BY APESIN ADEMOLA.
The second day of Matchday 1 of this season’s UEFA Champions League provides enticing matches particularly in Madrid, Valencia and Manchester.
Defending champions Real Madrid achieved a record-extending feat at the close of last season by winning the elite championship the 13th time.
It marked a three-straight victory as well, which equalled the achievement of Bayern München (1974 to 1976) and AFC Ajax (1971 to 1973).
Madrid will be missing two major elements of their recent triumphs – Zinedine Zidane and Cristiano Ronaldo.
The former quit as manager after a trophy-laden four years in charge of the Whites, while the latter switched to Juventus to advance an illustrious career that includes winning five FIFA Balloon d’Or.
Madrid have moved on without Zidane and Ronaldo with Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema leading their assault.
Although they suffered a setback in the domestic league last weekend with a 1-1 result in Bilbao against Athletic Club, Madrid will be tough nuts to crack for AS Roma, not having lost a UEFA group game at the Bernabeu since October 2009.
Roma had a fine run in last season’s Champions League reaching the semi-finals almost eliminating Liverpool. After losing the first leg at Anfield 5-2, the Italian club returned to Rome to a sensational 4-2 win.
Roma have had a poor start to their domestic season though, with only one win in four matches.
Juventus will count on Ronaldo’s goals now that the reigning FIFA World Best Player finally found the net last weekend for the first time in a competitive fixture for the Italian giants.
The Old Lady were beaten in the final two years ago with Ronaldo burying two goals in a 4-1 rout by Madrid. Juve last won the title in 1996; their first time being 1985.
Valencia, runners-up in 2000 and 2001, will host Ronaldo and his teammates at the Spanish east coast city with which the club share same name.
The team have not won any of their four LaLiga matches this season placing them one step up the relegation zone.
In the same group with Juventus and Valencia are Manchester United who were champions in 1968, 1999 and 2008.
The English club will be expected to overcome Swiss side Young Boys, one of the minnows of European football.
Bayern have a joint tally of five Champions League titles with Barcelona and Liverpool, but they have not reached the final since 2013.
The most successful German side with 28 domestic league titles and one FIFA Club World Cup triumph, Bayern should navigate pass their group that also feature AFC Ajax, AEK Athens and tonight’s opponents Benfica.
Manchester City are yet to transform their domestic form into Europe.
They created a series of records on their way to the English Premier League title last season but crashed out in the quarterfinals of the Champions League; their conquerors being fellow English side Liverpool, who won both legs. City will welcome Ligue 1’s Olympique Lyonnais to Etihad Stadium hoping to a good fortune this time.
Group E: AFC Ajax v AEK Athens (5:55pm), Benfica v Bayern München (8pm)
Group F: Shakhtar Donetsk v 1899 Hoffenheim (5:55pm), Manchester City v Olympique Lyonnais (8pm)
Group G: Real Madrid v AS Roma, FC Viktoria Plzeň v CSKA Moscow (both 8pm)
Group H: Young Boys v Manchester United, Valencia v Juventus (both 8pm)