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MATCHDAY: Tough start for Bayern’s Champions League defence

Bayern Munich’s title defence begins with a tough game against Atlético Madrid. Their recent meetings have been close, each winning 1-0 at home in the group stage of the 2016-17 competition, while Atlético progressed on away goals from their semifinal the season before. The Spanish side has been boosted by the arrival of Luis Sua´rez from Barcelona. He scored twice on his debut in a 6-1 win over Granada. Bayern is on an 11-game winning run in the Champions League, but slipped to a 4-1 loss at Hoffenheim in the Bundesliga on Sept. 27, bringing an end to its 32-game unbeaten run across all competitions. Bayern coach Hansi Flick has complained about his team’s busy schedule, one reason the club reacted with the signings of Leroy Sane´, Marc Roca, Douglas Costa, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting and Bouna Sarr. The club also has a new backup for goalkeeper Manuel Neuer in Alexander Nu¨bel, while defender Tanguy Nianzou was not included in its Champions League squad. No fans will be present for the game due to the high number of coronavirus cases in the Bavarian capital. Salzburg hosts Lokomotiv Moscow in the other group game.

GROUP B

After being unable to get past the round of 16 in the past two seasons, 13-time winner Real Madrid begins its campaign against Shakhtar Donetsk in a game that will be played at its training centre and without fans because of a surge in coronavirus cases in Spain. Madrid’s Santiago Bernabéu Stadium remains under renovation so the team will keep playing at the 6,000-capacity Alfredo Di Stéfano Stadium. It was at the Di Stéfano that Madrid suffered its first loss of the season on Saturday — 1-0 against promoted Cádiz in the Spanish league. In the group’s other match, Inter Milan hosts Borussia Mönchengladbach for the former heavyweights’ first meeting in more than 40 years. The German side overcame Inter on its way to winning the UEFA Cup in 1979. Gladbach hopes to do better on its third appearance in the Champions League group stages after early exits in 2015 and 2016, and will be looking for a strong start on coach Marco Rose’s debut in the competition.

GROUP C

Manchester City begins its latest bid to become European champion for the first time with a home match against Porto and manager Pep Guardiola still coming to grips with an injury-hit squad. Kevin De Bruyne, Aymeric Laporte and Benjamin Mendy are the latest players sidelined, while striker Gabriel Jesus will be sidelined for “months,“ Guardiola said at the weekend. A gritty 1-0 win over Arsenal over the weekend showed another side to City after some inconsistent displays so far this season — including a 5-2 thrashing by Leicester — and Portugal centre back Ruben Dias already looks to be a signing to shore up the defence. Porto is back in the Champions League after missing out last season for the first time in 10 years. Marseille, the only French winner of the Champions League — back in 1993 — is in the group stage for the first time in seven seasons and begins away to Olympiakos.

GROUP D

Liverpool has something of a defensive crisis heading into an away match at Ajaxe. Being without injured goalkeeper Alisson Becker for a few weeks pales in comparison to the seismic blow of losing centre back Virgil van Dijk for months — and perhaps the rest of the season — after he damaged cruciate ligaments in his right knee on Saturday. Attack may now prove to be the best form of defence for Liverpool, a six-time European champion who last won the title in 2019 — the year Ajax reached the semifinals. That team has been ripped apart since, with Donny van de Beek and Hakim Ziyech among the latest players to depart in the most recent off-season. High-scoring Atalanta plays group-stage newcomer FC Midtjylland in the other game and is coming off a remarkable quarterfinal appearance last season. The Italian team had a terrible performance in a 4-1 loss at Napoli over the weekend. Midtjylland has risen to the top of Danish soccer, and is in the Champions League group stage for the first time, thanks to a data-driven and stats-based approach the club takes when it comes to signings and tactics.
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