The UEFA Champions League made a dramatic return last night, with Lionel Messi making history by becoming the first player to score in 16 consecutive seasons of the competition. More history will be made with eight further fixtures tonight…
Bayern Munich v Atletico Madrid
Only 59 days have passed since Bayern Munich won last season’s edition of the Champions League; tonight the Bavarians begin the defence of their trophy with a tough opening group stage game against Atletico Madrid.
Hansi Flick’s reign as Bayern boss has been outstanding so far; in less than one year, Flick has won the Bundesliga, UEFA Champions League, UEFA Super Cup, DFB Pokal and DFL Supercup. However, the relentless intensity required to have built that trophy haul is now starting to show signs of slowing.
Bayern’s recent 4-1 defeat to Hoffenheim acted as a wake up call, and the Bundesliga champions have won four games on the bounce since then. The standard of opponent goes up a notch tonight though.
Diego Simeone’s Atletico side are undefeated so far this season, only conceding once in La Liga. However, their resolve will be tested against one of Europe’s most potent attacking forces this evening.
The injured Diego Costa will be missing for Atletico tonight, with Bayern Munich’s Serge Gnabry also sitting out due to illness.
RB Salzburg v Lokomotiv Moscow
There aren’t many teams in better form than RB Salzburg right now. The Austrian champions are top of their league, with 17 goals in four league games so far. They have also won two Austrian Cup games, scoring another 13 goals.
Whilst Salzburg are finding goals easy to come by, Lokomotiv Moscow have been struggling to find the net, with Fedor Smolov their only player to score more than twice this season – despite the Russian Premier League being 11 games in.
Lokomotiv Moscow were dealt a difficult group last season, losing five of their six games in a pool with Juventus, Atletico Madrid and Bayer Leverkusen.
Marko Nikolic’s side will know the importance of getting off to a strong start tonight, and with a run of four wins, including a derby day win over CSKA Moscow, Lokomotiv will be quietly confident of preventing RB Salzburg from winning yet another game.
Andre Ramalho is the hosts’ only absentee, with Lokomotiv Moscow travelling to Austria with a full squad.
Manchester City v FC Porto
Following a disappointing elimination at the quarter-final stage last season, Manchester City restart their hunt of an elusive UEFA Champions League trophy with a home game against FC Porto.
2003/04 Champions League winners Porto have never won away at an English side in the competition, despite 21 previous attempts.
The Portuguese champions have also lost ground in the Primeira Liga, having failed to register a win so far this month.
Manchester City have also had a ropey start in the Premier League, having dropped points to Leicester City and Leeds United already this season.
Pep Guardiola will be missing star man Kevin De Bruyne tonight, who is joined in the treatment room by Aymeric Laporte, Benjamin Mendy and Gabriel Jesus. Ivan Marcano and Mouhamed Mbaye miss out for the visitors.
Olympiakos v Marseille
Marseille return to the UEFA Champions League after a seven year absence, with a testing trip to Greek champions Olympiakos.
Andre Villas-Boas has enjoyed a successful start to his tenure in southern France, finishing runners-up to PSG last season. Marseille’s continued improvement was evident when they beat PSG earlier on in this Ligue 1 campaign.
However, Olympiakos are unbeaten this season, and are typically very strong at home in the UEFA Champions League. Pedro Martins’ side drew with Spurs, beat RB Leipzig and lost narrowly to eventual winners Bayern Munich at home in the groups last season, and they’ll provide Marseille a tough test tonight with a fully-fit squad to choose from. Dario Benedetto could miss out for the visitors.
Ajax v Liverpool
Two of Europe’s most decorated clubs lock horns in Amsterdam tonight, in what will be their first competitive meeting in 54 years.
Ajax and Liverpool have won the UEFA Champions League ten times between them, and both will have ambitions of adding to that tally this season.
The Dutch champions have won just one of their last six meetings with English sides though, and have won just one of their last seven Champions League games at the Johan Cruyff Arena.
Liverpool have lost their last two games in the Champions League, and are yet to win a game this month.
The most notable absentee for Jurgen Klopp will be the injured Vigil van Dijk. Joel Matip and Thiago Alcantara also look likely to miss the trip to Ajax, whilst Alisson and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain remain unavailable. Ajax come into this one unscathed.
FC Midtjylland vs. Atalanta
Having reached the quarter-finals of last season’s Champions League, as well as challenging Juventus for the Serie A title, Atalanta were European football’s surprise package last season.
Piero Gasperini’s side made an excellent start to this campaign too, with three consecutive wins in the Italian top flight. They were given a wake up call on Saturday though, with a heavy 4-1 defeat at Napoli.
FC Midtjylland are making their first appearance in the UEFA Champions League group stage, having already passed through three rounds of qualifying to get this far.
The Danish Superliga champions have also made a fairly indifferent start to their domestic campaign, losing and drawing already in their five games this far.
Atalanta should be expected to win this one, with a fully fit squad at their disposal. The visitors will be missing Oliver Olsen and Kristian Riis.
Real Madrid v Shakhtar Donetsk
Zinedine Zidane’s side may be the most successful club in the history of the UEFA Champions League, but the 13-time winners have exited the competition at the round of 16 stage in successive seasons. Another lacklustre European campaign could put insurmountable pressure on one of Los Blancos’ most favourite sons.
Real Madrid suffered a surprise defeat at the Bernabeu hands of Cadiz at the weekend, and they’ll be wanting to see an immediate response with Saturday’s El Clasico on the horizon.
Ukrainian champions Shakhtar are unbeaten in five games, and have build a decent pedigree in Europe over recent years.
Real Madrid look set to be missing Sergio Ramos, who joins Martin Odegaard, Alvaro Odriozola and Eden Hazard on the sidelines.
Maksym Malyshev, Ismaily and Serhii Krystov are all missing for the visitors too.
Inter Milan v Borussia Monchengladbach
Antonio Conte will lead Inter Milan to their first UEFA Champions League appearance since 2011/12 tonight, with Borussia Monchengladbach arriving at San Siro.
Inter were the last Italian side to win the UEFA Champions League, some ten years ago now, and given the standard of their group this season, they’ll be keen to get off to a strong start against the Bundesliga side this evening.
Monchengladbach have won just three of their last 13 games in this competition, and they will not be helped with a lengthy injury list containing Valentino Lazaro, Andreas Poulsen, Denis Zakaria and Laszlo Benes.
Inter will want to bounce back from their weekend defeat to rivals AC Milan, and Alessandro Bastoni, Alexis Sanchez, Stefano Sensi and Radja Nainggolan could all return. Ashley Young, Roberto Gagliardini and Milan Skriniar are unavailable for the hosts.