Thursday afternoon’s Champions League draw pits Real Madrid in Group A against current Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain, one-time UEFA Cup winners Shakhtar Donetsk and Allsvenskan champions Malmö FF, who are coincidentally Zlatan Ibrahimović’s childhood club.
While Real Madrid may consider themselves lucky in avoiding some of the more stern opposition and ending up in a ‘Group of Death’, they will nonetheless need to pick up maximum points in an attempt at finishing first in their group and evading the potentially more complicated ties later on in the competition.
Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo stated that while their group stage rivals are strong teams, Real Madrid are "out to win the Champions League". "We all say that our group is difficult, but this time it is the truth," said Emilio Butragueño, former Real Madrid star and current director of Public Relations at the club. Indeed, the fight for first place in Group A will be worth watching.
The Parisian club have conquered Ligue 1 for two seasons running and look favourites to maintain as champions this year. It is the first time that Real Madrid will face Zlatan and co.’s team in the newest edition of the Champions League, with some close and intense matches surely to be played.
Many Madridistas will be awaiting the return of Ángel Di María to the Bernabéu, where he dazzled fans throughout his four-year spell at the club. No fan will forget his all-too memorable display against Atlético de Madrid in the 2014 Champions League Final, rightfully earning him the Man of the Match award.
Los Blancos will have to put in an effective defensive performance against the highly-talented forward line of PSG, which includes Zlatan, Cavani, Di María and Lucas Moura. Offensively, Madrid will have their work cut out for them, with the PSG backline including Thiago Silva, David Luiz, Layvin Kurzawa and Serge Aurier. Kevin Trapp, PSG’s newest goalkeeper signing from Eintracht Frankfurt, has also displaced Sirigu, a previously indisputable starter. It is however PSG’s midfield which Madrid must be cautious with. A potentially starting midfield trio including Blaise Matuidi, Marco Verratti and Ángel Di María is not only balanced, but also technically brilliant.
PSG put in a memorable performance in last year’s Round of 16 second leg against Chelsea, where David Luiz scored late on in the game to take the match to extra time, only for Thiago Silva to score a 114’ minute goal shortly after an Eden Hazard penalty, leading the French side to the Quarter finals on aggregate.
This will surely be Madrid’s most complicated matchup, as the French club are hungry for European success after seemingly having their domestic business sorted out. Also, don’t be surprised to see Ibrahimović score a golazo – it’s his thing.
A tricky trip to Ukraine surely awaits Los Blancos, but the Spanish side should nevertheless record a victory, in what should be a relatively straightforward tie. The Ukrainian club has been troubled due to the conflicts which have devastated Ukraine for the past couple of years. While their ambition and competitiveness are to be respected, Real Madrid should comfortably pick up all six points against the Donetsk-based side.
Had Real Madrid been playing Shakhtar a year or two ago, the situation would have been different. Mircea Lucescu’s side have lost the Brazilian trio of Douglas Costa, Luiz Adriano and Fernando throughout the summer. Douglas Costa, incidentally, has been one of Bayern Munich’s top performers and looks set to become a future star.
Still, the Ukrainian side will feature players with experience against top European sides. Darijo Srna, the club’s captain and right back, has been one of Shakhtar’s top performers throughout the last couple of seasons, and has on several occasions turned the heads of larger European clubs. Eduardo, a former Arsenal player, will also be keen on contributing with his experience and goal scoring abilities, after having returned to Shakhtar this summer.
Alex Teixera and Bernard may surprise Real Madrid should they drop their guard, as they are two players with the potential to change a game. Rumoured to leave throughout the summer alongside their compatriots, the two Brazilians stayed put at the Ukrainian club and will surely be looking to impress in an attempt at possibly seeking a move in the near future.
While this matchup has the potential to become complicated, Los Blancos will surely see off the Ukrainian club with relative ease, as they struggle to find form due to their country’s geopolitical troubles.
The ambitious Swedish club have reached the Champions League group stages for the second year in a row, after having recently defeated Celtic in the playoffs. While the club led by Åge Hareide will most likely be battling it out for an Europa League spot against Shakhtar, they may surprise the other two giants in the group.
Markus Rosenborg, the club’s star, will be filled with confidence when facing Real Madrid, a team which he has already played against while at Racing Santander. The 32-year-old Swedish striker is accustomed to top European opposition, having also plied his trade for Werder Bremen, Ajax and most recently West Bromwich Albion. Having scored seven goals in last season’s edition of the UCL, the senior striker will be looking to cause mayhem among the group.
Still, expect the Swedish side to finish last in the group stage. Having only picked up three points in last year’s group stage and suffering a heavy 5-0 defeat against Atlético de Madrid in the process, it would take a memorable performance from the side to put one over Benítez’s men.