Group C consists of teams which have undergone massive changes over the past year or two. Last season, AC Milan would be expected to top this group with relative ease with the strength of their squad compared to that of their opponents. However, the Rossoneri have since lost star defender Thiago Silva and top scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic, whilst Russian side Zenit St Petersburg have invested heavily in their team with Hulk and Axel Witsel joining for massive transfer fees from Porto and Benfica, respectively.
Milan have failed to replace the outgoing superstars of Ibra and Silva and Massimiliano Allegri’s side have since lost two of their first three league matches. The Italian giants may be struggling domestically this season, however, they have a tendency of doing well in the Champions league. Allegri’s men were quarter-finalists in 2011-12 and are competing in the group stage for the tenth time in 11 seasons and have not failed to progress past the group stage since 1999-2000.
With Hulk and Witsel slotting in alongside the likes of Bruno Alves, Aleksandr Kerzhakov, Igor Denisov, Nicolas Lombaerts and Domenico Criscito, Zenit St Petersburg will fancy their chances of challenging for top spot in Group C.
The Russian champions have ambitions of reaching the final of this competition and, although this year is a bit premature for the Gazprom owned club, they will be hoping to at least squeeze past the initial stages of the competition as they have done in the last two seasons.
Petrovsky Stadium will be crucial to Zenit’s Champions League campaign as it always has been a very difficult place for even the biggest of European sides with their heaviest home defeat in the tournament being a narrow 2-1 defeat at the hands of Real Madrid.
Malaga are competing in the Champions League for the first time ever this season but the club isn’t in the financial position it hoped to be when its ambitions of playing at the highest level were announced. The money of Sheikh Abdullah Al-Thani has since disappeared and Manuel Pellegrini’s side has undergone a complete clearout as the club looks to settle its debts. Nevertheless, Pellegrini has brought the best out of his young, threadbare side having picked up three wins from their first four matches in La Liga this season. Whether Los Boquerones can juggle European competition with their domestic duties remains to be seen, however, and progressing past this stage would be something of a miracle for the Andalusia side considering the resources (or lack thereof) they have.
Anderlecht have finally made it to the group stages of the Champions League after four successive qualifying failures. John van den Brom’s side just scraped through from the playoffs thanks to two late goals from Dieumerci Mbokani and Oleksandr Yakovenko to prevent them from a shock exit at the hands of AEL Limassol.
The Belgian champions have not reached the last 16 since 2000-01 and, although they have a very talented side at their disposal, their campaign has been struck by disaster as Matías Suárez, Belgian Player of the Year last season, is not in the Champions League squad after being ruled out until later in the year following knee surgery.