After a mixed set of results for the Bundesliga’s Champions League participants on matchday one, comes the second round of group stage matches and another batch of mouth-watering fixtures on Europe’s top stage.
Tuesday 13th September
Bayer Leverkusen v Atletico Madrid
After their 1-0 away defeat at Club Brugge the pressure is already on Bayer Leverkusen in Group B and they face Spanish giants Atletico Madrid at the Bay Arena in midweek. The Werkself go into Tuesday’s clash on the back of some indifferent league form, which has seen them take just four points this season and they currently occupy a lowly spot in the bottom two. A 2-2 draw at Hertha Berlin showed positive signs, but the arrival of Diego Simeone’s battlers is a whole different challenge.
Atleti have started their season in fine form taking ten points from their five games and had a confidence-boosting 4-1 win over Celta Vigo on Saturday. They have ex-Dortmund midfielder Axel Witsel in their ranks so Leverkusen will know all about his passing ability. The Colchoneros beat Porto 2-1 last week in their Group B opener so know that another three points this week will put them in pole position.
Player to watch:
The 22-year-old attacking midfielder was a club record €126 million buy back in 2019 but has struggled to live up to the hype. He perhaps found life difficult in the shadow of Luis Suarez, but now that the legendary Uruguayan has left, he should get more opportunities to shine.
Bayern Munich v Barcelona
When Robert Lewandowski left Bayern Munich and joined Barcelona after a protracted ‘will he/ won’t he?’ situation, you just knew that the Champions league draw was going to play with fate and pair the Bavarians and the Catalans in the Champions League. And so it comes to pass that Bayern’s record goalscorer returns to the Allianz Arena on Tuesday in the colours of the Blaugrana looking to score in a stadium he is well used to finding the back of the net in.
The Bayern defenders will know exactly what the Polish striker is capable of, finding a way to stop him is quite the other issue. Formally, they were happy to leave that to others to worry about. Julian Nagelsmann saw his side pick up an important win at the San Siro last week as they beat Inter 2-0.
Their league form has however been a little patchy of late with three consecutive draws against Borussia Mönchengladbach, Union Berlin and this weekend against VfB Stuttgart.
Bayern will want to remember the famous 8-2 win they enjoyed at the Estadio da Luz in 2020 as they knocked Barca out of the Champions League on the way to lifting the trophy.
The Spanish side have made the headlines over the summer by signing a whole raft of top names and then struggling to register them due to La Liga wage constraints. Financial shenanigans and ‘lever pulling’ has enabled them to register the likes of Lewandowski, Frank Kessie, Raphina, Marcos Alonso, Hector Bellerin amongst others.
They comfortably beat Plzen 4-1 in their Group C opener with (you’ve guessed it) a Robert Lewandowski hattrick. This weekend, Xavi’s side beat Cadiz 4-1 to put them second in the league behind Real Madrid.
Player to watch: Gavi
Stopping Lewandowski will be Plan A, but Julian Nagelsmann will need another plan of action to combat the influence of youngster Gavi. For an 18-year-old his ability is scary combining vision, technique, dribbling and an uncanny knack of finding space wherever he wants.
Marseille v Eintracht Frankfurt
This has the potential to be a real cracker both on the pitch and in terms of atmosphere created by two sets of hugely passionate fans. Both sides lost their opening group fixture last week and will want to compensate with a first three points. Les Phocéens lost 2-0 at Tottenham, which was their first defeat of the season after winning six and drawing one of their opening Ligue 1 fixtures. Their latest win came with a 2-1 win over Lille. That puts them level on points with Paris St. Germain at the top of the Ligue 1 table.
Frankfurt meanwhile suffered a home defeat to Sporting, which only slightly dampened the mood of their passionate fans, who were celebrating their first European Cup/ Champions League appearance since 1960. The German side lost at the weekend at home to Wolfsburg, so are in a slight rut at the moment. Which side of the Adler will we see at the Stade Velodrome?
Player to watch: Alexis Sanchez
The former Barcelona, Arsenal and Inter forward raised a few eyebrows when he turned up in Marseille as the transfer window closed. He has however settled into life in the South of France very quickly, winning over the fans and scoring four league goals already. He may be past his absolute prime, but he still has all the skills to cause Frankfurt plenty of concerns.
Wednesday 14th September
Real Madrid v RB Leipzig
After their dismal defeat to Shakhtar Donetsk last week, Leipzig fans must have been dreading facing reigning champions Real Madrid in their second Group F outing. Having sacked Domenico Tedesco, installed Marco Rose, and beaten Borussia Dortmund however confidence has taken a boost and the doom and gloom has evaporated.
That said, the task of travelling to the Bernabeu and coming away with anything remains a massive challenge. Carlo Ancelotti’s side are one of the favourites for this season’s Champions League and have made a perfect start to the new season with five wins out of five in La Liga. They easily overcame Celtic 3-0 in their opener in Glasgow and will be confident of making it another 100% record when the face Leipzig.
Die Roten Bullen will want to summon up the spirit of 2020 when they beat Real’s city rivals Atletico in the Champions League quarterfinals, but with the likes of Karim Benzema, Vinicius Junior coming at them on Wednesday, they are going to need a lot more than ‘spirit’ to survive.
Player to watch: Aurelien Tchouameni
In a side packed full of world class stars, picking one player to watch out for seems impossible, but aside from the household names, the central midfielder Aurelien Tchouameni is worthy of attention.
With Luka Modric and Toni Kroos orchestrating things in midfield and the forwards doing their thing, the important anchor role falls to the young Frenchman. Some questioned the €100 million it cost to sign him from Monaco, but the fact that Real allowed Casemiro to join Manchester United without much of a fight was down to the confidence they have in the 22-year-old to fill the void.
Manchester City v Borussia Dortmund
Like the Robert Lewandowski situation at Barca, it just seemed that fate would see Erling Haaland meeting up with his former Dortmund side sooner rather than later and so it came to pass following the group stage draw.
BVB travel to Manchester this week with a number of worrying developments on their minds. A growing injury list is depriving coach Edin Terzic of a full squad from which to choose and it seems to be the club’s quickest players going down (Thorgan Hazard, Karim Adeyemi, Jamie Bynoe-Gittens).
There is also a question mark over the performances of late. An impressive 3-0 win over FC Copenhagen covered over the cracks of previous displays and on Saturday those cracks were cruelly exposed by RB Leipzig in a 3-0 defeat at the Red Bull Arena. Had he not been so wasteful Timo Werner could have had a hattrick- you wouldn’t expect Erling Haaland to be as charitable.
City had the weekend off with English fixtures cancelled in the wake of the death of the Queen. They have however started the defence of their Premier League crown well with four wins and two draws putting them just a point behind current leaders Arsenal. Pep Guardiola has a rich squad with two fantastic players to choose from in each position.
An in-form Dortmund would find life difficult at the Etihad, but the Dortmund travelling to England are not an in-form Dortmund and with Haaland on the rampage, it could be a difficult night for the Schwarzgelben.
Player to watch: Erling Haaland
It will come as no surprise that Erling Haaland has hit the ground running in England, but the speed with which he has adapted and started scoring is mind-boggling. The Norwegian already has ten league goals in six appearances and added a brace in the Champions League when the Citizens beat Sevilla last week. Knowing he is the danger is one thing, stopping him is quite the other. Dortmund used to benefit from his goals, now they are going to be on the receiving end.