Preview: Champions League fixtures and predictions

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Arsenal v Liverpool teams
Arsenal v Liverpool teams
Here’s a comprehensive rundown of all today’s fixtures

The Champions League group stages kick off today less than 2 months after the previous campaign ended. There are 8 games being played in total today, with a further 8 to follow tomorrow.

There are no Irish representatives in the Champions League this year but there will be no lack of Irish interest today, particularly with Manchester United due to play Paris Saint Germain.

Here’s a detailed look at all of today’s fixtures, from group E to H:

GROUP E

CHELSEA vs. SEVILLA – 20:00

In what is undoubtedly one of the most exciting fixtures of today, Chelsea take on Europa League winners Sevilla.

Both teams have started slowly having both enjoyed good seasons last terms. Chelsea drew to Southampton at the weekend after initially going ahead by 3 goals while Sevilla endured a loss to Grenada, so both teams will be determined to start this week with a convincing win under their belt.

There are rumours of insecurity in the Chelsea hot seat as Frank Lampard’s big money signings have so far failed to improve results. They currently sit 8th in the league after two wins, two draws and a loss.

Sevilla have “enjoyed” a similar start to the season, they currently sit in 10th after winning two, drawing one and losing one. Julen Lopetegui is not under the same amount of intense pressure, however. Sevilla have spent modestly in comparison to Chelsea, at least. They’ve spent just over £50 million whereas Chelsea have spent over four times that amount.

Both teams have their fair share of players capable of changing the game. Chelsea obviously have a team filled with well renowned players, but Sevilla shouldn’t be counted out either, despite their relatively modest budget.

Lucas Ocampos is one Sevilla player Chelsea will have to keep a close eye on. Ocampos is a quick, direct winger who’s capable of scoring a goal or two. He’s failed to score so far this season, but the winger chipped in with 14 league goals from out wide last term.

They also have a wealth of experience in their squad, which is something that may provide an advantage against Chelsea’s younger players. Jesús Navas, for example, has been playing football since the mid 2000’s but isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. At the age of 34, the former winger has been converted into a right back over the past couple of seasons. Despite now playing right back, Navas is still capable of attacking output. Chelsea’s full back will have to watch his overlaps carefully.

Ivan Rakitic is another player Chelsea will have to keep an eye on. Not necessarily a player who will rack up many goal contributions, Rakitic tends to affect play with his overall game and football brain. He was picked up on a bargain from Barcelona to begin his second spell at Sevilla at the start of the season and should prove a shrewd signing.

Chelsea will have many of their big names available for the game, with the exception of Edouard Mendy who remains injured. Timo Werner scored his first Chelsea goals on the weekend and will be hoping to keep that form going into today’s game. Kai Havertz also scored at the weekend, but was also at fault for one of the Southampton goals. Havertz is yet to make much of an impression at Chelsea yet, with his performances certainly not matching his price tag.

Thiago Silva is also back after missing the weekends game and may start at the back for Chelsea. He would provide much needed experience in the backline. Silva went all the way to the final with PSG last season, but unfortunately for him they were defeated by Bayern Munich at the last hurdle.

Lampard needs Chelsea to win this match to ease the pressure on his managerial status, it will be a hard-fought match but we expect Chelsea to edge it.

Prediction: Chelsea 2-1 Sevilla

RENNES vs. KRASNODAR – 20:00

In Group E’s other game, French side Rennes take on Russian side Krasnodar.

Rennes are one of the most exciting up and coming teams in Europe. They have started the French season very respectably, sitting in 3rd after 15 points from 7 games. In contrast, Krasnodar sit in 7th with 11 games played in what’s been a disappointing campaign so far.

Rennes will probably fancy their chances today given their form and quality of their players. Krasnodar, although they have some useful players, are a long way behind of Rennes in terms of quality.

Eduardo Camavinga is one of the many bright young prospects coming through at Rennes at the minute. Although still only 17, Camavinga plays with the maturity and confidence of a seasoned pro. An all-round midfield player, Camavinga is just as capable at spraying passes in the final third as he is breaking down opposition attacks. Camavinga is already a French international, having made his debut in September. He also scored for France on the 7th of this month, making him the youngest French goalscorer since 1914. It would be harsh to say that Camavinga is one for the future as he’s already established himself as a top player despite his age. His development will be interesting to watch over the years, a scary prospect.

Another one of Rennes young players who will look to make an impact today is newly signed Jeremy Doku. Doku had his breakthrough campaign for Anderlecht last season which led him to getting his Belgium debut. Since then, he’s made a further four appearances for his country which included scoring his first international goal. We doubt that will be his last.

Doku was one of the players that really impressed during the under 17 European Championships, which was held in Ireland. He’s a winger has blistering pace and magnetic close control that can terrify opposition full backs. He’s another one to watch.

Serhou Guirassy is another player signed by Rennes this season who will be looking to impress. The striker scored 10 league goals for Amiens last term and has already scored 2 in 2 for Rennes this season.

Krasnodar are not a team that’s littered with world beater or prospects, but they do have some players who are fairly well established in Europe and otherwise.

Rémy Cabella is a name whom Premier League fans may be familiar with, having spent two years with Newcastle United. He transferred to Krasnodar at the start of last season but hasn’t been able to make his mark until now as he was out with an ACL injury for nearly a year. He has 6 goals in 10 games this season for Krasnodar. Rennes will have to keep an eye on him.

Tonny Vilhena is another player with a bit of a reputation in Europe. He previously played for Feyenoord – where he spent sixteen years – before joining Krasnodar last season. He has also made fifteen appearances for the Netherlands, none of which were recently.

Marcus Berg is Krasnodar’s main goal threat. The Swede has a good track record for goals at most clubs he’s been contracted to, but has failed to do so at the highest level when playing in the Bundesliga. Nevertheless, Berg is an accomplished finisher and if he gets a good sight of goal, it’ll be hard to stop him.

Prediction: Rennes 4-1 Krasnodar

 

GROUP H

ZENIT vs. CLUB BRUGGE – 17:55

It’s the battle of the champions as the Russian Premier League takes on the Belgian Pro League. One of the two early kick offs today, hopefully this game can set the standard for what’s to follow.

Just like the previous season, both teams currently sit atop of their respective divisions. Despite neither team possessing superstars both teams have quality and it should make for an entertaining fixture.

Malcom is one name that stands out for Zenit. Formerly of Barcelona and Bordeaux, Malcom made a surprise move to Zenit last season after failing to break into the Barcelona starting XI. The Brazilian possesses hypnotic close control and has an eye for the pass. Brugge will have a hard time dealing with him if he’s not contained.

Zenit are one of the few elite teams in European football who still play a 4-4-2. It clearly works for them as their two strikers are more than capable of scoring goals. The strikers in question are Sardar Azmoun and Artem Dyzuba. The pair scored over 40 goals between them last season and have started this season in a similar fashion with 13 goals.

Zenit also have a number of other notable players, including but not limited to; Dejan Lovren, Wendel, Wilmar Barrios and Yuri Zhirkov – who Chelsea fans might remember.

Club Brugge are similar to Rennes in that youth recruitment and developement is a focal point in their philosophy. Krépin Diatta and Emmanuel Dennis are two of the young players worth mentioning.

Diatta is a 21-year-old winger who Brugge acquired in 2018. Since then, he’s gone on to earn international honours with Senegal and establish himself as a valued member of Club Brugge. Diatta is a diminutive, agile winger with plenty of pace.

Dennis is similar to Diatta in that he was discovered by Brugge as a teenager while playing senior football for a lesser known team. He was bought from Ukrainian side Zorya in 2017 and has since established himself as Brugge’s starting striker. He made an impact in last season’s Champions League group stages as he scored a brace against Real Madrid in a 2-2 draw. His selection is in doubt, however, having been hooked off at half time at the weekend.

If Dennis proves fit, Zenit will have their hands full with the two of them, that’s for sure.

Prediction: Zenit 2-1 Club Brugge

BORRUSIA DORTMUND vs. LAZIO – 20:00

Dortmund face Lazio in Group H’s late kick off.

Both teams had good campaigns last season, with Dortmund finishing 2nd in the Bundesliga and Lazio finishing 4th. Dortmund have started this season in similar form, as they currently sit in 3rd. On the other hand, Lazio are having a disappointing start as they sit in 15th.

This should be a high scoring affair, with both teams possessing players capable of finding the net.

Dortmund have one of the most exciting teams in Europe. The addition of Jude Bellingham and Reiner (on loan) this summer contributed to an already very young squad. Giovanni Reyna has also established himself as a first team regular this season as well at just the age of 17.

Their two marquee players are Erling Haaland and Jadon Sancho, both only 20.

Erling Haaland burst onto the scene last season with incredible goalscoring returns for RB Salzburg which led to his Dortmund move. He’s continued his from into Dortmund as he’s scored 17 league goals in 19 appearances. Arguably one of the most natural goal scorers in Europe already, Haaland is a handful for any defender. As well as being lightning quick and incredibly powerful, Haaland also possesses a fierce and accurate shot. All he needs is one sniff of goal and it usually hits the back of the net.

Jadon Sancho was a name on every United fan’s lips during the summer as he was continuously linked with the Red Devils. Luckily for Dortmund fans, they held onto their man as United failed to match the desired sum. Sancho managed at least 1 goal involvement per match last season and managed to outdo himself after contributing 29 league goal involvements in 18/19.

They also have their fair share of experience, despite having so many young players in their squad. It would be fair to say that Marco Reus and Mats Hummels are Dortmund legends having spent a majority of their careers at the club, and consistently performing at a high level. They’ve failed to lift the Champions League yet, though. Dortmund could show a statement of their intent with a convincing performance today.

As mentioned previously, Lazio also have their fair share of quality players. Ciro Immobile is arguably their best. Like Haaland, Immobile is a natural goalscorer and probably one of the more underrated players in Europe. He had a poor stint in Dortmund a few years ago so he’ll be hoping to show what he’s capable of to his former employers. Immobile won the European Golden Shoe last year after scoring an incredible 36 goals in 37 league appearances. We would beat money that at least one of the two will score today, if not both.

Two midfield players who will also be on Dortmund’s radar is Luis Alberto and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic.

Luis Alberto is the creative focal point of the team. He contributed 15 assists last season in the league which meant he just missed out on most assists, which was claimed by Atalanta player Papu Gomez.

Milinkovic-Savic is one of the most complete midfielders in Europe. He has a towering frame of 6’3 and is capable of playing deep or in more advanced positions. He’s been linked to the likes of Manchester United in recent years and it’d be no surprise if he earned a move sooner rather than later.

It wouldn’t surprise us at all if this match was the highlight of today’s action. Both teams are fairly evenly match and play an exciting brand of football.

Prediction: Dortmund 2-2 Lazio

 

GROUP G

JUVENTUS vs. DYNAMO KIEV – 17:55

In the other early kick off of the day, Ukrainian runners up Dynamo Kiev face Italian champions Juventus.

On paper, it should be a comfortable victory for Juventus, but stranger things have happened in the Champions League. Andrea Pirlo has had a mixed start to his senior managerial career as Juventus currently sit 4th in Serie A. They drew to recently promoted Crotone at the weekend in what was a shock result. Kiev, on the other hand, sit atop of the Ukrainian Premier League. Pirlo will be hoping to start the Champions League campaign with a victory to set the benchmark for the rest of the group stage.

Juventus is a team littered with world class talent while Kiev are on the opposite end of the spectrum. It should make for an interesting affair and who knows, maybe Kiev could pull off an upset.

Cristiano Ronaldo is the obvious poster boy for Juventus. Often regarded as the best player in the world alongside Messi, he continues to put up unbelievable numbers at the age of 35. He scored 31 goals in 33 league games last season and has continued his goalscoring exploits into this season so far. He’s already scored 3 goals in 2 league games this season and there’s a high chance he could add to his tally today.

Paulo Dybala is another world class player at Juventus’s disposal. Previously written off by some people, Dybala proved his worth last season with some fine displays. He has however failed to fit into Juventus plans yet again this season, as he hasn’t played one game in Serie A yet. There are reports Dybala is frustrated with his playtime and who would blame him given his quality. He was heavily linked with Manchester United last season and I’m sure they’ll be monitoring his situation closely. If he does play, Dybala will probably play off striker and will be looking to link with Ronaldo in order to unlock the Kiev defence.

Juventus have also added to their squad this season by signing a number of young talents including; Arthur, Federico Chiesa and Dejan Kulusevski. There are plenty of players in that Juventus dressing room that could cause major problems for Kiev.

Victor Tsygankov is arguably Kiev’s best player. The young inside forward is Kiev’s main goal threat and will be looking to add to his 3 goals this season with another against the Old Lady. Gerson Rodrigues is also one to look out for. Not a household name by any means, the Luxembourg international is a good, direct player who could cause problems for Juventus is not contained properly.

Another highly touted young player on Kiev’s books is Mykola Shaparenko. The Ukranian midfielder possess great technique and may be the key to unlocking the Juventus defence, if at all possible.

It will be a hard task for Kiev, but you never know.

Prediction: Juventus 2-0 Dynamo Kiev

BARCELONA vs. FERENCVAROSI TC – 20:00

This tie is a real contrast in terms of reputation. Barcelona are one of the most successful clubs in European football. Meanwhile, this is Ferencvaros’ first tie in the Champions League’s group stages since 1995.

Ferencvaros were once a respectable European team, reaching the quarter finals in 1966 before losing to Inter Milan. It would be a hard task for them to complete once again, but even getting to the group stages is a magnificent achievement. It wasn’t through luck they qualified either. They had some brilliant results in qualifying, beating Molde, Dynamo Zagreb and Celtic on the way to the group stages.

The Hungarian champions were also in the Europa League group stages last season for the first time since 2005 and put in some honourable displays. They finished 3rd in the group, and they managed to get a win over CSKA Moscow and draws against Espanyol.

Barcelona’s obvious danger man is Lionel Messi. Regarded by many as the best player of all time, Messi has failed to reach his top form this season so far but it won’t be long before he proves his doubters wrong. The creative focal point of the team as well as being their main goal outlet, Messi’s attacking output is unlike any other player in recent times. The days of MSN are gone, and Messi no longer has the quality he once had in front of him but there is some worth in Barca’s attack, yet.

Ansu Fati is one player that has caught the attention of the world in the last year or so. The young winger made his Barcelona debut at 16 and hasn’t showed any signs of slowing down since. He scored 10 goals in 28 appearances for Barca last season and has already got his first international goal for Spain. His goal for Spain made him the youngest ever goalscorer for the country at just 17 years and 311 days. This season could be the season Fati establishes himself as one of the world’s elite. He’s already scored 3 goals in 4 and we would expect him to score several more throughout the season.

There are other superstars in Barcelona’s team but realistically they’re not the same team they were a few years ago. Many of their veteran players have now retired or moved clubs and it won’t be long before their current crop of legends start declining. Other notable players in the Barcelona squad include; Antoine Griezmann, Marc-Andre Ter Stegen (injured) and Phillipe Coutinho.

Ferencvaros don’t have many noticeable players at all. Premier League fans may be aware of Adam Bogdan, but otherwise there really isn’t many reputable names in their team.

Tokmac Chol Nguen appears to be the team’s main source of goal, but even at that, he’s hardly a prolific goalscorer. He scored 3 goals in 5 during Champions League qualifying and has 7 goals in 10 games in all competitions so far this season. Otherwise though, he scored 8 in 30 league games last season and the competition in the Hungarian league isn’t exactly elite.

Their striker, Franck Boli, also isn’t exactly prolific. He’s scored 3 in 8 games this season and managed 12 goals in 37 games last season.

We don’t want to write Ferencvaros off too early, but it’ll be a massive challenge to gather any sort of result against Barcelona. We do however believe it’ll be a lot less one sided than a lot of people seem to think. The Hungarian team have shown in recent years that they’re capable of competing at a good European level. They’re unlikely to qualify from the group, but they may be in a chance with finishing 3rd if they can overcome Dynamo Kiev. This would give them a real opportunity of qualifying for the Europa League knockout stage which would be a fantastic achievement for the club.

Prediction: Barcelona 3-0 Ferencvaros

 

GROUP H

MANCHESTER UNITED vs. PARIS SAINT GERMAIN – 20:00

In what is the most anticipated tie of this first round of Champions League games, Manchester United face Champions League finalists PSG.

Bruno Fernandes has been confirmed as captain for today’s game as Harry Maguire has been ruled out. Him being given the captain’s armband is a testament to his commitment and attitude he’s shown since joining the club in January.

United have had a particularly poor start to their league campaign. They currently sit in 15th after 2 wins and 2 losses. One of those losses included a 6-1 drubbing against Tottenham, one of the most embarrassing results in the club’s recent history. They managed to secure a 4-1 win against Newcastle at the weekend but the scoreline probably flattered them if we’re being honest. It was only within the last 10 minutes that they came alive, otherwise it was a fairly even – if not drab – game throughout.

PSG have endured a disappointing start to their season also. Maybe not to the extent of United, but for their standards, they’ve been poor. They currently sit 2nd but have lost 2 of their 7 games. Given they’ve won 7 of the last 8 league titles, we would expect them to be on top, but it’s a long season yet.

PSG are one of the richest clubs in world football and with those riches comes a wealth of talent. We could spend all day talking about the amount of quality players they possess, but realistically two of their players are miles above the rest.

The two players in question are Neymar and Mbappe, of course.

There are genuine shouts that one of those two could be the best player in the world at the minute, particularly Mbappe.

Mbappe is probably the best young talent to come through since Neymar. He has a CV most footballers would only dream of at only the age of 21. To list just some of his achievements and trophies; World Cup winner, 3 consecutive Ligue 1 titles, World Cup best young player award, 3 consecutive top 10 Ballon d’Or placements. He’s started the season in fine form, scoring 4 goals in 4 league appearances so far. He has his doubters – as any highly successful young player has – but it would be silly to dismiss his achievements up to now. Mbappe scored in his last outing against United so they will have to be on top form if they’re to restrain him.

Neymar is obviously a threat as to United as well. Another player who has his doubters, Neymar has consistently performed at a top level since he was a teenager. Yes, he has had some poor performances here and there, but he’s head and shoulders above most players in the world ability wise. He’s scored 27 goals in 48 Champions League appearances and will be looking to add to that tally later today.

Along with Harry Maguire, Edinson Cavani is another player who misses out for United. This is a big disappointment for the Uruguayan, we’re sure he would have loved to play against his former club – where he is their all-time highest goalscorer.

Other than those two, United have a full squad to choose from. Bruno Fernandes has been United’s best player since arriving in January and he’ll be looking to produce another good performance as he takes the captain’s armband for the first time. Fernandes was United’s best player at the weekend along with Marcus Rashford and his performance should give him a good confidence boost going into today’s game. Some people have criticized Bruno for “statpadding” due to the high number of penalty goals he’s scored since joining the club, but his performance against Newcastle showed he’s more than capable of holding his own in open play.

The aforementioned Marcus Rashford could also provide serious attacking output for United. He’s scored 2 and assisted 2 in 4 games this season so he’ll be going into the game in good form. Rashford was one of United’s best performers last seasons and he’s steadily improved each season since making his debut. Rashford has already scored against PSG in the first leg of their Champions League tie in the 2018/19 season. His goal would prove decisive as United won on away goals to qualify for the next round.

When Paul Pogba (re)signed for United back in 2016, many fans thought he would be the player to get United back on track. That hasn’t been the case so far. Now, that’s not to say that he’s been bad. He’s been pretty good, but at times inconsistent. He’s clearly a player of incredible talent but too often he’s failed to impact games when it matters. Pogba was dropped on the weekend due to an apparent injury but he should be available today. He’s failed to get going this season so far so a commanding performance in the middle of the park from Pogba could give him the boost he needs.

Whoever wins, it should be an entertaining game.

Prediction: PSG 2-1 Manchester United

RB LEIPZIG vs. ISTANBUL BASAKSEHIR – 20:00

In the other tie in Group H, highfliers RB Leipzig face lowly Istanbul.

RB Leipzig currently sit 1st in the Bundesliga, proving they don’t need the goalscoring prowess of Timo Werner to compete for the title. On the other hand, Istanbul sit 2nd bottom in the Turkish league in what has been a miserable season so far.

Leipzig coach Julian Nagelsmann is one of the most promising coaches in European football. At only the age of 33, he’s shown levels of tactical acumen that many managers lack. Nagelsmann is known for playing high tempo, pressing football which is easy on the eye. His management helped Leipzig to reach the semi final of the 2019/20 Champions League before bowing out to PSG.

Yussuf Poulsen has been at Leipzig since they competed in the 3rd tier of German football. You wouldn’t be able to tell he previously played at a lower level based on his performances so far this season. Although not always a prolific goalscorer, Poulsen has managed to replicate Timo Werner’s goalscoring exploits so far this season. He currently has 3 goals in 4 games in all competitions, including an incredible goal at the weekend.

On the other end of the pitch, Leipzig have some quality defensive options. The pace and defensive abilities of Konate and Upamecano allow Leipzig to play a high line to press their opposition. Upamecano in particular has been the focus of many European clubs in recent seasons. He was linked with Arsenal during the summer transfer window, but nothing materialized.

Leipzig have a number of creative players they can call on to create chances, namely; Dani Olmo, Christopher Nkunku and Emil Forsberg. They certainly don’t lack attacking – or defensive – options.

Istanbul have a couple of well-known players within their squad, clearly reputation doesn’t always hold up though given their league position.

Although he may not be their most well-known player, Edin Visca is probably their best. He’s put up some great numbers in the Turkish league over the past few seasons. Last season he managed 26 goal contributions in 33 games. This season, however, he has failed to provide the same spark he has in the past with just 1 goal contribution in 6 games. He has been the Super Lig top assist provider for 3 consecutive seasons, but he’s failed to register even one assist this season. He’s obviously dangerous, though, and Leipzig will have to watch him closely.

Another decent player they have under contract is Giuliano. The name may ring bells for Dundalk fans as he scored 3 goals in 2 games against the Irish side in the 2016/17 Europa League group stages. He was playing for Zenit St. Petersburg at the time. He’s yet to appear for Zenit yet after signing on the 5th of October so today might be the perfect opportunity for him. Guiliano is a tricky, creative midfielder who’s capable of scoring a goal or two. He’s appeared 14 times for Brazil over the years and should prove to be an excellent signing for Istanbul as they aim to get their season up and running. He previously played in the Turkish Super Lig for Fenerbahce, where he contributed to 19 goals in 30 games.

They have a handful of other names which Premier League fans will be familiar with, including; Martin Skrtel, Rafael, Nacer Chadli (injured) and Demba Ba.

Istanbul will do well to get anything out of this game given their recent form.

Prediction: Leipzig 4-0 Istanbul

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