Group D is not, as many say, this year’s Champions League Group of Death. In fact, this group is the Champions League itself as the title winners of Spain, England, Netherlands and Germany all meet in the initial phase of the competition.
Real Madrid, who are paired with Ajax for the third time in a row in the group stage, are considered heavy favourites to progress in first place in this group. Jose Mourinho’s men strolled through this stage last season with a perfect record but are locked in the toughest group they have faced for a long time.
Los Blancos approach the opening game of the competition in poor form as they have collected just four points from as many games in La Liga but one cannot neglect the wealth of attacking potency the Spanish giants have in their squad with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Gonzalo Higuain, Mesut Ozil, Sami Khedira and Xabi Alonso all capable of destroying any team.
Mourinho has won the competition with Porto and Inter and after last season’s semi-final defeat to Bayern Munich, he is hoping to rally his side and clinch his third and the club’s tenth European Cup.
Manchester City are the team in best shape to challenge Madrid to first place as they reach the Champions League for the second successive time following one of the biggest spending sprees in the history of football. Roberto Mancini’s side who have quickly risen to prominence over the past few years are desperate to show their worth on the continental stage by upsetting the most successful team in the competition.
The Citizens crashed out of the group stage last season and anything less than progress to the knockout round will be considered a massive failure by Mancini and his team. Their matches against Real Madrid are by far the more luxurious of the group but Mancini will be stressing the importance of not underestimating Ajax and Borussia Dortmund to his players to ensure they progress.
Ajax are competing in their third successive group stage campaign but the Amsterdam giants have not reached the last 16 since 2005-06. The Eredivisie champions looked to have secured qualification to the next round last season but were left frustrated when they had two crucial goals incorrectly chalked off against Real Madrid whilst Lyon beat Dinamo Zagreb 7-1 to scrape through on goal difference.
Frank de Boer’s men will be hoping to improve on last term’s inspiring run out and will be hoping to get something from Madrid whom they will be meeting for the fifth and sixth consecutive time in the competition.
Ajax have a very young side at their disposal and lost captain Jan Vertonghen and star right-back Gregory van der Wiel in the summer but there is still a lot of talent in their ranks in the shape of Siem de Jong, Christian Eriksen, Jody Lukoki, Tobias Sana and Lasse Schone whilst Ryan Babel has returned to his old stomping ground. De Boer will be hoping to shock the world by pipping Borussia Dortmund and Manchester City to second place.
Borussia Dortmund will be desperate to avoid another embarrassing Champions League campaign after dropping out of last season’s competition with just four points. BVB struggled to juggle domestic and European competition last season but will feel last term’s humiliation will have given the exciting young team invaluable experience to take into this campaign.
Coach Jurgen Klopp has kept the majority of his side together for another year which will bode well for them as they look to get off to a good start against Ajax tonight. Star midfielder Shinji Kagawa was the only key player to leave the Westfalenstadion as he joined Manchester United but Klopp has replaced him superbly with Marco Reus from Borussia Monchengladbach.
The Bundesliga side will feel worthy of a place in this group and will be optimistic about creating some trouble for their opponents and could be in with a shout of squeezing into the next round.