A look at what’s going on in the Champions League on Wednesday:
Have a thought for the defense of Club Brugge as it faces the offensive armada of Paris Saint-Germain made up of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe. The superstars could start together for the first time since Messi arrived from Barcelona last month. Messi warmed up with a hat trick for Argentina in World Cup qualifying last week, passing Pelé and scoring 79 goals. While PSG coach Mauricio Pochettino has no worries in attack, he has a big decision to make in goal between new recruit Gianluigi Donnarumma or Keylor Navas. Donnarumma helped Italy win the European Championship with his exploits against England in the final, but Navas was among the best goalkeepers in Europe last season and often saved PSG. After Club Brugge, PSG’s next Champions League opponent in two weeks will be Manchester City, which opens against Leipzig. Having been the dominant English force for the past decade, with five Premier League titles, success in Europe for City is long overdue. This season will be the club’s 11th in a row in the Champions League, but last season, apart from when Pep Guardiola’s side lost the final to Chelsea, they only reached the semi-finals once. Kevin De Bruyne and Phil Foden could be involved for City following their return from injury to be unused substitutes in Saturday’s Leicester win.
Diego Simeone’s Atlético Madrid came close to winning the Champions League twice, only for Real Madrid to beat them in the final. But Antoine Griezmann’s return to a team that dethroned Madrid last season for the Spanish league title gives Simeone his most talented attack since taking over Atlético ten years ago. Griezmann joins former Barcelona striker Luis Suárez, young Portuguese striker João Félix, Argentina striker Ángel Correa and Spanish all-round midfielder Marcos Llorente. The first step towards another title race will be to beat Porto at home in a very competitive Group B which includes Liverpool and AC Milan, who meet at Anfield.
Catch a Borussia Dortmund game this season and you are sure to be entertained. Under new coach Marco Rose, Dortmund have scored 13 goals and conceded nine in just four Bundesliga appearances. Saturday’s 4-3 win at Bayer Leverkusen epitomized Dortmund’s style – explosive on offense, vulnerable on defense – as Dortmund equalized three times before striker Erling Haaland took the win with a penalty. That style might not work as well in the Champions League, starting with a potentially difficult move against undefeated Turkish league leader Besiktas, who is back in the group stage for the first time in four years. Portuguese champions Sporting Lisbon welcome Ajax to start their ninth group stage appearance and their first since 2017-18. Ajax are in the group stage for the fourth time in a row.
Real Madrid’s opener at Inter Milan is on paper the toughest in Group D, which also includes Shakhtar Donetsk and Sheriff Tiraspol. Even though Kylian Mbappé did not come to Spain, Carlo Ancelotti managed to revive an attack that had shown signs of stagnation in the final months of Zinedine Zidane’s tenure. Vinícius Júnior found his scoring touch to add to the speed which opens up more space for Karim Benzema to do damage. Gareth Bale will be out due to injury, as will midfielder Toni Kroos and defender Ferland Mendy. As usual, Shakhtar bring a squad relying heavily on talent imported from Brazil and he showed his credentials by knocking out Monaco 3-2 overall in qualifying. Sheriff takes the Champions League to a new frontier. He plays in the Moldovan league but is based in the separatist and pro-Russian region of Transnistria, which is a self-proclaimed independent country but which is not recognized by any member of the United Nations.
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