The UEFA Champions League will take off with a bang next week, when the group stage takes to the pitch for the Group stage matchday one.
Bundesliga champion Borussia Dortmund has been drawn to particpate in Group D, known as the group of death, along with Manchester City, Ajax Amsterdam and Real Madrid. Only two of the teams in each group advance to the knockout stage of 32 clubs.
FC Bayern Muenchen, which has landed in Group F along with Valencia CF, LOSC Lille and FC BATE Borisov, will have an easier go to move into the knockout phase.
Schalke 04 has been allocated to Group B along with Montepellier Herault FC, Arsenal, and Olympiacos FC. Schalke has its work cut out, although the Knappen of Gelsenkirchen should be able to move past Montepellier and Olympiacos along with Arsenal to move into the knockout round of 32.
During the Group stage the clubs will play an away and home game against the the three teams in their group and the aggregate will decide where they place within their group. The top two teams in each group advance to the 32 team knockout round. The third place finishers in each group move into the UEFA Euro League.
Matchday 1 - September 18-19
On Tuesday, Sept. 18, Schalke travels to Olympiacos for their first group stage match, while Dortmund hosts Ajax Amsterdam. FC Bayern hosts Valencia on Wednesday.
All things being equal, Schalke should be able to secure a win in Greece. Olympiacos FC is one of the most successful soccer clubs in Greece and has reached he Champions League quarter finals twice.
Schalke won its first European trophy in 1997, when they defeated Internazionale by penalty kicks. While the two matches against won't be a cake walk, Schalke should come out on top.
Ajax Amsterdam, one of the top three most successful clubs in the Netherlands, will meet Dortmund in the first group stage match. Dortmund will have its work cut out for them. Dortmund, last year, fell well short in the Champions League and should have learned some valuable lessons.
Dortmund won the Bundesliga for its second consecutive year and has a solid cadre of players, with several of it players participating in the DFB Team, Germany's national side. Their strenght is quick counters, with players like Marcus Reus, Mario Goetze, both scorers in their own right and Robert Lewandowski, a Polish international.
The Croatian Ivan Perisic, the Pole Jakup Blaszykowski, Kevin Grosskreutz round out the midfield strength of the team.
FC Bayern, runner up in the Bundesliga, the Champions League and the DFB Cup last season is under immense pressure to bring home some hardware this season.
The team hosts Valencia FC, one of the most successful Spanish clubs along with FC Barcelona and Real Madrid. The club has recently been injury ridden. David Albeda will be sitting out the match in Munich, as will, who has a broken arm. In addition is under observation in Peru, after a blow to the head.
FC Bayern should be in good form. Bayern's coach rested Frank Ribery and Arjen van Robben during this weekend's Bundesliga matchday 3 game.
Bayern has a strong cadre, with new acquisitions like Javi Martinez, Mario Mandzukic and Xerdan Schaquiri. Manuel Neuer is arguably one of the best keepers in the world and Bayern's defensive cadre of Phillip Lahm, Jerome Boateng, the Brizilian Dante,, and Contento can lock up to rear to any attacker.
Thomas Mueller, Tony Kroos, Luiz Gustavo andround out a strong midfield along with the talents of an and Frank Ribery.
Bayern should have its intial game against Valencia locked up, however there are always surprises in soccer. The FC Bayern fans expect nothing but the best and certainly don't want a repeat of last year's Champions League final against Chelsea.
Tuesday, Sept. 18
Olympiacos vs Schalke 04
Borussia Dortmund vs Ajax Amsterdam
Wednesday, Sept. 19
FC Bayern Muenchen vs Vanlencia FC