bundesliga. Lars Bender is also set to return for the German team after missing the last four months with a thigh injury.

Abdennour of Monaco is  missing as he has a thigh injury, while Lopez and striker Traore are aswell, with Lopez struggling with a Knee problem.

Leverkusen are missing Kyriakos Papadopoulos (shoulder), while Simon Rolfes and Julian Brandt will miss it too with ankle injuries.

Group D

Galatasaray v Anderlecht

Cesare Prandelli will face his first European home game as Galatasary coach, and looks forward to the “fascinating atmosphere”, whilst Anderlecht coach Besnik Hasi is cautious about how the tie could unfold, but is also optimistic.

Prandelli refused to name Anderlecht as the weakest side in their group, but gave confidence to fans as he stated that Dutch midfielder Wesley Sneijder is “slowly returning to his best”.

Galatasaray will be without centre-back Semih Kaya, while Anderlecht will do without Silvio Proto and Fabrice N’Sakala who are both suspended for the fixture. Anderlecht also have Anthony Vanden Borre absent with a calf injury.

Borussia Dortmund v Arsenal 

Arsenal are hoping to repeat their victory from last season’s Champions League group stage victory, although may struggle with various injury problems in defence.

Jurgen Klopp, Dortmund manager, wants his side to have an aggressive approach in their first group stage game, but also have some key players unavailable for the match.

Arsenal will go to Germany without full-backs Mathieu Debuchy and Nacho Monreal who have ankle and back problems respectively, reducing Arsene Wenger to three fit defenders.

Back-up striker Yaya Sanogo is out with a hamstring problem whilst young German winger Serge Gnabry is out with a thigh problem. Olivier Giroud is still suffering from a broken leg, picked up in their 2-2 draw with Everton in late August. Yet to return is Theo Walcott, who is suffering from a long-term injury, while Mezut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey will be undergo late tests to ascertain their fitness.

Meanwhile Dortmund are missing key players such as Marco Reus (ankle), Jakub Blaszczykowski (muscle tear), Ilkay Gundogan (back) and Mats Hummels, who has a muscle problem but may play after recovering well. Nuri Sahin is also out with a knee injury while Oliver Kirch is suffering from a thigh problem.