Game to watch – Atletico Madrid v Chelsea
‘There is no point dressing it up as something it was not. At this level it is rare to see such a lack of vibrant football, or so many occasions when passes are misplaced and two sides play with so little penetration.’
And thus began the match report penned by The Guardian’s Daniel Taylor the last time this fixture was played in 2014. We have to hope for better than that stodgy 0-0 with Antonio Conte in the Chelsea dug-out rather than Jose Mourinho, Eden Hazard linking midfield and attack rather than the willing but limited Ramires, the on-form Alvaro Morata up front rather than the off-colour Fernando Torres, John Obi Mikel long gone and David Luiz in defence rather than set to spoiler mode in central midfield alongside the Nigerian.
Chelsea began their European campaign against Qarabag but that was a phoney war; the real business begins here in the Wanda Metropolitano, which will host its first ever Champions League fixture. “It seems like a Roman circus,” said Diego Simeone after the weekend’s win over Sevilla, and that may work in our (the viewers’) favour. If they can create an atmosphere, Atletico Madrid and Chelsea may have no choice but to create a football match.
With a list of potential participants including Koke, Alvaro Morata, Saul Niguez, Eden Hazard, Yannick Carrasco, N’Golo Kante and Antoine Griezmann, how can this match not deliver? And I don’t want to hear any nonsense about Chelsea being very happy indeed to turn this into another 0-0 draw.
Player to watch – Romelu Lukaku
Two years ago, Manchester United laboured to a 1-1 draw with CSKA Moscow, with Wayne Rooney an isolated, lumbering presence up front. It was a typical Louis van Gaal performance, with Bastian Schweinsteiger and Morgan Schneiderlin labouring in midfield, Ander Herrera struggling to make an impact in the No. 10 role and Jesse Lingard toiling enthusiastically but ultimately pointlessly on the right.
United are a far, far better side in 2017 and nothing illustrates that greater than Romelu Lukaku’s goal-laden start to the season. It is worth noting again that for both club and country, he has scored in nine of ten matches this season, with only Leicester rendering him impotent. Right now he is clearing every obstacle put in front of him (even if some insist on crediting his strength rather than his finishing or creativity), though cynics will still point out that he is yet to play stellar opposition outside of the European Super Cup and a half-arsed Real Madrid.
English clubs have traditionally struggled in Moscow, but four years ago Sergio Aguero scored twice in the Khimki Arena for Manchester City. Over to you, Romelu.
Team to watch – Manchester City
Well why wouldn’t you? They have scored 27 goals in eight games this season and I think we can all agree that is sodding ridiculous. If Sergio Aguero (seven goals) doesn’t get you, then Leroy Sane (5), Gabriel Jesus (5) or Raheem Sterling (5) just might. Of the seven players who have created more than three chances per 90 minutes of Premier League football this season, three of them are City players – the irrepressible David Silva, the sublime Kevin De Bruyne and the effervescent Sane.
This week’s visitors to the Etihad are Shakhtar Donetsk, and they could be in for an absolute hiding. Their last foray into the Champions League group stage saw them lose all three of their away games without scoring a single goal. 4-0? 5-0? 6-0? The general consensus might be that Manchester United have shown the pragmatism needed to win the Premier League title, but the team to watch in awe right now are Manchester City.
Manager to watch – Jurgen Klopp
“After a few games with no results or not the right results, you have to fight back. That’s what we did, now we can build on this,” said Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp after watching his side squeeze past Leicester on Saturday evening. It was not comfortable – and only a penalty save from Simon Mignolet preserved all three points – but it was a victory that stopped the four-game rot and moved the Reds to within goal difference of the top four. Crisis averted. Or at least until Liverpool kick off against a Spartak Moscow side who are marooned in Russian mid-table and are likely to be without top scorer Quincy Promes.
If relegation-threatened Anzhi Makhachkala can go to Moscow and draw 2-2, then Liverpool really should be capable of going one better. And by ‘one better’, we really do expect them to win 3-2. We dare not dream of a first away clean sheet of the season, even though that may well be what it takes to remove almost all the pressure off the shoulders of the German. After all, he is usually a really good defensive coach.
One-on-one battle to watch – Diego Godin v Alvaro Morata
In six games against Diego Godin and Atletico Madrid for both Real Madrid and Juventus, Alvaro Morata has failed to score. He has been on the winning side three times – including the Champions League final of 2014 – but he is yet to personally get the better of the granite-faced Uruguayan. To be fair to the Spaniard, he has only started one of those games (and was marooned on the wing to make way for his nemesis Karim Benzema) but it is still an unenviable record that Morata will not be allowed to forget in the build-up to Wednesday’s clash.
Morata could not have picked a better time to absorb the confidence that must come with a first club hat-trick as he will be at the eye of a particularly unpleasant storm on Wednesday, with Atletico fans and players alike likely to be brutal with a former Real player, and comparisons with Diego Costa – in some kind of self-imposed limbo between the two clubs – front and central. Godin will relish the chance to prove that Chelsea have signed a meek victim to replace the school bully.
European games to watch – Borussia Dortmund v Real Madrid, PSG v Bayern Munich
We couldn’t split these two games, so spoil yourselves and watch them both. On Tuesday it’s Borussia Dortmund (top of the Bundesliga) featuring free-scoring Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (eight in six in the Bundesliga) against a spluttering Real Madrid side who really could use a striker of his talents. The good news for Real Madrid is that they are away from the Bernabeu, which has been the venue for two humbling draws and one embarrassing defeat already this season.
No wonder they’re smiling…
— Real Madrid C.F. (@realmadrid) September 25, 2017
This time last year, this fixture produced a thrilling 2-2 draw. In 2017, that simply will not be enough for Dortmund after losing to Tottenham at Wembley. And Arsene Wenger says that the group stage is not interesting anymore…(he’s generally right, but this one is a bona fide doozy).
And on Wednesday, two genuine behemoths of the modern game meet in Paris. It’s Neymar, it’s Robert Lewandowski, it’s Thiago v Thiago, it’s Carlo Ancelotti back in Paris and under pressure, it’s the old guard of Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben up against Kylian Mbappe and it’s a ridiculous obsession with who takes PSG’s penalties. If this does not give you the actual horn, then I am afraid we cannot be friends.
Football League game to watch – Cardiff City v Leeds United
First-placed Leeds. Third-placed Cardiff. Neil Warnock. No draws in the last eight clashes between the two. Expect goals. Expect fights. Expect at least one manager to be sent to the stands.