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UEFA Champions League Games to Watch: Matchday 1

As the European seasons get under way, the best teams of last season will start their quest in the 2023-2024 UEFA Champions League.  The road to Wembley starts Tuesday afternoon, and with all of the teams set, it is sure to be a thrilling slate of games this week.  With plenty of stories to watch out for, here are some of the biggest stories and best games to be watching on Matchday 1.

Andrew Evans: 

Bayern Munich vs Manchester United - GROUP A

Wednesday, September 20th - 12pm MST. Allianz Arena, Munich

Manchester United playing at the Allianz Arena on Wednesday against Bayern Munich is one of the most intriguing matchups. Both teams carry a huge brand and fanbase, so a lot of coverage and attention will be going towards this game. However, on the pitch, these sides appear to be moving in opposite directions. Manchester United have been off to a rocky start this year, most recently coming off of a 3-1 home loss to Brighton. Marcus Rashford is a world class offensive talent, but there is a huge lack of creativity and presence in Eric Ten Hag’s counter-pressing system. The team lacks players that fit their identity, and it has shown in their rocky start. Bayern, on the other hand, are one of the big favorites to win this tournament. New addition Harry Kane gives them a true elite 9, something they’ve been missing since Robert Lewandoski’s departure. Jamal Musiala is an elite young midfielder, while Matthijs De Ligt, Alphonso Davies, and Dayot Upemacano form an elite back three. The concern around Bayern is their performance since their late season hire of Thomas Tuchel last year. There was a significant drop off in quality, shown in their UCL exit last year to Manchester City.  Both of these sides have a lot of questions surrounding them, and this will be a great test to see where each side will be trending throughout the 2023-2024 campaign.

Jake Iovine: 

AC Milan vs Newcastle United - GROUP F

Tuesday, September 19th - 9:45 am MST. San Siro, Milan

For the first time since the 2002/2003 season, Newcastle United are back in the Champions League group stage as they travel to face seven-time Champions League winners A.C. Milan.

Since the hiring of Eddie Howe in November 2021, Newcastle has been one of the most exciting teams in England. Howe’s team finished 4th place with 71 points last season, qualifying them for the Champions League group stage for the first time in over 20 years. 

The Magpies have been drawn into Group F, featuring A.C. Milan, Paris Saint-Germain, and Borussia Dortmund, which has been dubbed the “Group of Death”. Returning to Milan for the first time is Italian midfielder Sandro Tonali, who made the move to northern England in the summer. Tonali has been a Milan fan since a young child, and helped the Rossoneri win its first Serie A title since 2011.

Milan are fresh off a humiliating 5-1 derby loss to Inter Milan, which was its fifth straight loss to its city rivals in 2023. Stefano Pioli’s side made the semi finals of the Champions League last season, falling to Inter over two legs 3-0.

Despite the derby loss, Milan have started the campaign positively, winning three of its first four games in Serie A. Summer signings Christian Pulisic, Samuel Chukwueze, and Tijani Reijnders have helped the Rossoneri midfield and attack, after losing Tonali to Newcastle for over $70,000,000. 

The match will be one of two games kickoff at 9:45 am MST on Tuesday. In the Group of Death, both teams want to start off their Champions League campaign with a win on Tuesday evening, which will have a brilliant atmosphere in Milan.

Noah Chavez:

Arsenal vs PSV Eindhoven - GROUP B

Wednesday, September 20th - 12pm MST. Emirates Stadium, London

It has been a few years since both of these sides have seen Champions League action, with Arsenal getting knocked out in the Round of 16 in the 2016/17 edition, and PSV not making it past the group phase in 2018/19.  However, both these teams are currenty in great form and doing well in league play.  Arsenal sit in 4th place in the Premier League, winning four out of their first five games, their only blemish being a 2-2 draw to Fulham.  PSV, however, have been just as good, beating up on some of the bottom of the table teams in the Eredivise, and winning all 4 of their games while sitting on top of the table.  

Heading into Wednesday’s clash, both teams come in with a bit of turmoil within their most recent games, which is sure to heighten the stakes for both teams.  In PSV’s most recent contest, U.S. Men’s National Team striker Ricardo Pepi and Mexican international Chucky Lozano had a visible disagreement over who should take a penalty, with Pepi winning out and scoring his first league goal for the club.  Many fans in the stadium jeered and booed after the American took the ball from the beloved Lozano, but after the game, PSV head coach Peter Bosz made it clear that Pepi should have been the one to take the kick.  He also stated that all has been resolved and made clear between the two, so that surely a connection to watch between the two international rivals in the upcoming match.  As for Arsenal, they started off their return from the recent international break with a change in goal, swapping out normal starter Aaron Ramsdale for former Brentford keeper David Raya.  Arsenal skipper Mikel Arteta downplayed the swap, saying that a rotation of goalkeepers is to be expected more this season, and admitting that he did not have the courage to swap out Ramsdale last season during their runner up finish in the Premier League.  Many fans and pundits were caught off guard by the decision, questioning the move by Arteta, but with Ramsdale expected to return to the starting 11 for this game, the pressure is on for him to keep a clean sheet, just as Raya did on Sunday.

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