UEFA Champions League Preview: Potter kicks off his Chelsea career

THE SECOND Champions League matchday includes some more interesting pairings, notably Chelsea’s first game under new manager Graham Potter. Elsewhere, Manchester City’s force of nature, Erling Haaland comes face to face with his old club, Dortmund and Rangers host the Serie A leaders Napoli. After Zagreb’s win against Chelsea, can the Croatians pull off another shock in Milan?

Rangers – Napoli

Rangers and Napoli couldn’t have had more conflicting results in their first Champions League group games, Rangers losing 4-0 at Ajax while Napoli thrashed Liverpool by 4-1. Napoli are top of Serie A and are unbeaten in their six games. They won 1-0 at home to Spezia at the weekend. The talk of Naples at the moment is 21 year-old Georgian Khvicha Kvarsatskhelia, who has made a startling impact since joining the club. The Georgian is being tipped to become a big star in the near future. Rangers, meanwhile, are still smarting after two 4-0 defeats in a matter of days, against Celtic and Ajax. Giovanni von Bronckhorst upset a few people when he said millions of pounds of investment are needed to compete in the Champions League, but he was speaking the truth.

AC Milan – Dinamo Zagreb

Milan will be wary of Dinamo after the Croatian champions beat Chelsea 1-0 in Zagreb. But there is no shortage of confidence at Milan, they are reigning Serie A champions and they are unbeaten so far this season. Milan beat Sampdoria in Genoa at the weekend, with Olivier Giroud scoring the winning goal, but another forward, Divock Origi, has struggled since arriving at the club and has been labelled the summer’s worst signing in the league. Zagreb are also unbeaten still in their league and have scored 28 goals in nine games.

Chelsea – Red Bull Salzburg

Graham Potter makes his bow as Chelsea manager as the blues attempt to put that 1-0 defeat in Zagreb behind them. Much will be expected of Potter but Salzburg will be difficult opponents. One of their stand-out players, Noah Okafor, a 22 year-old Swiss, is attracting a lot of attention, notably from Leeds United. Chelsea will be looking to gain an advantage over Salzburg in the group and anything other than three points will be unacceptable, but nobody is quite sure how the first Potter Chelsea XI will line-up. They will certainly need to perform far better than they did in Zagreb.

Shakhtar Donetsk – Celtic

Celtic travel to Warsaw to play Shakhtar Donetsk in the Polish Army Stadium. Shakhtar have started their league campaign and have won three of their four games and are joint top of the Ukrainian Premier League. Shakhtar pulled off a shock 4-1 win against RB Leipzig in the first round of group games, but the home side appeared to be in turmoil and sacked their coach the next day. Celtic have a 100% record in the Scottish Premiership and gave Real Madrid a difficult first half before conceding three second half goals in Glasgow.

Real Madrid – RB Leipzig

Real have started the season very well and won their first Champions League game against Celtic by 3-0. They have a 100% record in La Liga and lead the table with Barcelona two points behind. They won 4-1 against Mallorca at the weekend with striker Karim Benzema suffering from an injury he picked up against Celtic. He looks set to miss the game with Leipzig, who are recovering after a disastrous week in which they lost 4-0 at Frankfurt and 4-1 at home to Shakhtar. They sacked coach Domenico Tedesco and have since appointed Marco Rose.

FC Copenhagen – Sevilla

FCK continue to mystify their fans with their inconsistency this season. After nine games, they are in mid-table in the Danish Superliga and have lost five games. They were beaten in Dortmund in their first Champions League game and their fans were subject to an attack from a masked group wielding pyrotechnics. Coach Jess Thorup is under some pressure now and admits performances have fluctuated but must improve: “We have to be honest with ourselves,” he said. It might be hard to get much out of Sevilla, who have problems of their own, but they secured their first win against Espanyol in the last round of La Liga matches.

Manchester City – Borussia Dortmund

Two of the clubs involved in the astonishing Erling Haaland story meet at the Etihad, with the striker hoping to add to his 12 goals for Manchester City since he joined in the summer. Haaland left Dortmund, where he cemented his reputation with some outstanding displays and goals in the Champions League. City are currently second in the Premier League but are unbeaten after six games. Draws against Newcastle and Aston Villa show that Pep Guardiola’s team are not invincible, but these are early days for his new-look side. Dortmund have a problem scoring goals since Haaland’s departure and have netted just eight in six games in the Bundesliga.

Juventus – Benfica

This is a clash right out of “old Europe”  but it still has enormous appeal today. Juventus are having some trouble winning games, although nobody has beaten them in Serie A. Juve have drawn four of their six games and they lost their opening group game in Paris. Coach Max Allegri has been criticised for his somewhat negative approach this season. Benfica have a 100% record in the Portuguese Primera and started their Champions League campaign with a 2-0 win against Maccabi Haifa. As usual, they have players that others want to sign, the latest target is 21 year-old Argentinian Enzo Fenandez.

Maccabi Haifa – Paris Saint-Germain

Maccabi have to deal with a PSG front line that will probably include Lionel Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappé, a daunting task. PSG are top of Ligue 1, but level on points with Marseille. They won their first Champions League game of the season, beating Juventus 2-1. Maccabi, current leaders of the Israeli Premier League, lost 2-0 in Lisbon to Benfica. It is difficult to see anything other than a healthy win for PSG.

UEFA Champions League preview: Tricky games for some, opportunities for others

AS USUAL, the Champions League provides a string of appetising fixtures as the group stage begins. The competition is loved by many, despised in equal numbers and tolerated by the rest, but it cannot be denied it makes for compelling viewing at times.

Dinamo Zagreb – Chelsea

Chelsea have had an indifferent start to the season and they could have had an easier first game, even though they will be favourites to come away from Zagreb with three points. Dinamo have dominated Croatian football for most of the 21st century and have won 16 titles in 17 years. The club is also renowned for their fanatical support, notably the Bad Blue Boys who will give the travelling Chelsea fans an uncomfortable evening in the Croatian capital. Chelsea have been busy in the transfer market and have spent around £ 260 million. Dinamo will do well to avoid defeat against Thomas Tuchel’s developing but inconsistent side, but they won’t lack confidence.

Red Bull Salzburg – AC Milan

Salzburg are getting used to being involved in the group stage and last season reached the last 16. Milan, Champions League royalty, had a tough group in their first Champions League season in a while in 2021-22, but the club is regaining its confidence and won Serie A last season for the first time since 2011. Milan are unbeaten this season and won the first derby of 2022-23 when they beat Inter 3-2. Salzburg have lost one of their seven Austrian Bundesliga games but are back on top of the table and are aiming for their 10th consecutive title.

Celtic – Real Madrid

In days gone by, this would have been a classic tie. Two clubs who have been European champions, the latter on multiple occasions. Nevertheless, although Celtic are not the force of 1967, they are Scotland’s champions and looking formidable, as evidenced by their 4-0 win over Rangers. Real have had a relatively quiet summer, although signed Antonio Rüdiger from Chelsea but they’re already on top of La Liga with a 100% record after four games. Real, the holders, have developed the habit of winning the competition even when they don’t seem to have the strongest team, so they will be in contention once more.

RB Leipzig – Shakhtar Donetsk

Shakhtar are regulars at this stage of the Champions League, but the war in Ukraine will undoubtedly hamper their chances of progress. They’ve only just restarted playing football in Ukraine and Shakhtar are unbeaten in three games and yet to concede a goal. Leipzig were beaten 4-0 by Eintracht Frankfurt in their most recent Bundesliga game and they haven’t started the season well, with just one win. They did make progress in the DFB Pokal, though, beating Teutonia Ottensen 8-0 in the first round. Leipzig bought back their former striker Timo Werner from Chelsea and he has scored four times.

Borussia Dortmund – FC Copenhagen

Dortmund should have been sitting top of the Bundesliga with a 100% record, but they lost one of their five games thanks to a late capitulation at home to Bremen. They were 2-0 ahead but conceded three goals from the 89th minute. Having sold Erling Haaland to Manchester City, Dortmund signed Ajax’s Sebastien Haller for € 31 million in the summer, but sadly he has been sidelined with testicular cancer. FC Copenhagen have had a clumsy start to the Danish Superliga campaign, losing four of their eight games, including two at home. However, they won through to the group stage for the first time since 2016 after beating Turkey’s Trabzonspor in the play-off round.

Sevilla – Manchester City

Manchester City, the Premier League champions, embark on another attempt to win the one trophy that has eluded Pep Guardiola since he joined the club. His team was strengthened in the summer with the signing of Erling Haaland, who has scored 10 goals in six games. Sevilla have yet to win a game in La Liga and were beaten at home 3-0 by Barcelona in their last fixture. They have scored just three goals. In 2021-22, they finished fourth in the league and reached the last 16 of the Europa League.

Benfica – Maccabi Haifa

Benfica, who last won the Portuguese Primeira Liga in 2019, have started the new season well and have won all five of their league games. As ever, the club has shown its skill in the player trading market and sold Darwin Núñez to Liverpool for € 75 million. The next star to attract a big fee could be 21 year-old striker Gonçalo Ramos, who has netted six goals this season. Maccabi Haifa have already played six games in the competition, beating Red Star Belgrade in the play-off round. Benfica overcame Midtjylland FC and Dynamo Kyiv to reach the groups.

Paris Saint-Germain – Juventus

Another cracking tie between in-form Paris Saint-Germain and strangely out-of-sorts Juventus, whose performances have lacked some inspiration and invention. PSG’s embarrassment of riches has yielded plenty of goals, an average of four per game in Ligue 1. Neymar appears to have found his form with nine goals and Kylian Mbappé has netted seven. Juventus have lacked goals but they have conceded just two in Serie A. They may be unbeaten, but they have drawn three of their five games. Juve signed a number of new players, including Polish striker Arkadiusz Milik on loan from Marseille, Paul Pogba from Manchester United and Angel Di Maria from PSG. Pogba was injured in July and is yet to appear in a competitive fixture.