Bayern Munich, Manchester City meet again in Champions League; Roma hosts CSKA Moscow

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MUNICH — Bayern Munich has reached at least the semifinals in each of its last three Champions League appearances. With the 2014-15 final taking place in Berlin, the German powerhouse has added incentive to go for its second title in three years.

Bayern kicks off its campaign at home Wednesday against familiar rival Manchester City, as the sides meet for the third time in four seasons.

City ended the Bundesliga side's competition record 10-game winning run when they met for their final group game last December, albeit with Bayern already through to the second round, and each has two wins and two losses from their previous meetings.

Wednesday's game could have a big say in which side wins Group E, with Roma and CSKA Moscow also in the mix. They meet at the same time at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome.

Here are some things to know about the group:


BUILDING STEAM

Bayern has made a solid start to the season despite a host of injuries and the loss of dependable midfielder Toni Kroos to Real Madrid.

Experienced Spain midfielder Xabi Alonso has come in the opposite direction and earned glowing reports after making an immediate impact.

Former Borussia Dortmund striker Robert Lewandowski, one of Europe's finest, has not quite yet settled in, though he has still managed one goal and set up three more in five appearances for his new side.

Bayern also brought in Moroccan defender Mehdi Benatia, though it is youngsters Sebastian Rode and the 17-year-old Gianluca Gaudino who have impressed early in the season.

Midfielders Javi Martinez, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Thiago Alcantara are all out with knee injuries, but French winger Franck Ribery has returned and scored in Bayern's 2-0 Bundesliga win over Stuttgart on Saturday.


EURO PUSH

Manchester City's claims to become a major force in Europe will only stand up once the club goes deep in the Champions League.

And manager Manuel Pellegrini believes this could be the season.

"I think this team has a greater personality to try to win everywhere," Pellegrini said ahead of City's fourth straight season in the competition.

City has only once progressed out of its group — and that was last season when it lost in the second round to Barcelona. It's a poor record for a team that has been champion of England for two of the last three seasons and has star names throughout its squad.

City fielded a string of fringe players for last season's match at Bayern — and won 3-2. Pellegrini is sure to pick his top players this time.

However, Argentina defender Pablo Zabaleta is suspended following his red card in last season's loss to Barcelona, and Pellegrini has a touchline ban.


RELISHING RETURN

Confidence is running high at Roma as the capital club prepares for a return to the Champions League after an absence of four years.

Roma has undergone a remarkable transformation since Rudi Garcia became coach in 2013 and the side emerged as serious title challengers to Juventus.

Not only did it set a league record by winning its opening 10 matches last season, but Roma went on to finish with a club-record 85 points, second behind Juventus.

It's a vast improvement considering the club failed to qualify for even the Europa League in the previous two campaigns.

Following an off-season of shrewd signings, Roma again looks set to be Juventus' closest challenger domestically. The side opened the league campaign with two wins from two, without conceding a goal, and fans are relishing a return to Europe's elite.

"We're very focused on this return to Champions League football," Garcia said. "The fans are really looking forward to it and we are, too. Let's hope we get off on the right foot."


READY TO MIX

CSKA is looking for improvement on last year's poor showing in the Champions League. The Russian club lost all three away games, to Bayern, City and Viktoria Plzen, while the club's record against Italian sides also leaves room for improvement — five wins from 14 games.

However, CSKA won on both of its last trips to Italy, 2-1 at Inter Milan in the 2011-12 group stage and 3-0 at Palermo in the 2010-11 Europa League.

The side made its best start to a season since 2002 with four straight wins, and is currently third after seven games of the Russian league, behind Moscow rival Spartak and leader Zenit St. Petersburg.

Israel midfielder Bibras Natkho has five goals in four appearances since joining CSKA. But coach Leonid Slutski will have to do without Alan Dzagoev and Pontus Wernbloom, who begin three-game suspensions, while Rasmus Elm and Georgi Schennikov have yet to play this season because of stomach and ankle problems, respectively.

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