The Champions League gets underway this week with all five of Germany’s entrants in action. All will have their eyes on the final next year in Istanbul, but first things first, comes the opening group stage fixture.
Tuesday 6th September
Borussia Dortmund v FC Copenhagen
After failing to make it out of the group stage last season, the Schwarzgelben will be looking for a positive start on Tuesday as they host the Danes FC Copenhagen. Drawn with Ajax, Sporting and Besiktas last season, progression had seemed a real possibility only for the Portuguese side to pip them to second spot in the group courtesy of a better head-to-head record.
FC Copenhagen are enduring a bit of an inconsistent spell at the moment with three wins and three defeats in their last six Superliga fixtures. They do travel to Germany on the back of a 1-0 win over Silkeborg on Friday, matching Dortmund’s 1-0 victory achieved on the same night against Hoffenheim.
The two sides have only met once before back in the 2001-02 Uefa Cup where two 1-0 wins in both legs saw BVB through. Current Mainz trainer Bo Svensson made a brief substitute appearance in the first leg.
Copenhagen did lose a key player in the transfer window with Spanish goalscoring midfielder Pep Biel moving to Greek side Olympiacos for €6 million. They did however sign Andreas Cornelius to replace him with the player returning to where his career began.
Player to watch: Viktor Claesson
The experience of the 30-year-old Swedish midfielder will be key for the Danes as they tackle Dortmund in front of their passionate fans. He has six league goals already this season, so is a threat going forward.
RB Leipzig v Shakhtar Donetsk
Domenico Tedesco will be hoping that the start of Leipzig’s European adventure can kick-start a season that hasn’t really got going. A morale-sapping 4-0 defeat on Saturday to Eintracht Frankfurt leaves die Roten Bullen with just one league win this season so a good performance against the visiting Ukrainian side will go some way to raising the spirits.
The ongoing war with Russia still dominates daily life in Ukraine, but the Premier League has started with Shakhtar so far having won two and drawn one. Friday saw them beat Rukh Lviv 1-0 although star man Mykhalo Mudryk was sent off in the first half.
The war has deprived Shakhtar of many of the imports (mainly Brazilian) who have traditionally made a name for themselves at the club and coach Igor Jovićević now has to rely predominantly on Ukrainian talent.
Player to watch: Mykhalo Mudryk
The fact that Shakhtar managed to hold onto Mudryk during the recent transfer window was a huge feat with the likes of Arsenal heavily linked. After grabbing the attention last season with a stunning display against Real Madrid, the winger has amassed quite a posse of admirers.
Indeed, Shakhtar sporting director Darijo Srna rates him incredibly highly. “For me, Mudryk is the best player in Europe in this position after Mbappe and Vinicius Junior. The market makes the price. If today’s Mudryk played at Ajax, then €100m would be asked for him.”
Wednesday 7th September
Eintracht Frankfurt v Sporting
The return to European action for Frankfurt will awaken memories of last season’s triumphant march to the Europa League crown. Remarkably, this will be the first season since 1960 (when they famously met Real Madrid in the final) that the Adler will have taken part in Europe’s top competition.
The season started badly with a mauling at the hands of Bayern and a Supercup defeat to Real Madrid in Helsinki. Since then, however Oliver Glasner’s side have turned the tide and have won their last two scoring four goals on both occasions. This weekend saw an impressive 4-0 demolition of fellow Champions League hopefuls RB Leipzig, so form looks to be on Eintracht’s side.
Sporting for their part are already a bit off the pace in their domestic league. With Benfica, Braga and Porto blazing ahead, the Lisbon side have lost twice, won twice, and drawn once thus far. A 2-0 win away at Estoril on Friday would have boosted confidence going into their trip to Germany.
Last season’s runners-up did lose key midfielder Matheus Nunes to Wolves in the summer transfer window (€45 million) as well as left-back Nuno Mendes to PSG (€38 million). João Palhinha also moved to Fulham for €20 million as the player drain hit.
Player to watch: Pedro ‘Pote’ Gonçalves
The left-winger has really developed into a top player since returning from a disappointing spell in the Premier League with Wolves. After failing to make the grade in England he returned to Portugal with newly promoted Famalicao in 2019 and his performances earned a move to Sporting.
His 23 goals from midfield inspired the club to their first league title in 19 years. He has developed into key player and one forecast to have another tilt at the Premier League at some time in the near future.
Club Brugge v Bayer Leverkusen
Last season’s Belgian champions host Bayer Leverkusen in the Group B opener at the Jan Breydelstadion. With Atletico and Porto making up the group, Leverkusen are going to potentially have to take full points from their clashes with Brugge.
However, the Werkself haven’t been firing on all cylinders this season with just the one win and they suffered a 3-2 home loss at the weekend to Freiburg, although coach Gerardo Seoane claimed he was satisfied with the overall performance. Brugge have made an okay start to their title defence and have won their last four matches. The most recent of these was a 4-0 home win over city rivals Cercle Bruges.
Player to watch: Hans Vanaken
The 30-year-old midfielder remained with he Belgian despite speculation linking him with a move to West Ham in the Premier League. He scored 16 goals and made seven assists in 45 games in the 2020/21 season and added 15 goals and 12 assists in 50 outings last season. The tall, attacking midfielder has now signed a new contract with the club after his move to England didn’t materialise.
Inter v Bayern Munich
The ‘Group of Death’ sees Bayern travel to Italy for their opening fixture against Inter. With Barcelona also in the group along with minnows Plzen, any dropped points could prove vital come the end of the group stage.
Even though its twelve years ago, the memory of their Champions League Final defeat to Inter in Madrid will still hurt a little and revenge will be on the cards. Overall, the sides have met seven times in the competition and have three wins each.
Bayern have been held to draws in each of their last two Bundesliga fixtures after a lighting start to the season where they hit six against Frankfurt and seven against Bochum. Consecutive draw with Mönchengladbach and Union has seemingly stopped the Bavarian juggernaut.
Inter have already suffered two losses in their opening five Serie A fixtures- 3-1 at Lazio and then more importantly the past weekend in 3-2 derby defeat to city rivals Milan.
Player to watch: Lautaro Martinez
With Romelu Lukaku out injured, the main focus for the Bayern defence will be stopping Argentine forward Martinez. However, it looks like veteran Edin Dzeko could start alongside him in attack and from past experience Bayern know exactly what sort of damage the Bosnian can do.
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