UEFA Champions League Preview: Big clash in Lisbon, while Juventus need a win

WHILE Real Madrid president Florentino Pérez claims there are too many inconsequential matches, the Champions League group phase pushes ahead with matchday three. Matches that look quite appetising can be found right across Europe, from London to Leipzig to Lisbon.  

Chelsea – AC Milan

These two teams have only met five times in the past, dating back to 1965-66. Three of the five games have ended in draws, but in March 1966, after a Fairs’ Cup play-off, Chelsea went through on the toss of a coin – a quirky and unsatisfactory way to end a major European tie. Chelsea secured their first win under Graham Potter at the weekend, beating Crystal Palace away by 2-1. These are early days for the former Brighton manager as well as the new ownership regime at the club, but there are signs that the spending spree initiated by Todd Boehly is not over – they appear to be on the verge of agreeing a deal for RB Leipzig’s Christopher Nkunku. AC Milan are currently in third place in Serie A and recently lost at home to league leaders Napoli. They travel to Stamford Bridge with an injury-hit squad with the likes of Simon Kjaer, Divock Origi, Theo Hernandez and Mike Maignan missing.

RB Salzburg – Dinamo Zagreb

Two of the most dominant teams in their domestic football meet in Salzburg. Predictably, Red Bull Salzburg are top of the Austrian Bundesliga, two points ahead of Sturm Graz. They are unbeaten so far in the Champions League having drawn their games with AC Milan and Chelsea. Salzburg, the club that sold Erling Haaland to Borussia Dortmund, have other young stars in the making – they claim their 19 year-old Slovenian forward, Benjamin Šeško could be the best striker they have ever had. He has netted five goals in 14 games so far this season. Salzburg were held 1-1 at the weekend by Linzer ASK and have now drawn their last two games. Dinamo Zagreb, champions of Croatia for 16 of the past 17 years, are unbeaten this season in the league and are 11 points clear of second-placed Hajduk Split.  After beating Chelsea 1-0 in their opening Champions League fixture, with a goal from in-form striker Mislav Oršič, they were beaten 3-1 by AC Milan.

RB Leipzig – Celtic

Leipzig have had a difficult start to the season but there were more positive signs when they beat Bochum 4-0 at the weekend with two goals apiece from Timo Werner and Christopher Nkunku. Under new manager Marcus Rose, they have won two of their three Bundesliga games, but the club’s Champions League record needs to improve quickly – they have lost to both Shakhtar Donestsk and Real Madrid. Celtic are two points clear of Rangers at the top of the Scottish Premiership and have lost just once. One player who has caught the eye is Liel Abada, the 20 year-old Israeli international who has scored six goals in 10 league and cup games. Abada may miss the Leipzig game due to a Jewish holiday, but Japanese striker Kyogo Furuhashi looks to be in form, scoring seven goals in the Premiership despite some concerns over his fitness.

Real Madrid – Shakhtar Donetsk

While Real Madrid’s president continues to call for change in European football, his club remain the dominant force in the existing Champions League format. Real lost their 100% La Liga record at the weekend, drawing 1-1 at home to Osasuna. This meant they also relinquished their top spot to Barcelona. Change is coming at Real, though, as a cluster of their most experienced players, which includes Benzema, Modric, Kroos and Asensio, come to the end of their contracts soon. Real will be without goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois for an extended period due to injury, giving Andriy Lunin the opportunity to stake claim for a regular place. Shakhtar Donetsk, gallantly and defiantly playing on as war rages at home, are top of the Ukrainian Premier League, winning four of their five games. They won 6-1 against Metalist at the weekend, with 21 year-old Danylo Sikan netting a hat-trick. They started their Champions League campaign well, winning 4-1 in Leipzig and drawing 1-1 with Celtic.

Manchester City – FC Copenhagen

FCK must be dreading their trip to the Etihad Stadium to face Manchester City and 17-goal Erling Haaland. City’s 6-3 victory against Manchester United flattered Erik ten Hag’s side but also underlined the sheer power of the home team and their extraordinary striker. City’s pursuit of the Champions League is gathering momentum, with two victories, including that 4-0 win in Seville. They have a 100% home record and have scored four or more goals in five of their six games at the Etihad. FC Copenhagen’s season has been less convincing and they have lost six of their 11 Danish Superliga fixtures. Their last Champions League tie was a dull 0-0 draw with Sevilla. They would undoubtedly breathe a sigh of relief if Pep Guardiola decides to rest one or two of his big names.

Sevilla – Borussia Dortmund

Sevilla’s season took another blow last weekend with a 2-0 home defeat at the hands of Atlético Madrid. Media reports suggested that their coach, Julen Lopetegui, could be on the verge of the sack, but equally, there are stories that he could be on Wolverhampton Wanderers’ list as a replacement for Bruno Lage, who was dismissed after their game at West Ham. Sevilla have won just one game this season and have yet to score in the Champions League. Dortmund’s form has fluctuated and they were beaten for the third time in the Bundesliga at Köln in their last game. Midfielder Jude Bellingham, who captained Dortmund against Köln, is being targeted by both Liverpool and Real Madrid as the battle for his signature looks set to dominate summer transfer talk. Bellingham has been one of Dortmund’s most reliable performers, but generally, they need more consistency.

Benfica – Paris Saint-Germain

Benfica have had a great start to 2022-23 at home and in Europe. They lost their 100% record in the Portuguese Primeira, a 0-0 draw with Vitória de Guimarães, but they remain top of the table, three points in front of Porto. They have won both of their Champions League games, notably a 2-1 success at Juventus. As ever, Benfica’s players are being eyed by clubs around Europe, with 21 year-old Gonçalo Ramos and Enzo Fernández attracting attention from Premier League and La Liga clubs. Benfica have a tough task against star-studded PSG, who have won 10 of their 11 games this season. Managing a squad of high maintenance players comes with problems, however, and Christoph Galtier has had to deal with some friction between certain squad members. However, PSG’s big three of Neymar, Mbappe and Messi are scoring goals, with Neymar leading the way with 10. This tie is certainly one of the most intriguing of matchday three.

Juventus – Maccabi Haifa

Amid calls for coach Max Allegri to be sacked – he needed a police escort after his side lost to Monza – Juventus gained some respite from their lack lustre start to 2022-23 with a 3-0 win against Bologna. Juve have only lost once in Serie A, but they have drawn four of their eight games. In the Champions League, they have lost against PSG and Benfica and desperately need to get some points if they are to keep in contention for knockout stage qualification. They may have to face Israeli league leaders, Maccabi Haifa, without the in-form Arek Milik, the Polish international on loan from Marseille, who has to shrug off an injury if he is to play. Maccabi Haifa prepared for their trip to Turin with a 2-0 victory against Maccabi Tel Aviv.

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.