The Champions League is back with a bang!
Matchday one of the 2019/20 season kicks off with some showstopping matches. Champions Liverpool begin their defence away to Napoli, 2018/19’s dark horses Ajax host the impressive Lille and Barcelona travel to take on high-flying Borussia Dortmund. But the true heavyweight clashes come on Wednesday as PSG host Real Madrid and Juventus travel to the Spanish capital to play Atlético in a quarter-final rematch.
We’ve had two members of our team take a look at each game, analyse how it may play out and give their predictions.
Lyon vs. Zenit
Muhammad Butt: Lyon are having an inconsistent season in Ligue 1 and currently sit eighth, and in Zenit they find an in-form opponent who are second in Russia. It won’t be easy, but Memphis Depay and Moussa Dembélé should have enough firepower to seal it. 3-2 Lyon.
Steve Jennings: Lyon have a good chance of progressing from their group so long as they win their home games. They’ve been handed an opportunity start as they mean to go on against Zenit, but their mixed league start is a cause for concern going into this one. Zenit, meanwhile, have lost just one of their nine league games this season and could grab a point here. 1-1 draw.
PLAYER TO WATCH: MEMPHIS DEPAY created more chances (26) and registered more assists (4) than any other Lyon player in last season’s Champions League.
Inter vs. Slavia Prague
MB: Inter are top of Serie A and have won three games out of three. You’d expect they will have far too much in every phase of play to be troubled by Slavia Prague, who will be praying for one of the Nerazzuri’s famous off-days. 2-0 Inter.
SJ: Inter may well be one of the dark horses in this season’s Champions League campaign. With Antonio Conte at the wheel and a fresh Romelu Lukaku banging in the goals, the Italian giants will be confident about getting off to a good start, though Slavia Prague might give them some problems after beginning Czech season. 3-1 Inter.
PLAYER TO WATCH: LAUTARO MARTINEZ has scored four goals in his last four games for club and country.
Napoli vs. Liverpool
MB: The Reds lost in Naples last season, and Carlo Ancelotti’s men have shown a tremendous ability to score goals this season (nine is the highest any side has managed in Serie A) even if they concede them easily, as well. Expect a fireworks display with the European champions showing enough to prevail. 3-4 Liverpool.
SJ: It’s bizarre to think Liverpool lost all three of their group games on the road last season before going on to win the Champions League. One of those defeats was at Napoli, so revenge will be on the menu for the Merseysiders this time around. If Roberto Firmino keeps up his current form, Jurgen Klopp’s men should create plenty of chances to win it. 1-3 Liverpool.
PLAYER TO WATCH: TRENT ALEXANDER-ARNOLD created more big chances (7) than any other defender in last season’s Champions League.
Chelsea vs. Valencia
MB: Valencia are in disarray having sacked their manager just last week and subsequently been smashed by Barcelona. In contrast, Chelsea seem to be riding Tammy Abraham’s goals to victory right now, but their defence is weak and Valencia showed at the Camp Nou that they are capable counterpunchers. 2-2 draw.
SJ: Everything Tammy Abraham touches seems to be turning to gold at the moment. His hat-trick against Wolves confirmed he is well and truly on a streak. Whether he can continue that in Europe is another question altogether, but Valencia’s off-field uncertainty should allow Abraham and Chelsea to play with confidence and win convincingly here. 3-0 Chelsea.
PLAYER TO WATCH: TAMMY ABRAHAM has scored seven goals in his last three games for Chelsea.
Ajax vs. Lille
MB: Ajax lost Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs de Ligt this summer, but they retained enough goalscoring power in Dusan Tadic and Hakim Ziyech that they should be able to best Lille. The French side are good at home (3/3 wins) and poor on the road (2/2 defeats). 2-0 Ajax.
SJ: Erik ten Hag faces the difficult task of picking his Ajax players up on the European stage after last season’s heartbreaking semi-final defeat to Tottenham. A home game against Lille gives the Dutch champions the best possible chance to build on their qualifying campaign with a win in their group opener. The hosts have the ability to edge this one. 2-0 Ajax.
PLAYER TO WATCH: DUSAN TADIC had a higher shot conversion (37.5%) than any player with 15 or more shots in last season’s Champions League.
Benfica vs. RB Leipzig
MB: Julian Nagelsmann has RB Leipzig humming like a finely tuned engine. They are top of the Bundesliga for a reason, and they will look to finally make a splash in the Champions League against a Benfica side who have lost to the only good team they’ve faced. 1-3 Leipzig.
SJ: Group G is arguably the most unpredictable this season. There are sure to be a few draws, so if Lyon and Zenit can’t be separated, Benfica and Leipzig will be looking to take advantage by going top of the group early on. Leipzig are currently top of the Bundesliga and if they can take that form into Europe, they could pull off a priceless victory in Portugal. 1-2 Leipzig.
PLAYER TO WATCH: TIMO WERNER has five goals in four Bundesliga games so far this season.
Borussia Dortmund vs. Barcelona
MB: Jadon Sancho vs. Clement Lenglet has the makings of a bloodbath, but Barcelona’s midfield of De Jong, Sergio Busquets and then either Arthur or Ivan Rakitic should dominate the game and keep the ball away from the excellent Englishman. Goal machine Paco Alcacer will want to show out against his old club but the mercurial Ansu Fati making his Champions League debut plus the prospect of Leo Messi’s return tilts the balance towards the Blaugrana. 2-3 Barcelona.
SJ: The news that Lionel Messi has returned from injury will provide a massive boost for Barcelona, who scored five goals at the weekend without their talisman. However, under Ernesto Valverde, La Liga’s champions have suffered some strange defeats in Europe, and Dortmund is one of the most difficult places to go, particularly with Jadson Sancho in form. These two can’t be separated. 1-1 draw.
PLAYER TO WATCH: ANSU FATI has two goals and one assist in 105 minutes of La Liga this season despite being just 16-years-old.
Salzburg vs. Genk
MB: This a great chance for these two sides to dramatically increase their chances of getting out of the group, and in Erling Haaland, Salzburg will have the finest player on display. It’s unlikely that any of the Genk men will be able to handle the Norwegian. 2-0 Salzburg.
SJ: Two of the lesser-known sides in this year’s competition, it’s likely Salzburg and Genk will be fighting for third place in Group E having been drawn with Liverpool and Napoli. With that in mind, this is actually one of both sides’ most important matches of the campaign. As such, it could be an intense contest with Salzburg making use of their home advantage. 2-1 Salzburg.
PLAYER TO WATCH: ERLING HAALAND has 11 goals and four assists in seven Austrian Bundesliga games this season.
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Club Brugge vs. Galatasaray
MB: Radamel Falcao is the coolest man alive and scored on his Turkish league debut for the club. So naturally he will do so again on his latest European bow. Brugge are in good form but El Tigre will hunt them down. 1-3 Galatasaray.
SJ: Much like the lesser sides in Group E, Club Brugge and Galatasaray may have to settle for third place at best in Group A, below big hitters Real Madrid and PSG. After six games of the new Belgian season, Club Brugge are unbeaten with four wins and two draws. But Galatasaray’s star power could give the hosts their biggest test yet. 1-2 Galatasaray
PLAYER TO WATCH: RADAMEL FALCAO scored on his Galatasaray debut at the weekend and has 14 goals in 28 career Champions League appearances.
Olympiakos vs. Spurs
MB: Spurs are all over the place so far this season, but unless Mauricio Pochettino rests all his heavy-hitters they will simply have too much quality for Olympiakos. Even half an hour of Harry Kane and Lucas Moura should get the job done. 0-2 Spurs.
SJ: Spurs looked back to their best as they eased past Crystal Palace in the Premier League on Saturday. Mauricio Pochettino has promised to rotate for their European opener, and that could spell danger against an Olympiacos side that has a habit of taking English scalps. If Tottenham don’t score early as they did at the weekend, they might be in big trouble. 2-1 Olympiakos.
PLAYER TO WATCH: LUCAS MOURA had the highest success rate (70.45%) of any player to complete more than 15 dribbles in last season’s Champions League.
Bayern Munich vs. Red Star Belgrade
MB: Red Star are a solid side at home but, on the road, it’s another story. Bayern Munich have assembled a powerful side to make a tilt at the Champions League and the likes of Coutinho, Gnabry and Lewandowski could run riot here. 7-1 Bayern.
SJ: Red Star surprised everyone by beating an elite side last season when they stunned Liverpool at home. They will have to perform more miracles this term if they are to get through a group including Bayern and Spurs, which is difficult to see happening. Bayern have the potential to run riot if their talented attackers are up for it. They shouldn’t have many issues. 5-0 Bayern.
PLAYER TO WATCH: ROBERT LEWANDOWSKI has more goals (7) than anyone in the Bundesliga so far this season.
Shakhtar Donetsk vs. Manchester City
MB: City have to rethink their current defensive structure after Norwich repeatedly pulled their pants down at the weekend. The Premier League champions have long had a complex relationship with the Champions League, but they handled he Ukrainians with ease last year and will probably do the same again. 1-3 City.
SJ: City have no other option but to bounce back after their shock 3-2 defeat to Norwich City on Saturday. The Premier League champions have big problems at centre-back, so a solution needs to be found if they are to win in Ukraine. Knowing Pep Guardiola, he will tweak his defence and City should find a way as they rarely suffer consecutive defeats. 0-2 City.
PLAYER TO WATCH: GABRIEL JESUS scored a hat-trick the last time Manchester City faced Shakhtar.
Dinamo Zagreb vs. Atalanta
MB: Atalanta are simply a joy to watch and with their skills and swagger they should take to European football like a duck to water. Papu Gomez is 31 and has been waiting all his life for this moment. Don’t expect him to drop the ball. 2-3 Atalanta.
SJ: This is another group in which every point counts in the race for second place behind likely winners Manchester City. Atalanta are making their Champions League debut and so may be a little overawed by the occasion, particularly in an intimidating location like Zagreb. That said, the visitors have enough quality to snatch a draw even if they are outplayed. 1-1 draw.
PLAYER TO WATCH: ALEJANDRO GOMEZ has created more chances (305), big chances (55) and completed more dribbles (273) than any other player in Serie A since the start of 2016/17.
Atlético Madrid vs. Juventus
MB: In the Champions League Cristano Ronaldo vs. Atlético Madrid usually only ever ends up going one way. However this time they meet in the group stages and the lower amount of pressure could be enough to see Cristiano’s heir apparent help Atleti get over their mental block and actually get something against the great man. 1-1 draw.
SJ: Cristiano Ronaldo’s hat-trick defined last season’s knockout stage clash between these two clubs last season. Atletico will want to put that disappointment in the past with a victory here, but their 2-0 defeat to Real Sociedad on Saturday has caused some alarm bells to ring, and Ronaldo will be aiming to put his old foes to sword once again. 0-1 Juventus.
PLAYER TO WATCH: CRISTIANO RONALDO has 25 goals in 31 games against Atlético Madrid.
Bayer Leverkusen vs. Lokomotiv Moscow
MB: Kai Havertz in the Champions League! Sound the air horns! Petr Bosz struggled when he was coaching Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League, but this is a far gentler introduction than he received then in the group of death. 2-1 Leverkusen.
SJ: If either of these sides has any chance of earning a place in the knockout stages ahead of Atletico or Juventus, they simply must win this game and the reverse fixture. Leverkusen are at home and that could easily swing things in their favour, but Lokomotiv will look to make it a cagey affair for the hosts. Still, the Germans should be victorious in the end. 2-0 Leverkusen.
PLAYER TO WATCH: KAI HAVERTZ has seven chances created for Leverkusen in the Bundesliga this season, no one else has more.
PSG vs. Real Madrid
MB: The Big Showdown will be low on star power as all three of PSG’s illustrious attackers are out through injury or suspension, however you can expect that Angel Di Maria will be well motivated to get back at Los Blancos and Mauro Icardi is always up for proving he’s more than a walking TMZ-headline generator. Real Madrid aren’t brilliant, they’re alright, but in Eden Hazard they have a player capable of breaking the Parisians defence apart with one dribble. This should be bonkers. 2-2 draw.
SJ: Would it be too far to label these two mega-rich clubs as ‘troubled’? In any case, both teams go into this one with their own issues, whether that be short-term injuries or long-term uncertainties. Neymar was back in-form with a stunning winner for PSG at the weekend, but the Brazilian is suspended, which could harm PSG’s chances of winning. 1-1 draw.
PLAYER TO WATCH: EDEN HAZARD has scored four goals in 14 career games against PSG.