Holders Barcelona begin title defense at Roma

Paris, September 15

Champions Barcelona begin their bid to become the first side since AC Milan in 1990 to retain Europe’s premier club trophy away to Roma, while faltering Chelsea host Israelis Maccabi Tel Aviv on the second day of the opening round of Champions League matches.

Bayer Leverkusen and BATE Borisov meet for the first time in their opening Champions League Group E fixture at the BayArena. Leverkusen, who reached the round of 16 last season, advanced to the group stage following a 3-1 aggregate play-off win over Lazio. Difficult to break down on their home ground, Roger Schmidt’s side have won five of their last six home fixtures in Europe, and conceded just two goals in their last 12 homes matches.

Lionel Messi-powered Barcelona open their title defence in Rome’s Stadio Olimpico as they bid to become the first team since AC Milan in 1989 and 1990 to win back-to-back titles.

The Spaniards arrive at the former club of coach Luis Enrique buoyed by a hard-fought 2-1 victory at Atletico Madrid in which Messi came off the bench to score the winner to keep their perfect start to the La Liga season at the weekend. No team has ever retained the European Cup in the UEFA Champions League era but Enrique will be looking to get off to a strong start at the club he managed in 2011-2012.

Dinamo are on a 15-game winless run in the Champions League, failing to make it out of the group stage in four attempts. The Croatian champions came up against Arsenal in the third qualifying round in 2006-07, losing 5-1 on aggregate to the Premier League giants. Dinamo have found goals hard to come by, mustering only four in their last dozen group outings. Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger says his side, sitting fourth in the league, need to find the right balance between “urgency and confidence” in Zagreb. Theo Walcott is set to once again be deployed as a central striker rather than in his more usual role as a winger.

With their defence of the Premier League title already in turmoil after three defeats in their first five matches, Chelsea kick off their European campaign hoping for a morale-boosting victory over a Maccabi Tel-Aviv team returning to the competition after a 10-year absence. Condemned to a disappointing Champions League last 16 exit by Paris Saint Germain last season, the west Londoners, reeling after Saturday’s 3-1 loss at Everton, will be facing Maccabi for the first time in a competitive fixture, although there are a couple of familiar faces at the Israeli club.

The omens are not good for Zenit in a match that sees two Portuguese former colleagues lead their sides into battle. Valencia’s Nuno and Andre Villas-Boas of Zenit worked together under Jose Mourinho in their Porto days when the former was a reserve goalkeeper and the latter a coach. Nuno leads Valencia back into the Champions League after a two-year absence against a side that have lost every time they’ve played in Spain. Valencia have four wins and a draw form their home matches against Russian outfits.