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.

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.