Both Atletico Madrid and Benfica disappointed at last year's UEFA Champions League. Atletico, fresh off a runner-up finish in 2013 2014, bowed out of the tournament in the quarterfinals, losing to the same team that had beaten them to the title the year before. Benfica, meanwhile, finished at the bottom of their group, only managing two goals and one win out of their six matches. In light of those disappointing outcomes, fans of both football clubs had plenty to be happy about on Tuesday, September 15th. That day marked the start of the Champions League 2015 - 2016 Group C, and both Atletico Madrid and Benfica had strong starts.

Year-to-Date Improvements

Last fall, both teams kicked off the UCL on the completely wrong foot. Atletico Madrid lost 3-2 in an away
match against Greece's Olympiacos-easily one of the most surprising events of the competition. The Mattress Makers would go undefeated for the rest of their group stage run but the loss was a sour start to what would turn into a disappointing tournament for the soccer club.

This year, the Mattress Makers were determined to kick things off in a stronger fashion. They were playing as the away team once again, this time at Galatasaray's Turk Telecom Arena in Istanbul. Other than that similarity, though, there was no comparison between this match and Atletico's tournament opener against Olympiacos last fall. A year ago, Madrid were two points down just a half hour into their match with Olympiacos. On September 15th, they were the ones two points up by the 30-minute mark.

The clear man of the match was Antoine Griezmann, who scored two goals in the first 25 minutes to almost singlehandedly give Atletico Madrid the victory. Galatasaray played better in the second half and kept the Mattress Makers from adding to their lead. However, Griezmann's early-match footwork was enough to carry Atletico to three points in the first game of the Champions League group stage.

Benfica enjoyed a similar improvement over their first group stage match from last fall. A year ago, the Portuguese football club lost 0-2 in their first UCL match, stumbling at home against Zenit Saint Petersburg. This year, Benfica gave home audiences a reason to cheer, beating Kazakhstan's FC Astana 2-0 with a pair of solid goals in the second half.

Early Predictions

After game one, UCL Group C is a string of ties. Atletico Madrid and Benfica are tied at the top of the
group, with three points and +2 goal difference ratings, respectively. Galatasaray and Astana, meanwhile, are at the bottom of the group, with zero points and -2 GD.

Group C is one of the most difficult groups in this year's tournament to predict, simply because Benfica and Galatasaray seem more or less evenly matched as soccer teams. Both exited the 2014 2015 Champions League after finishing at the bottom of their groups, and neither could be considered a global football powerhouse.

As a result, the October 21st match-up between Galatasaray (H) and Benfica (A) has to be seen as the key fixture from Group A. It will likely come down to head-to-head fixtures to determine which of these squads progresses to the round of 16 and which does not. Both clubs should be able to beat Astana handily, and both will likely lose (or at best, draw) their matches with Atletico Madrid. As a result, the outcome of the October 21st match should be seen as the truest indicator of which football club is strong.

As for the next games on the schedule-set to take place on September 30th-we have pretty clear-cut predictions for those. The Mattress Makers will don the Atletico Madrid home jersey 2015 2016 to take on Benfica at Vicente Calderon and we don't expect they will lose. Astana, meanwhile, will host Galatasaray for what might be their best chance at a win in the entire group stage. Galatasaray, though, will likely prevail.

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