Gareth Bale will make his first Champions League appearance for more than two years tonight if selected for Real Madrid’s tricky looking visit to Galatasaray.
It was during Tottenham’s Champions League campaign in 2010-11 that Bale made his name on the international stage, scoring a memorable hat-trick against Internazionale at San Siro.
Bale, of course, is now at Madrid and scored on his debut on Saturday, as his side drew 2-2 at Villarreal. Real begin their Champions League campaign in Turkey and it will not be easy. Pressure for success is constant at the Bernabeu, especially after a summer in which they have spent €160m (£135m) on Bale, Isco and Asier Illarramendi.
Carlo Ancelotti’s side will have to start well. They have Juventus in their group and so cannot afford to drop too many points to Galatasaray. The Turkish team have Champions League winners Didier Drogba and Wesley Sneijder in their ranks and reached the quarter-finals last year, where they were beaten 5-3 by Madrid over two legs. In the other game in the group, Copenhagen – coached by former Wolves manager Stale Solbakken – host Antonio Conte’s Juventus.
After two consecutive Serie A titles, and the summer signings of Carlos Tevez and Fernando Llorente, Juventus should make a serious impression in Europe this year. They drew 1-1 at Inter on Saturday.
Bayern Munich begin their defence of the Champions League tonight with a home game against CSKA Moscow. They have started well enough since Pep Guardiola replaced Jupp Heynckes, but are currently two points behind Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga and after a lacklustre 2-0 home win over Hannover on Saturday, director of sport Matthias Sammer criticised his own players. “We are playing lethargically at times, playing football without any emotion and just going through the motions,” Sammer said.
The other game in Manchester United’s group is between Real Sociedad and Shakhtar Donetsk in San Sebastian.
Shakhtar were excellent last season, reaching the last 16 – where they lost 5-2 on aggregate to Dortmund – but they have had another summer of change. Fernandinho, Razvan Rat and Henrikh Mkhitaryan have all left, with another set of talented young South Americans stepping in, including Atletico Mineiro creator Bernard and Internacional’s Fred.
In Group C, big-spending Paris Saint-Germain travel to Olympiakos, while in the other game Benfica, who lost the Europa League final to Chelsea in May, host the Belgians Anderlecht.