The UEFA Champions League group stage draw saw reigning Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich placed in Group E alongside Portugal’s Benfica, the Netherlands’ Ajax and Greek outfit AEK Athens.
Like Bayern, Benfica and Ajax are two names synonymous with European football’s elite club competition, while AEK represent a new foe for the Bavarians.
With the first group fixture to be played on 19 September, we at bundesliga.com have put together some essential reading ahead of Bayern’s pursuit of Champions League glory with a rundown of their Group E rivals.
The two-time European Cup winners have emerged from two qualifying rounds to feature in this year’s group stage after finishing as runners-up to Porto in Primera Liga last season. Victories over Turkish side Fenerbahce and PAOK from Greece have interspersed three league games in a packed start to the season that has seen Benfica go unbeaten in seven games across all competitions.
The sides last met in the quarter-finals of the 2015/16 edition of the Champions League, when Bayern booked their place in the semis thanks to a 1-0 win at the Allianz Arena that followed a 2-2 draw in Lisbon. Renato Sanches was with Benfica at the time and this fixture will throw up the prospect of a trip back to the club where the young Portuguese midfielder started his career.
Key player – Eduardo Salvio
The Argentine winger has been chief mischief maker at Benfica ever since joining from Atletico Madrid six years ago. Quick, intelligent and highly skilful, Salvio is at his best one-on-one with defenders and will need to be watched carefully as he floats across Benfica’s front line, drifting between Bayern’s midfield and defence. With a real eye for goal and immense vision, Salvio will pose a real threat and will be watched carefully by Corentin Tolisso and Co.
Key to the games
While Benfica will certainly pose a threat going forward, their defence can be somewhat leaky, with a youthful back-line an area Bayern will look to exploit. The likes of highly talented trio Ruben Dias, Alex Grimaldo and German goalkeeper Odisseas Vlachodimos are all under the age of 24 and will face a stern test up against Bayern’s potent attack, spearheaded by Robert Lewandowski.
Another team dripping with success across the continent, Ajax have three European Cups and one Champions League to their name, with their last trophy coming in 1995. That year they beat Bayern in the semi-finals.
The two teams have met eight times in the competition but haven’t faced each other since the group stages of the 2004/05 season. A Roy Makaay hat-trick saw Bayern romp to a resounding 4-0 win on home soil, while the return in Amsterdam ended up 2-2. This year’s group games will be the ninth and tenth instalments in the rivalry which, to date, is level at three wins apiece and two draws from their eight meetings.
Key player – Klaas-Jan Huntelaar
A familiar face to many Bundesliga football fans, Huntelaar was a goal machine for Schalke between 2010 and 2017, scoring 126 times in 240 matches. Encouragingly for Bayern, the Dutchman never scored against the Bavarians in eight appearances, but he has delivered in the Champions League many times and boasts 54 goals in 93 European games. He'll be itching to break that duck against the group favourites.
Key to the games
At the business end of the pitch, Bayern have two players who will be licking their lips at the prospect of facing Ajax. Lewandowski and Arjen Robben tend to make hay against the Amsterdam outfit, with the Pole scoring three times in two Champions League games against Ajax and Robben registering three goals and three assists in eight matches against them.
Having dethroned Olympiakos to claim a first Super League title in 24 years last season, AEK Athens return to the Champions League after a 12-year absence. Victories over the respective champions of Scotland and Hungary in Celtic and Vidi have ensured AEK’s progress to the group stages.
The two meetings between AEK and Bayern will mark the first time the two sides have played each other in their history. Expect an assault of the senses in the form of an incredible atmosphere for both ties.
Key player – Ezequiel Ponce
The Argentine forward is at AEK on a season-long loan from Roma where he is held in high regard by his Serie A parent club. The 21-year-old is physical and will look to prove a nuisance for the Bayern back four. He will need to make the most of any fleeting moments in front of goal, if AEK are to cause any kind of upset.
Key to the games
It is highly likely that AEK - especially at the Allianz Arena - will look to frustrate Bayern, relying on the counter to pose an attacking threat. If this is the case, Bayern will require enormous patience. There will be a need for their midfielders to shift possession quickly to drag AEK out of position to create space between the lines, and hope their forwards can pick holes in what promises to be a deep, well-drilled and stubborn AEK defence.