Champions League battles set for kick-off

Frenkie de Jong and Memphis Depay are among Barcelona's key men for their clash with Bayern Munich.
Frenkie de Jong and Memphis Depay are among Barcelona's key men for their clash with Bayern Munich.

The Champions League group stage kicks off for another season on Tuesday evening with several highly-anticipated games, including a heavyweight clash between Barcelona and Bayern Munich.

Champions Chelsea will begin their title defence when they welcome Zenit St. Petersburg to Stamford Bridge while Cristiano Ronaldo is set to play in a record-equalling 177th game in the competition when Manchester United tackle Swiss champions Young Boys.

Barca's ability to compete in Europe without Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann will be put to the test when they hosts the team that dealt the Catalans their most humiliating defeat in recent memory.

The 8-2 shellacking Bayern dished out in the 2020 Champions League quarter-finals marked the beginning of the end of the Messi era at the Camp Nou.

Coach Ronald Koeman now relying on the likes of fellow Dutchman Memphis Depay, who has made a promising start to his Barca career, and Spanish starlet Pedri to revive their fortunes.

Bayern goal machine Robert Lewandowski travels to Spain after recovering from a groin problem and should lead an attack that has scored 13 goals in four Bundesliga games this season.

Ronaldo's first Champions League game for the Red Devils since losing the 2009 final to Barcelona will be on the only plastic pitch in the competition - at the Wankdorf Stadium in Bern.

If the Portuguese superstar does take the field as expected - after his two-goal haul in his return match for United in the league on the weekend - he will join former Real Madrid teammate on 177 appearances in the Champions League.

Villarreal, in their return to the Champions League after 10 years, host Serie A side Atalanta.

The Spanish club returned to Europe's elite competition by defeating Manchester United in the Europa League final last season.

Chelsea are unbeaten in the league this season and will be overwhelming favourites to overcome Ukrainian champions Zenit at home - with striker Romelu Lukaku in ominous goal scoring form after his move back to London.

Juventus are struggling without Ronaldo as they prepare to face Malmo, but the trip to Sweden could be just the tonic the Bianconeri need to snap out of their early-season slumber.

Matchday one action also features Dynamo Kyiv's clash with Benfica, Sevilla hosting Salzburg and Wolfsburg's trip to Lille.

Australian Associated Press