UEFA Champions League Preview: Vital games for Tottenham, Inter, Liverpool

THE THIRD matchday of the group stage sees some crucial games as the halfway stage is reached. Some clubs cannot afford another slip-up if they are to maintain an interest in the competition.

Ajax – Napoli

There couldn’t be a more challenging time for Ajax to play host to Napoli. The Italian side are top of Serie A and have started their Champions League campaign impressively. Napoli continued their good league form with a 3-1 home win against Torino. Kvicha Kvaratskhelia continues to win plaudits and scored one of the goals, the other two came from Andre Frank Zambo Anguissa. Napoli have maximum points from their first two Champions League games, a 4-1 trouncing of Liverpool and 3-0 victory in Glasgow against Rangers. Ajax have not been at their absolute best on the domestic front and have lost and drawn their last two Eredivisie games and are in second place, behind Alkmaar.

Liverpool – Rangers

Liverpool are still not clicking properly – they drew 3-3 at home to Brighton leading up to this game and are way off the pace in the title race. Although the Reds were close to winning, manager Jürgen Klopp said Liverpool didn’t deserve to secure all three points. Liverpool have only lost one game, but four draws in seven games may prove costly as they chase the likes of Manchester City. Liverpool bounced back from their mauling in Naples to win their second Champions League game against Ajax and will be looking to add another three points to their challenge. Rangers are looking out of their depth in the competition and have conceded seven goals in two games against Ajax and Napoli. In the Scottish Premiership, they won 4-0 at the weekend against Hearts with Antonio Colak scoring twice. They trail Celtic at the top of the table by two points.

Bruges – Atlético Madrid

Despite winning 3-0 against Mechelen in their last league game, Club Brugge are five points behind leaders Antwerp. They have been going well in Europe, though, and won 4-0 in Porto in what was something of a shock result. They have a 100% record in the Champions League. Atléti won 2-0 at Sevilla in their most recent La Liga game, with goals from Alvaro Morata and Marcos Llorente. At the moment, coach Diego Simeone is only using Antoine Griezmann sparingly because of contractual issues around his loan spell from Barcelona. Will he risk not using the Frenchman for the whole game rather than rolling him out for his usual half hour?

Porto – Bayer Leverkusen

Leverkusen’s season of woe continues with a 4-0 defeat at Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich. The club is enduring its worst ever start to a league campaign. Gerardo Seoane’s team are now in the relegation zone and pressure may be starting to build on the coach.  One of Leverkusen’s rising stars, Piero Hincapié, is now on the shopping list of a few Premier League clubs. Porto, meanwhile are behind Benfica and Braga in the Portuguese Primeira but beat Braga 4-1 to suggest they are finding their form once more.

Inter Milan – Barcelona

It’s hit or miss for Inter this season, with four wins and four defeats in their eight Serie A games. Barca, by contrast, have surprised most people with their consistency. Inter lost their most recent game 2-1 at home to Roma, meaning they are now eight points behind leaders Napoli. Inter’s fans are losing faith with their on-loan striker Romelu Lukaku, who looks like he might be heading back to his employer, Chelsea. Other Inter players, such as Alessandro Bastoni, Nicolò Barella and Lautaro Martínez are being eyed by a number of clubs, notably Liverpool.  Barca won 1-0 in Mallorca thanks to another goal from Robert Lewandowski. They’ve still only conceded one goal in La Liga this season.

Marseille – Sporting

Marseille remain unbeaten in Ligue 1 and are chasing PSG all the way. The two sides meet on October 16. Marseille seem to be in some turmoil, with rumours about a takeover and the supposed resignation of owner Frank McCourt from the club’s supervisory board. On the pitch, they have lost both of their Champions League games. Sporting, on the other hand, have won both of theirs against Tottenham and Frankfurt and they have demonstrated their fitness by scoring all their goals in the second half. One player who has caught the eye this season is winger Marcus Edwards, who started his senior career with Tottenham. In the league, Sporting have lost three of their eight games. There have been some rumblings about Cristiano Ronaldo ending his playing days with his old club, but that may seem some way off at the moment.

Bayern Munich – Viktoria Plzn

Bayern have been in the midst of their worst run in years, but they bounced back with a 4-0 win against Leverkusen in Munich. People started to talk about crisis, but Bayern have too much strength to linger too long in the doldrums and they are still coming to terms with losing their talismanic striker, Lewandowski. However, they have Sane, Mane and the rapidly emerging Jamal Musiala, who scored one and made two. They are still the leading scorers in the Bundesliga and nobody has conceded fewer goals. Crisis? Not really. Viktoria Plzn are four points clear at the top of the Czech First League after a 1-1 draw with Bohemians in Prague. They are the only unbeaten side in the league.

Eintracht Frankfurt – Tottenham Hotspur

Frankfurt beat Bundesliga leaders Union Berlin 2-0 to move into the top six. Their goals came from World Cup matchwinner Mario Götze and the much-coveted Jesper Lindstrom, a 22 year-old Danish international. They will be up against a Tottenham side who were comfortably beaten in the North London Derby 3-1. As usual, there is talk of coach Antonio Conte leaving, notably to Juventus, but Conte dismisses the rumours and calls them disrespectful. Spurs have started the season well and the loss at the Emirates was their first of the Premier campaign, but Conte will surely be concerned at his team’s performance.

UEFA Champions League Preview: Liverpool need bounce back, Bayern and Barca clash in Munich

THE SECOND matchday has some attractive games over the two evenings and the pressure is starting to build for some clubs who realise that a second defeat could make qualification for the last 16 very challenging.

Liverpool – Ajax

Liverpool have probably been chomping at the bit after losing 4-1 in Naples a week ago. That defeat triggered off a lot of soul-searching among some fans who wondered if Liverpool have peaked and in need of rebuilding. That may be the case and certainly, Jürgen Klopp’s team is clearly having a difficult start to the season. Moreover, Mohammed Salah looks a little jaded and has scored only three times, which hardly sounds like a major crisis. Liverpool have had injuries and they failed to strengthen their midfield, an area where they look under-strength. As for Ajax, they trounced Rangers in their first group game 4-0 and have only conceded three goals in their six league games. A visit to Anfield is daunting for any team, but Ajax should be full of confidence.

Bayer Leverkusen – Atlético Madrid

Leverkusen lost their first group game in Bruges and have been struggling in the Bundesliga, although they gained a 2-2 draw at Hertha Berlin at the weekend. They finished third in the Bundesliga last season, but they are currently 17th in the league table. Atlético are starting to hit decent form and won 4-1 at home to Celta Vigo, a few days after their dramatic win over Porto in the Champions League. Atléti took the lead in the 91st minute but Porto levelled after 96 minutes. The Portuguese side barely had time to celebrate when Antoine Griezmann cropped up to score the winner in the 11th minute of added time.

FC Porto – Club Brugge

This is a vital game for Porto, who need to gain an advantage over their Belgian opponents if they are to compete for a place in the knockout phase. Both teams are currently in third place in their respective domestic leagues and have both lost one game. Porto, who won 3-0 against Chaves last weekend, are chasing their traditional rivals Benfica and Braga. Brugge are five points behind league leaders Antwerp. Porto will be hoping to get back on track after that defeat in Madrid.

Viktoria Plzn – Inter Milan

Both teams lost their first group game, Plzn on the end of a 5-1 drubbing in Barcelona while Bayern Munich won 2-0 in Milan to remind Inter they still have some way to go to compete with the elite clubs. Inter will be hoping to make some ground up, but Plzn are difficult at home. They are second in the Czech League after beating Sigma away by 3-2 – they remain unbeaten in 2022-23. Inter, who are up for sale and are said to be close to a € 1.2 billion deal, won 1-0 at the weekend against Torino with an 89th minute goal from Brozović. They have lost two games in Serie A this season and have been largely unconvincing in their league games so far.

Bayern Munich – Barcelona

This is one of the games of the second matchday and may go some way towards deciding who wins the group. Barcelona have had an excellent start to the season, lifting the gloom that descended upon the Camp Nou in 2021-22. Barca have rebuilt their team and have won four of their five games, scoring 15 goals and conceding just one. Robert Lewandowski, who will come face-to-face with his old club, has settled in well and is the top scorer in La Liga. Already it is clear that Barca will be competing for the title. Bayern are unbeaten, but they have drawn their last three Bundesliga games. They sit in third place behind Union Berlin and Freiburg, a situation that is unlikely to continue.

Sporting Lisbon – Tottenham Hotspur

Sporting haven’t had the best of starts in the Portuguese Primera, losing two of their six games, including a 3-0 defeat in Porto. But they had an excellent victory in the first Champions League group game, winning 3-0 in Frankfurt. Some of their fans may have breathed a sigh of relief that their highly-rated manager Rúben Amorim wasn’t snapped up by a bigger club, notably when Chelsea sacked Thomas Tuchel. Amorim’s still there and Sporting are building their reputation in Europe and will make it difficult for Tottenham on their own ground. The Spurs have started well and won their first group game 2-0 against Marseille at home. They are still unbeaten in the league.

Marseille – Eintracht Frankfurt

After winning the Europa League last season, Frankfurt fans might have expected a better start to their season, including their long awaited return to the premier competition. They were well beaten by Sporting Lisbon in matchday one and they are already under some pressure. In the Bundesliga, Frankfurt are mid-table material at the moment. They were beaten 1-0 at home by Wolfsburg, another setback at the Deutsche Bank Park. Marseille are in good form, although they lost to Spurs, but in the league they are unbeaten and are on the same number of points as Paris Saint-Germain.