Tomorrow, the group stage for the UEFA Champions League, probably the greatest international soccer competition outside the World Cup and the European Championships, takes flight, with 8 matches tomorrow and 8 on Wednesday. There are a lot of intriguing matchups tomorrow, including Olympic Marseille hosting Liverpool, Barcelona-Sporting Lisbon, and PSV Eindhoven-Atletico Madrid. On Wednesday, the big one will likely be Man U-Villareal, with Porto-Fenerbache and Juventus-Zenit also being pretty good matchups.
Taking a look at the groups, there are some seriously stacked groups. Looking at Real Madrid, my favorite team in the world, they have to get past a group filled with Zenit, last year's UEFA Cup champion, and Juventus. Inter Milan has to battle with Werder Bremen and Panthiakos. Barcelona, in my mind, may be shocked out of this Champions League with FC Basel and Sporting Lisbon in their group. Celtic, Man U and Villareal will have to battle it out for the top 2 spots in their group. However, in my opinion, the group of death is Group D, with Atletico Madrid, Liverpool, PSV Eindhoven and Marseille.
The key to the group stage for the giants in the field is to start off with the 3 points. You don't want to give the other teams in your group confidence with you drawing or even losing the first game. This has plagued Real in the past, as they have sometimes lost big in their first match and have had to play catch-up the rest of the group stage to barely make it to the knockout stage. Winning the first match takes a lot of pressure off your squad. You can rest some players and get your rotations between Champions League, the domestic league and the domestic cup competitions set. You don't have to overplay your heavy hitters and you can focus on bringing up some of your younger talent to get them some burn in games against international competition. Finally, as in the case of Real and other teams, those heavy hitters who are gone to injury can heal while you have full faith and confidence in the rest of the squad to make do while they're out.
It is indeed great to have Champions League football back in the fold once again. I think tomorrow, ESPN2 is showing Bordeaux-Chelsea at 2:30 and Sporting Lisbon-Barcelona will air at 5:30 (tape delay) on ESPN Classic. Wednesday gives us Bate Borisov-Real Madrid at 5:30 (tape delay) on ESPN Classic and another live game at 2:30 on ESPN2. However, if you want to catch any of the other games online, there are a few websites that stream the games. I would recommend Channel Surfing for your streaming needs. Happy hunting, and HalaMadrid!