Champions League Round Two Preview

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Sport has always moved fast and never more so than now, meaning there is no time at all for sorting out any issues from matchday one as we charge into the second set of fixtures just six days on from the first.

Group A

Which leads us conveniently on to Atlético Madrid. After being hammered by the imperious Bayern last week, they’ll be looking to bounce back against RB Salzburg, who remain a slight unknown quantity in their post-Haaland and Minamino days, having started with a 2-2 draw in one of those Champions League ties nobody really pays much attention to against Lokomotiv Moscow. One thing we do know about the Austrian side from their recent European exploits is that they won’t necessarily be settling for a point at the Metropolitano, which could make them a threat to an Atleti who were quite hopeless at the Allianz last week. Those of us who have always loved Simeone’s sides dogged faith in their defensive approach in the face of those far better equipped than themselves couldn’t help but be disheartened by the seeming ease with which they were brushed aside by the European champions. Atleti must improve, and must win, against a Salzburg side who will fancy a shock. Bayern’s trip to Moscow hardly feels as if it needs discussion: Hansi Flick’s men expect to defend this title.

Group B

Group B looked interesting from the outset, and Shakhtar have made it even more so. Real Madrid, fresh from what they will hope will be a tide-turning success at Barcelona and buoyed by the return of football’s marmite man Sergio Ramos, know they must follow it up away to Borussia Mönchengladbach. Marco Rose’s side, however, have reasons of their own to have renewed optimism about their campaign. After an inconsistent start, the Fohlenelf’s opening point away to Inter Milan, backed up by success at Mainz on Saturday, suggest a potential upturn in fortunes. Inter will also feel a need for three points in Ukraine having rescued that draw with Gladbach in their opener in what is a wide-open group, blighted by apparent defensive frailty.

Group C

Manchester City have been far from their best in recent games but had enough to survive an early scare against Porto in their group opener. Saturday’s display at West Ham was especially uninspiring and saw Sergio Aguero ruled out once again, this time with a muscle injury that will keep him out for the next month. They travel to Marseille for the sort of occasion the French side have been dreaming of during their six-year absence from the competition and they will likely suffer without a near 70,000 crowd in the perennially hostile Velodrome. The hosts are heavily dependent on Florian Thauvin and Dimitri Payet and will set up to be difficult to break down, as they did in their historic, and somewhat eventful, success away to fierce rivals PSG in September’s Classique. City should take three more points towards a comfortable top spot finish.

Group D

Liverpool’s win in Amsterdam seemed significant. After the humiliation at Aston Villa and a far more difficult derby day at Goodison than the Reds have become used to, a 1-0 away win, in which they were able to survive a spell of Ajax pressure to relatively comfortably see out the success, was surely just what Jürgen Klopp’s men needed. Liverpool’s opponents Midtjylland, of Denmark, should pose little challenge at Anfield. Elsewhere, Atalanta have marked themselves out as favourites to join Liverpool in the last 16 with last week’s 4-0 win over the Danes, and should be too good for Ajax, who disappointed last week. Their approach is first rate entertainment, and it is worth keeping one eye on events in northern Italy ahead of what could be a cracker when Liverpool visit next week. It would be rude not to mention what Ajax got up to at the weekend, as they put 13 (yes, thirteen) past VVV Venlo in the Eredivisie, but to say the goalkeeping and defending were questionable would be being polite. Tonight’s clash is huge for the side from Amsterdam.

Group E

Group E was not the place to look for entertainment on matchday one. Édouard Mendy shone at the Bridge in Chelsea’s 0-0 draw with a Sevilla side who were always going to be prickly customers, shown by their remarkable Europa League triumph last term, while his old teammates Rennes were held to a point at home to Russian side Krasnodar. Playing in the early slot on Wednesday, the Blues have a chance to lay out their intentions and make the first move in what has started out as a cagey group as they head east to face Krasnodar. Rennes’ trip to the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan could be interesting, as two sides who will fancy a rare, or in Rennes’ case unprecedented, foray into the knockout stages of Europe’s elite competition face off.

Group F

We’re at the stage now where it would jut seem wrong for Borussia Dortmund not to be incompetent at the back. Lazio thoroughly exposed Lucien Favre’s side’s delicacies in Rome last week, although a comfortable canter past Schalke is always a good tonic for those on the Yellow Wall. This week, Zenit travel to the Signal Iduna, arriving off the back of last gasp heartbreak at home to Club Brugge last week, in what felt like a deciding moment in the race for the Europa League slot in a group that should be a formality for Dortmund and Lazio. The impressive Italian side, led as ever by seemingly unstoppable marksman Ciro Immobile, will expect a result in Belgium, while Erling Haaland will be hoping to continue his recent form in what is his favourite competition.

Group G

The one the whole world has been waiting for. Dynamo Kiev against Ferencváros. No? Well unfortunately we may get a slight anti-climax in Turin, with Cristiano Ronaldo’s involvement in what is surely the tie of the group stage still in doubt due to his recent Covid-19 quarantine. Juventus are reportedly optimistic, at time of writing, that the great man will feature and it is impossible to imagine why any neutral wouldn’t want to see both he and Lionel Messi grace the same field once more in the greatest club competition in the world. Aside from the last dance of the game’s greats, this is a clash of two clubs in difficult patches. Andrea Pirlo’s Juve haven’t entirely hit the ground running, epitomised by a 1-1 draw with Hellas Verona at the weekend, and the aforementioned Clásico defeat has added to pressure on new Barca coach Ronald Koeman and has brought further attention to the form of Lionel Messi. It all makes this one tough to call and given that Juventus are involved it seems fair to expect a low scoring affair. And if Ronaldo doesn’t make it, it may be that one of our final opportunities to see 21st century football’s defining symbols, players and rivals will come on one of football’s truly great stages: the Camp Nou on the 8th December for top spot.

Group H

Manchester United love a trip to Paris, don’t they? While last week’s late win may not take an entirely equal position alongside the last 16 miracle in the French capital 18 months earlier, it was certainly unexpected from a United side still carrying the scars of unceremonious home defeats to Crystal Palace and Tottenham. Saturday’s 0-0 draw with Chelsea was a game that could take the wind out of anyone unfortunate enough to have sat through its sails, so Wednesday’s visit of RB Leipzig is interestingly poised. Former City left back Angelino was amongst the goals as the group’s almost-certain-to-be bottom side, Istanbul Baseksehir, were put away last week, and the Bundesliga league leaders have been busy showing anyone thinking that post-Timo Werner Leipzig will pose no threat that they are probably quite wrong. Nagelsmann’s high octane approach will be problematic if United show any of the sluggishness displayed at times this term. On the plus side, if United can prevail, six points from six without even getting to play the Turkish side would have them sitting very pretty indeed.

Image: Valery Parkhomenko via Flickr

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