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Champions League Special: An in-depth look at this week’s fixtures


With the eagerly anticipated return of Champions League action this week, RealSport takes a look at the times that need to improve their performances from the previous round of fixtures and the teams that simply need to pick up where they left off.

Improvement required

1. Tottenham Hotspur (vs. CSKA Moscow [A]) 

Tottenham are in great league form; they sit second in the table and are one of two undefeated teams, having conceded the fewest goals. The same can’t be said for the table in Group E. Tottenham prop it up in last place after an uninspiring 2-1 home defeat to Monaco in their return to Europe’s elite competition after a six-year absence. Any more ground lost and Tottenham will really have their work cut out for them.

With Eric Dier, Mousa Dembele, Danny Rose, Harry Kane and Moussa Sissoko all on the injury list for the clash with Russian side CSKA Moscow, the odds are against them. Moscow is a notoriously hard place to play given the history of fan violence in the area, and Tottenham will have to be at their best to secure victory. All eyes will be on Son Heung-min after his eye-catching display against Middlesbrough on the weekend.

Toby Alderweireld and co. will have to be wary of CSKA forwards Lacina Traore and Roman Eremenko, however, who have three goals apiece in the Russian Premier League.

2. Arsenal (vs. FC Basel [H])

North London is currently in full voice as Arsenal, too, are in good form, sitting in third place just one point behind Tottenham. They just demolished fellow Londoners Chelsea 3-0 and the excellent form of Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Özil, coupled with emerging talent Alex Iwobi, is definitely encouraging.

Arsenal must, however, improve their European performances. They were lacklustre against a strong PSG side in Paris last time out in a game where Edinson Cavani could and should have scored four or five himself. Nothing is certain, but Basel at the Emirates is the perfect game to improve their European fortune and Arsenal fans have right to be expectant. They can’t afford to lose ground.

FC Basel have a 100% record in the Swiss Super League so this fixture isn’t exactly going to be straightforward. They seem to be coping well with the loss of their ‘wonderkid,’ Breel Embolo though.

3. Paris Saint-Germain (vs. Ludogorets [A])

When you think of PSG you think of complete domestic dominance. Well, things change in football and fast. Having won the French Ligue 1 astonishingly early in March 2016, they now sit in fourth, having lost two of their opening seven matches. 

Everything is a little topsy-turvy in Paris at the present. They’ve brought in a new manager, Unai Emery, and haven’t strengthened their squad adequately, leaving Edinson Cavani short of cover. Their right back, Serge Aurier, has also come under scrutiny after being given a suspended sentence of two months in prison for elbowing a police officer. Paris may be bordering on the line of turmoil.

Another draw in the Champions League and their main group rivals Arsenal can take advantage. With everything to play for, they must improve. You’d expect them to thrash Ludogorets and the players are going to be hoping for the same to improve their morale. 

Repeat performances

1. Leicester City (vs. Porto [H])

Whilst things aren’t going as planned in the Premier League, Leicester raised some eyebrows with their convincing 3-0 victory over Club Brugge. Riyad Mahrez, thankfully, was in the thick of the action last time round, scoring two goals, including a masterful free kick.

Leicester ‘keeper Kasper Schmeichel could return to the starting line-up following three games out injured, news that Claudio Ranieri described as “fantastic.” Another advantage for Leicester is that summer signing Islam Slimani knows Porto all too well. He’s scored five in his last three games against them for former club Sporting Lisbon; Ranieri will be hoping history repeats itself.

Porto will be a different beast to Club Brugge, however. They’re three points off the summit of the Primeira Liga and Andre Silva is in fine form, scoring four goals so far.

2. Manchester City (vs. Celtic [A])

A perfect start to the season and perfection is set to continue against Celtic. City tops the Premier League and convincingly dispatched of Monchengladbach 4-0 in the first round of matches. 

It’s worth noting that Celtic, too, are seeking improvement. They were demolished 7-0 by Barcelona and their familiar faces of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar. Their efforts, however, may be in vain this week against a City side inspired by Guardiola’s philosophy, all too similar to the style of the team that inflicted last week’s hiding.

Kevin De Bruyne is injured, but Raheem Sterling, Sergio Aguero, Nolito and Bernardo Silva are in fine form, with Kelechi Iheanacho to come in to the team as well. Celtic to lose badly again.

3. Barcelona (vs. Monchengladbach [A])

As mentioned, Barcelona were rampant in the last round of matches, with Messi in particular, piling on the misery, netting his sixth Champions League hat-trick to inflict Celtic’s worst ever European defeat. In La Liga, Barcelona are second, one point behind fierce rivals Real Madrid, though two of the three top scorers are Barcelona players: Suarez with five goals, two assists and Messi with four goals, two assists.

Monchengladbach will provide a much tougher task than Celtic could. The fourth-placed side in the Bundesliga compete in a league of far superior quality to that in Scotland, but the challenge is nothing that Barcelona can’t contain. They will punish the German team.

Ultimately… 

Only one round of matches have been played, so it’s all still to play for in the Champions League group stage, but it’s important for English teams to improve their performances.

The Premier League currently has four teams entered into the Champions League, three in the group stage and one in the playoff round, but continued poor performance in Europe may spell the end of this luxury. English teams may end up competing for three places in the future. 

All matches take place on either Tuesday or Wednesday.

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Oli Stein

Football Editor

Oli graduated from the University of Bristol with a degree in History and has been RealSport's football editor since September 2016.

He's a Tottenham Hotspur fan first and objective football writer second!

Oli is also a defensive end for American football club the London Blitz, starting his career on the offensive line with his Bristol university team.

Champions League Special: An in-depth look at this week’s fixtures

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