Champions League preview: Ronaldo, Messi to make new-team debuts and four other Matchday 1 storylines

The UEFA Champions League is back starting Tuesday with the group stage kicking off all across Europe. Thirty-two teams remain in the competition with eight groups of four, and it’s expected to be one of the most highly anticipated editions of the competition with new faces in new places, recent champions looking for another run to the final and more.

Ahead of Tuesday’s slate, here are five storylines, and don’t forget you can see every UCL game live on Paramount+. 

1. Ronaldo, Messi looking for fast starts 

Who would have thought the 2021-22 UCL could start and not one but both Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi would change clubs? Ronaldo departed Juventus for his former home of Manchester United, while Messi is getting a taste of life outside of Barcelona with the superstar-filled Paris Saint-Germain. 

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On one side, you have Ronaldo who left a wannabe contender in Juve for United, and his addition could potentially make a big enough impact for them to get to the final. Add to that the fact that Paul Pogba is playing his best ball for the team and Raphael Varane now leads the defense, is it finally time to say, after all these years, that Manchester United is back? No, it isn’t the time, but the potential is there.

As for PSG and Messi, it’s title or bust. It’s been like that for years for PSG, but when you add all the talent that they did to a team already viewed as a favorite, the pressure is on to deliver. 

2. There’s a new Sheriff in town

Welcome to the Champions League, FC Sheriff Tiraspol. What’s so great about this competition is the opportunity for teams to get a taste of UCL for the first time, and this 24-year-old club from Moldova becomes the country’s first team to play in the competition.

That’s right, Moldova. You know, that Eastern European country that’s barely bigger than Maryland. They play in a stadium that is smaller than some of the high school football stadiums in the United States, seating just under 13,000, and there is likely no way you’ve heard of any player on their team. But that unfamiliarity from the outside also means that within the squad there is an excitement to make a name for themselves and a belief, while also no amount of fear. They’ve got nothing to lose going up against Inter Milan, Real Madrid and, on Wednesday, Shakhtar Donetsk. If they get a draw or a win in this group stage, expect them to celebrate it as if they won the tournament. It means that much.

They will host Shakhtar on Wednesday at 12:45 p.m. ET.

3. Two giants meet again

Normally a Barcelona vs. Bayern Munich match would feel like a titanic affair between two contenders, but these are two clubs heading in the opposite directions, really for the last few years now. Barca have lost their best player in history in Messi, other key contributors like Antoine Griezmann, and they seem like, at most, a quarterfinal team that takes advantage of an easy draw in the knockout stage. 

On the other side, you’ve got one of the favorites to win it all and a team that beat Barca, with Messi and Luis Suarez, 8-2 just a couple of seasons ago. 

This one has a chance to also register a hideous, one-sided scoreline. Let’s see what Barca are made of. This game will tell us plenty. Kickoff is set for 3 p.m. ET on Tuesday.

4. It’s not getting any easier for Marsch

That Jesse Marsch honeymoon at RB Leipzig may soon be over. That’s not to say he is going to get sacked soon, but the positive vibes of his appointment are starting to fade with three losses from four to start the Bundesliga season. Now, it’s tricky when you just sell your best players to Bayern Munich, but this is still a talent-rich squad that should be playing better. They’ve managed to score multiple goals in just one out of four league games so far, and Andre Silva can’t find any consistency with no goals during the run of play and just one penalty kick. 

Next up, Manchester City on Wednesday. Good luck with that.

5. If you have to watch one match … 

If you have to watch one match, I would say go with Liverpool vs. AC Milan. These are two historic giants and they are the two teams with the most UCL titles all time not named Real Madrid. Both clubs enter undefeated in league play and looking quite sharp. While Liverpool have the better team overall, Milan are no pushovers with Zlatan Ibrahimovic still playing well and a solid base in the squad that their fans hope can at some point contribute to their return to the top. Milan just beat red-hot Lazio 2-0 over the weekend and enter having conceded just one goal in three league games. 

Liverpool vs. Milan is on Wednesday at 3 p.m. ET.

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