Just like that, Champions League group stage is back. Eight matches per day, two days a week, with match days spread out from now through the beginning of December. For many of you, it will provide something to get through your work day. For some of us, it’s bludgeoning: Too many games; too little time; too much significance.
While the day’s biggest match is in Group D (Real Madrid hosting Manchester City), PSG’s Champions League return will also snatch headlines. They help kickoff Group A play with FC Porto, Dynamo Kyiv, and Dinamo Zagreb.
Paris Saint-Germain vs. Dynamo Kyiv
Parc de Princes, Paris, 2:45 p.m. Eastern
You’d be forgiven for thinking PSG had never been in Champions League. It’s been eight years since the Parisians participated in the competition, and since becoming the unofficial club of the Qatari government, Paris Saint-Germain is scarcely the same club.
Today, the Parisians are more talented than their predecessors could have imagined. Zlatan Ibrahimovic has become the focal point of a team that will also feature Ezequiel Lavezzi, Javier Pastore, and Jeremy Menez. While many attacks can claim greater potency, few can espouse to having more skill.
Unfortunately for Carlo Ancelotti, teams are judged by goals, which means the PSG boss needs to find a way to improve on their six goals in five Ligue 1 games. More specifically, Ancelotti needs to get somebody besides Ibrahimovic scoring. Zlatan has scored five times (in four games). The rest of the team is averaging 0.20 goals per match.
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Dynamo represents an opportunity for PSG to break out. The Ukranians are perennial contenders domestically, but they’re not on the same level as the Parisians, even if they’ve just gone through an offseason buildup of their own: Miguel Veloso (from Genoa), Niko Kranjcar (Tottenham Hotspur), Marco Ruben (Villarreal) and Taye Taiwo (Milan).
Travelling across the continent for a midweek match is tough enough, but when you don’t have the players to match up with Ibrahimovic, Lavezzi and Menez, the odds become especially long.
Dinamo Zagreb vs. FC Porto
Stadion Maksimir, Zagreb, 2:45 p.m. Eastern
Give credit to Dinamo Zagreb for being one of two teams to make it from second round qualifying into group stage, but they’re going to have to drastically improve on last year to make the treck worth their competitive while. No matter how they perform against FC Porto, the money will justify the effort (each team gets $9.4 million for making it this far), but on the field, Dinamo will want to avoid the embarrassment of a record-setting 22 goals allowed in last year’s group stage.
If current form in any indication, Dinamo is set to improve. Shortly after their elimination from last year’s Champions League, Dinamo parted ways with head coach Krunoslav Jurčić, bringing in Ante Čačić from Lokomotiva. Since, the team is undefeated in 33 matches, winning 23.
Porto is also trying to improve on last year, though for drastically different reasons. Favored going into Group G, the Portuguese champions finished third behind Russia’s Zenit St. Petersburg and Cyprus’s APOEL. On the final matchday, Porto saw Zenit come of the Dragão and park the bus, their 0-0 draw especially frustrating given one more goal would have put them into the final 16.
Porto’s ability to move forward will depend on how successful they are in replacing Hulk. Their leading scorer last season, Hulk, moved to Zenit earlier this month. Porto are left with a wealth of attacking talent (James Rodriguez, Silvestre Valera, and Christian Atsu), but maintaining their high standards will depend on Jackson Martínez. The talented Ecuadorian was imported from Mexico this summer and has already scored twice in three Liga matches. If he can be as incredible as Hulk, Porto should improve on last year’s disappointment.