The luck of the draw means Real Madrid won’t have it all their own way in Champions League Group A this year.
Los Blancos play PSG in Europe’s elite club competition in Paris first up in the pool. Their hardest away fixture coming up straight away should set the tone for this group.
Club Brugge and Galatasaray aren’t just there to make up the numbers, though. On all known form, it’s a straight battle between the Belgian and Turkish clubs for third place and a spot in the Europa League knockout phase.
Neither PSG nor Real will relish going to Istanbul – that most hostile and partisan of sporting cities. The Ligue 1 winners have that dubious privilege first with Los Blancos at the Turk Telekom Arena after them.
In the first of a series of articles on this year’s Champions League group stage, OpenOdds experts look at some of the stories and subplots surrounding the four teams in each pool.
We profile the main contenders and look at new faces who have joined the clubs.
Real reshaped but is the old Zidane magic still there?
During his first spell as Real Madrid manager, Zinedine Zidane did something quite remarkable. He won the UEFA Champions League three times in a row.
Just to put that into perspective, Zizou did what far more storied coaches than he failed to. A successful defence of the Champions League was unprecedented since the competition rebranded from the European Cup in the early 1990s.
Under Zidane, Los Blancos eclipsed what AC Milan achieved under Arrigo Sacchi in 1989 and 1990. They didn’t just retain their European crown but retained it again.
What followed in the aftermath of this Champions League hat-trick was a sensational departure from the Bernabeu. Zidane quit, because he knew that Real team couldn’t do it a fourth time without renewal.
Florentino Perez refused to listen at first. The mighty Madrid president thought he knew the players better than the man on the touchline. He was wrong.
Two disastrous appointments later, Zidane was begged back. Perez gave his blessing and backing for a ruthless overhaul of Los Blancos’ squad – one that expected prime casualty Gareth Bale survived.
Real now have Eden Hazard in attack at last and he’s joined by some central backup to Karim Benzema is promising Serbia striker Luka Jovic. There is still a Cristiano Ronaldo shaped shadow hanging over the Bernabeu, though.
In defence, Los Blancos now have France left back Ferland Mendy and Brazil centre half Eder Militao, who is cast in reflective glory of Copa America success over the summer to which he actually contributed little from the bench.
Is it enough to re-energise Real in their bid to avoid European embarrassment on a similar scale to last term? Probably.
Nothing like that young Ajax outfit packed full of talent awaits in the Champions League Group A – just PSG.
New-look PSG midfield has Premier League flavour
The Parisians obviously offer the main opposition to Real Madrid. Thomas Tuchel keeping Neymar at the Parc des Princes is something of a coup.
Transfers between PSG and the Bernabeu did take place, however, as goalkeepers Alphonse Areola and Keylor Navas went in opposite directions.
Premier League fans will recognise two engine room operators recently arrived in Paris. Both Ander Herrera and Idrissa Gueye left Manchester United and Everton respectively for the City of Light.
Spanish midfielder Herrera is a surprisingly smart addition to PSG for free. He’s better off out of Old Trafford anyway. Gueye, meanwhile, has been effective enough at Everton to make you think there’s more to come from him.
What the new arrivals for midfield do is give PSG and Tuchel greater balance. Marquinhos, who is a centre back by trade, had to play in the holding role at times last season. Not ideal.
Abdou Diallo looks a long-term replacement for skipper Thiago Silva, who turns 35 this autumn, in defence.
Sergio Rico and fellow Sevilla-owned player Pablo Sarabia, meanwhile, add strength-in-depth in goal and advanced midfield areas respectively.
These aren’t the kind of flashy additions PSG normally make in the market. They’re pretty sensible and a more rounded roster actually makes them more competitive in Champions League Group A.
— Paris Saint-Germain (@PSG_English) September 2, 2019
Then there’s Mauro Icardi. A combustible element in a dressing room said to have had divisions within it in the past.
Inter Milan still own the maverick Argentina striker, tying him to a two-year deal despite the deadline day loan to PSG.
Icardi could go either way. Will he give Tuchel that X-factor in attack? PSG now have true strength-in-depth up front to throw down a legitimate challenge to Real.
Falcao heads Galatasaray recruits
Radamel Falcao is one of a number of Premier League flops now plying his trade with Galatasaray. He’s scored goals and plenty of them everywhere else, so big things are expected from the Colombian hitman.
Falcao doesn’t have the best record against PSG, but got two in three in La Liga when previously playing against Real for city rivals Atletico Madrid.
Joining him in Istanbul are ex-Fulham pair Ryan Babel and Jean Michael Seri, and Romania striker Florin Andone as backup.
Galatasaray boss Fatih Terim has also added more in midfield with the loan captures of Mario Lemina and Steven Nzonzi.
That overhaul of the middle and final thirds give them leading claims of third place in Champions League Group A.
In order to make way for their new attacking options, Galatasaray in turn loaned last year’s Turkish Super Lig top scorer Mbaye Diagne to Club Brugge. Could he come back to haunt them when the sides meet in Europe?
Falcao is obviously seen as an upgrade on the Senegal forward. It adds extra spice to that battle to avoid the wooden spoon in Champions League Group A, that’s for sure.
Although Brugge bought goalie Simon Mignolet back to his native Belgium after a frustrating period of being frozen out at Liverpool, the club isn’t for everyone.
Victor Wanyama looked set to leave Spurs but backed out of a move at the last minute. It’s a huge blow to Brugge.
Their midfield doesn’t have any real depth to it and Wanyama’s no nonsense, physical approach would’ve added something.
A fired up Diagne will be out to give his parent club a headache, but the Belgians have it all to do in this pool. Champions League Group A looks tough for them.