UEFA Champions League 2012: Top Matchups to See in First Round of Group Play

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured ColumnistSeptember 17, 2012

MONACO - AUGUST 31:  Fernando Torres (CR) and Eden Hazard (CL) of Chelsea look dejected following Atletico Madrid's fourth goal during the UEFA Super Cup match between Chelsea and Atletico Madrid at Louis II Stadium on August 31, 2012 in Monaco, Monaco.  (Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images)
Chris Brunskill/Getty Images

The Champions League is here! The Champions League is here!

Sorry, as you can tell I'm a bit excited. The Champions League is one of (if not the) coolest yearly competitions in the world, and right off the bat, there are several truly intriguing matches in the first round of group play.

From two league champions going head-to-head to European powers doing battle across the board, Tuesday and Wednesday offer some truly juicy tilts. Let's take a look a few of the most intriguing games out there.


Real Madrid vs. Manchester City

Without question, this is the best match from the first slate of games in group play. It doesn't get much better than a tilt between La Liga and Premier League champions.

Then again, Real Madrid hasn't exactly been, well, good this year. They have just a win and a draw in four league games, have lost to Getafe and Sevilla and already trail Barcelona by eight points on the La Liga table. After the Sevilla loss, Jose Mourinho admitted (via ESPN), "At this moment I have no team.''

He'd better have a team on Tuesday against Manchester City, however, or Real Madrid won't earn any points, a rough start to overcome in the dreaded Group of Death. And Manchester City might have Sergio Aguero available in this one as well, making them all the more difficult.

Still, this game is in Madrid. Mourinho's boys may be struggling, but the home crowd should push them to a 1-1 draw. 


Montpellier vs. Arsenal

The Ligue 1 champions Montpellier get a shot at perennial Premier League power Arsenal, and a chance to beat the team that signed striker Olivier Giroud away from them this summer.

Arsenal should be the favorites, but they've been less than stellar away from home in this competition, winning just three away games in the Champions League proper in the past three years, losing eight and tying two.

But the Gunners are the better team, and Montpellier is somewhat of a mess to start the season, having lost three of its first five games. History suggests you shouldn't bet on the Gunners away from home in this competition; Montpellier's early-season struggles suggest you should. Look for Arsenal to win, 2-1.


Chelsea vs. Juventus

If Real Madrid vs. Manchester City is this week's top game in the Champions League, consider Chelsea vs. Juventus as 1A in the rankings.

Chelsea will begin its Champions League title defense against the Serie A champions from a year ago. Normally I wouldn't bet against the Blues at home, but after starting the season with three impressive Premier League wins, they were smoked by Atletico Madrid and only managed a draw with QPR. 

Meanwhile, Juventus has four wins in four tilts this season. Expect an excellent match, with a late Juventus goal giving them a huge 2-1 win. Eden Hazard won't save you in this one, Chelsea.


Bayern Munich vs. Valencia

In five matches across all competitions thus far this season, Bayern Munich has gone 5-0-0 and outscored opponents by an 18-3 margin.

I think it's safe to say they've hit midseason form a bit early this year.

But Valencia is no slouch, either. Though they lost to Barcelona 1-0 already this year (and a lot of teams will fare far worse against the Catalans), they have tied Real Madrid and are sitting on five hard-earned points in La Liga play this year.

Still, trying to beat Bayern in Munich is a tough task (unless you're Chelsea, apparently). Valencia will fight, but they will fall to the home side, 2-0.


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