Champions League

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Man United center of attention

Schaerlaeckens: Champions League game of the week
Schaerlaeckens: Champions League game of the week
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Jamie Trecker

Jamie Trecker is the Senior Editor for FOXSoccer.com. A working journalist for 25 years, he covers the Champions League, European soccer and the world game. Follow him on Twitter.

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The Champions League kicks back off with a bang on Tuesday, as David Moyes takes Manchester United into his first full top-flight European campaign with a meeting against German powerhouses Bayer Leverkusen (live, FOX Sports 1, Tuesday, 2 p.m. ET).

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Tuesday’s full card boasts a series of intriguing matchups with rising Spaniards Real Sociedad taking on a tough Shakhtar Donetsk (live, FOX Soccer 2Go, Tuesday, 2 p.m. ET); a bulked-up Galatasaray faces Gareth Bale and Real Madrid (live, FOX Soccer 2Go, Tuesday, 2 p.m. ET); and a potential banana skin looms for Bayern Munich as they host CSKA Moscow (live, FOX Soccer 2Go, Tuesday, 2 p.m. ET)

Giants Manchester City, PSG and Juventus are all also in action as Europe’s grandest club competition continues exclusively on FOX. All Champions League games are carried live across the FOX family of networks and streamed live via FOX Soccer 2Go.

But all eyes will be on Manchester United and their new manager. This is a major step up for Moyes, who saw his only prior Champions League campaign end in the qualifying rounds to Villarreal back in 2005. Ironically, the man who cut Everton’s glory short then, Manuel Pellegrini, is now in charge of United’s crosstown rival, Manchester City. That lack of European experience was also a bone of contention when Moyes was hired by United, a team that in certain ways, is bigger than the league in which it plays.

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Moyes is off to a shaky start: he endured a dismal transfer window, seeing several key targets elude him despite United’s glamor and money. He watched his team stumble at Anfield, losing 1-0 to hated archrivals Liverpool. United are uncharacteristically out of the Premier League’s top four at the moment by virtue of goal-difference. While many fans are preaching patience, it is clear that this United side is not what it once was. Some are wondering if the wily Sir Alex Ferguson might have left at just the right time.

What hurts United is the lack of a genuine midfield playmaker. Against top-flight opposition, the Red Devils have looked static and out of ideas. Wayne Rooney, the subject of one of the summer’s longer-running soaps, seems to finally be back in the fold, but question marks still hang over the striker’s long-term commitment to the club. But United’s wins this season have come over lesser opposition: Lowly Crystal Palace and struggling Swansea. Against big teams, they are winless, playing Chelsea to a scoreless draw and losing away at Liverpool.

The Leverkusen side they face has to be taken seriously. They currently sit third in the Bundesliga, but may be the year’s breakout team. Sidney Sam and Lars Bender have ably steered Leverkusen’s midfield, and striker Stefan Kiessling is off to a flying start. Leverkusen have yet to tangle with any of the big dogs this season in Germany, but their lone hiccup came against fellow Champions League side Schalke, hardly a minnow.

This is not an easy group for United, either. While they will enter as the favorites in the minds of many English fans, the fact is that while they have remained largely static, other teams have improved. Tuesday will see if Moyes and his charges can rise to the occasion – or whether this may be a short stay in Europe for one of the world’s proudest teams.

Galatasaray’s clash with Real Madrid is the other match of the day that deserves close attention. The Turks have bulked up, with Didier Drogba and Wesley Sneijder lining up alongside Felipe Melo, Hamit Altintop and in front of the interesting, if erratic, keeper Fernando Muslera. They are off to a soggy start in the SuperLig, with three draws, but will take heart from last season’s quarterfinal thriller against this same Madrid side. Fans will recall how Galatasaray fought back after a disastrous 3-0 first leg blowout to come agonizingly close to pulling off a major upset. Cristiano Ronaldo was Madrid’s savior then, scoring the critical goals in Istanbul to carry the Spanish giants forward.

This year may well be different. Like the Turks, Real have bulked up with the purchase of the world’s most expensive player in Bale. But his debut was spoiled by a resurgent Yellow Submarine, as Villarreal held Madrid Saturday to a 2-2 draw. Barcelona and Atletico have both surged out to huge early leads in La Liga, and Carlo Ancelotti will have to find some way to close the gap between his team and their free-scoring rivals.

Bayern Munich are arguably the best team in the world right now, and the defending champs look set to get out of Group D with relative ease. But their meeting against CSKA Moscow is a potential trap. The Russians have been powering through their domestic league and boast some serious talent in Japanese star Keisuke Honda, forward Ahmed Musa and top-quality keeper Igor Akinfeev.

Does that mean that CSKA can handle a team so stocked with talent that the likes of Mario Goetze are left fighting for minutes? Probably not. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t watch and find out.

The Champions League rolls on Wednesday as the two Groups of Death take their bows, as Arsenal face Marseille on the road, while Napoli and Borussia Dortmund clash in Group F; while the former winners in Group H all tangle as Barcelona host Ajax and AC Milan welcome Celtic.

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