The UEFA Champions League is back. Following November’s round of international fixtures which have added to the already manic schedule we enter Gameweek 4 of the group stages kickstarting three consecutive weeks of European competition.
This round of games provides the reverse fixtures of Gameweek 3, will we see a repeat in most of the scorelines? Or will lessons have been learnt from their previous European outings for the losers in the past gameweek? Also, we will begin to see a turnaround in the second half of the group stages, read my prediction’s below ahead of a jam-packed week of Champions League football.
Game of the Week
Group B - Inter Milan vs Real Madrid: 20:00, San Siro (BT Sport, ESPN HD)
Our game of the week is a tie which will undoubtedly have huge ramifications on the final standing in its group. Inter Milan and Real Madrid, who were the favourites to progress through this group sit fourth and third respectively after three games. With the Nerazzuri two points adrift of second spot they cannot afford to fall further behind in the race to qualify.
A ‘sluggish start’ very much summarises Inter’s performances this season. Unable to win their opening two games in group B they have over-relied on their bounce-back-ability displayed against Borussia Mönchengladbach by recovering from a two goal deficit in Madrid, they were duly punished by a late goal from Rodrygo as Los Blancos came away with all three points. As admirable as their quality for comebacks is, the team who have rescued the most points in Serie A this season must look to start this game more sharply.
Real Madrid have had problems of their own in the competition this season given their current position in third. More disconcerting is their failure to win on the road since defeating Barcelona in the ‘El Classico’ at the end of October involving a 4-1 defeat to Valencia. Regardless of the magnitude of this occasion expect goals in this one.
Group E - Stade Rennais vs Chelsea: 17:55, Roazhon Park (BT Sport 3HD)
To put it lightly, Stade Rennais’ form has been bad. They have lost four out of their last five games and have failed to score in each of those. It appears that the disruptive schedule and departure of key playmaker Raphinha to Leeds United looks to have really hampered the Brittany side’s progress as of late.
Chelsea’s case is quite the opposite, after an indifferent start to the season the Blues have really picked up and have recorded back to back wins in the group stages over FK Krasnodar and Rennes who they dismantled three-nil last time out. The introduction of Hakim Ziyech seems to have given Chelsea another attacking dimension, given the short trip across the English channel I would expect a repeat of what we saw last.
Group E - FK Krasnodar vs Sevilla: 17:55, Stadion FK Krasnodar (BT Sport 1HD)
The Russian debutants in this competition have been shooting themselves in the foot. Looking to make amends from an early goalkeeping catastrophe in their game against Chelsea in Gameweek 2 it seemed to be going according to plan as they raced into a shock two-nil lead against Sevilla. Despite their opponents going down to ten men their inexperience showed as they collapsed in the second half and ended up losing the game.
Similar to Chelsea, Sevilla’s form has drastically improved this month with their bluntness in front of goal deserting them for the meantime at least. Another comeback victory against Celta Vigo in their last game showed their resilience. Also, striker Youssef En-Nesyri has four goals in as many games which will please the fans of the Andalusian side. Krasnodar will need the perfect performance to offer themselves any glimmer of hope of qualifying, given their track record so far, I do not see that happening.
Group F - Lazio vs Zenit St. Petersburg: 20:00, Stadio Olimpico (BT Sport)
Despite a favourable draw and astonishing performance in the Serie A last season many were doubting Lazio’s credentials to qualify because of their stuttering start this time around. However, the Champions League appears to have stung them into action once again. Unbeaten in seven games starting with the upset victory over Borussia Dortmund in Gameweek 1 there is an air of fortitude with Simone Inzaghi’s team. Although Ciro Immobile normally receives the plaudits, keep an eye for ex-Manchester City striker Felipe Caicedo who has a wonderful knack of scoring last-gasp goals coming off the bench.
Zenit St. Petersburg’s prospects in the competition do not look great, yet they will take reassurance from their display against Lazio in their last game as they were leading for a large spell until a late equaliser from none other than Caicedo. A convincing three-one victory over fellow Champions League side Krasnodar will give them cause for optimism but I suspect Lazio may just provide the final blow to Zenit’s slim hopes of qualifying.
Group F - Borussia Dortmund vs Club Brugge: 20:00, BVB Stadion Dortmund (BT Sport Extra 4)
After losing ‘Der Klassiker’ just before the international break Borussia Dortmund returned from it with a bang. Erling Braut Haaland got four goals in a tantalising five-two victory away to Hertha Berlin. The yellow submarine have recovered well from losing their opening game in the group stages winning both and not conceding in either of them. At home they will be confident of extending that run. Also, keep an eye out for sixteen-year-old Yousoufa Moukoko, the highly rated teenager could potentially make his European bow on Tuesday night.
Club Brugge’s three-nil defeat at home to Dortmund was a reminder to reserve expectations for a team who were predicted by many to finish bottom of the group. Nevertheless, they still have four points and although they will not just hand over the three points the focus may be more on their final two games versus Lazio and Zenit.
Group G - Dynamo Kyiv vs Barcelona: 20:00, NSK Olimpiyskiy, Kiev (BT Sport Extra 3)
It had been a great start for Dynamo Kyiv domestically but they will have been relieved to have reached the international break after suffering a damaging three-nil defeat to rivals Shakhtar Donetsk following a slender defeat at the Nou Camp. You can see why they may feel sorry for themselves having only one point out of nine so far as their performances have been ok but a lack of quality in the final third has been very telling.
The announced departure of maligned club president Josep Bartomeu has done little to halt Barcelona’s slide. They are currently twelve points off of the summit and suffered a damaging defeat to Atlético Madrid at the weekend. All being said, they do have a favourable run of games coming up and whilst it may not be easy I will predict a repeat score-line from Gameweek 3’s result between the teams.
Group G - Juventus vs Ferencvaros: 20:00, Juventus Stadium (BT Sport Extra 3)
In a group where Juventus and Barcelona are expected to progress, to many these games are seen as formalities and so far the Old Lady have done quite a good job in showing that to be the case. A four-one win for them in Hungary last time and comfortable victories against teams considerably weaker than them means it would be wise to go with another Juve' victory.
Ferencvaros’ qualification prospects are almost non-existent at this point barring a miracle unmatched in the history of the competition given their squad and their opponents. Saying that, they will have their eyes firmly on their tie versus Dynamo in the battle for third, it has been a good week for Hungarian football seeing their national team qualify for the Euros and I do not think a defeat to Juventus would dampen the mood too much.
Group H: Paris Saint-Germain vs RB Leipzig: 20:00, Parc des Princes (BT Sport ESPN HD)
The rematch of our game of the week for the previous round of fixtures should be no less exciting than the first one. Two defeats out of three means Paris Saint-Germain cannot risk anything but a winning performance in the French capital this week to ensure that they progress. In a summer of change for the Parisians they need to start finding answers in their new look team. Coach Thomas Tuchel will look to rely on Kylian Mbappé and Moise Kean to provide the goals.
What a response to the hammering RB Leipzig received at the hands of Manchester United. You could say they were a bit unlucky as they played well for large spells of the game but it was an excellent response to then beat the team who knocked them out of last season’s semi-finals. It will be interesting to see what approach Leipzig take as PSG have an excellent record at home in this competition. Because of that, I am going for a PSG win.
Group H: Manchester United vs İstanbul Başakşehir F.K. : 20:00, Old Trafford (BT Sport 2HD)
Undoubtedly the shock of Gameweek 3 saw Man United lose to İstanbul Başakşehir in the Turkish capital. Two moments of horrendous positioning and defending left a sour taste in many United fans’ mouths following the shock result. They laboured to a win against West Bromwich Albion at the weekend but with this being an absolute necessity for them to win you would expect them to have enough to pull through at home.
Seeing Demba Ba run half the length of a pitch to score on such a big stage is something I never thought I would witness live again. The former Newcastle United striker proved me wrong and they now see themselves just three points off first place and level with PSG. I think it is an achievement in itself for them to get some points in this group but I do not see them doing the double over the Red Devils Tuesday night.
Group A - Bayern Munich vs Red Bull Salzburg: 20:00, Allianz Arena (BT Sport Extra 3)
It will be interesting to see how Bayern Munich get on in the next few weeks. For the best part they seem unstoppable but seeing the national team get beaten for six by Spain last week makes you wonder if it will have much effect on a team containing a number of German internationals. They struggled at the weekend in a one-one draw to Werder Bremen but it is still too early to be raising serious question marks over the best team in Europe for the past year.
With just one win in five it appears the schedule seems to be opening up the Austrian Bundesliga this season as typical favourites Red Bull Salzburg’s gap at the top of their league has reduced to just two points. Only having a single point in the Champions League it appears their hopes to progress are all but over, it may be worth keeping an eye on Dominik Szoboszlai, who scored a beautiful goal over the international break to send Hungary to Euro 2020.
Group A - Atlético Madrid vs Lokomotiv Moscow: 20:00, Wanda Metropolitano (BT Sport Extra 4)
Whilst La Liga rivals Barcelona who lost to Atlético Madrid at the weekend have been making easy work of the group stages so far the same cannot be said for Atlético. Labouring to a draw in Moscow last time out will give the visitors confidence for the second meeting in Madrid. The form of João Félix has been mesmerising as of late, Félix should look to repeat the performance he put in against Salzburg as a win for Atlético could leave them six points clear in second place with two games to go.
Winless Lokomotiv Moscow sit in third after three games. An impressive draw against Diego Simeone’s men last time out and a narrow defeat to Bayern Munich will bring confidence to them. However it will be interesting to see how they fare defensively on the road and whether it may be too tall of an order for them to keep in the games for as long as they have previously.
Group B - Borussia Monchengladbach vs Shakhtar Donetsk: 17:55, Borussia-Park, Monchengladbach (BT Sport 1HD)
Borussia Monchengladbach manager Marco Rose’s stock is growing rapidly and it is easy to see why. Unfortunate not to beat Real Madrid or Inter Milan his side responded in dominant fashion smashing six past previous group leaders Shakhtar to usurp them into top spot. Winless since then Rose will be looking to get rid of the hangover lingering since that emphatic victory.
Shakhtar’s bubble was well and truly burst in their temporary home stadium. They have been inconsistent this season so they will be hoping their heavy defeat against Monchengladbach was nothing but an awful blip. For all of their European nous they may be back to square one if they suffer defeat at the hands of the German side again.
Group C - Olympique de Marseille vs FC Porto: 20:00, Stade de Marseille (BT Sport)
Expletives were used by Olympique de Marseille boss Andre Villas-Boas to describe their opening three games so it should not be surprising that they are bottom of their group with zero points. For a team that has come so far under the Portuguese manager it has been a bitterly disappointing campaign, especially considering if they win their games in hand in Ligue 1 they would be level with PSG.
FC Porto have drawn on their experience and despite not having as strong a squad on paper as they have had in previous years the work under former Portugal international Sérgio Conceição has been excellent. I would not be surprised to see him linked with bigger roles at the end of the season. I’m predicting the good work to continue in this Group C clash.
Group C - Olympiakos vs Manchester City: 17:55, Stadio Georgios Karaiskakis (BT Sport 3HD)
If results go as I predict in this group, it looks like Olympiakos and Marseille will battle it out for the Europa League spot. Despite not scoring in their previous two games they have just come off of a derby victory against rivals Panathinaikos so expect the Greek side to be in a confident mood.
It’s been a strange season for Manchester City. Despite sitting in the bottom half of the Premier League table they have looked confident on the European stage. They can live without Aguero in the group stages but once they progress which is almost a given now I do not see them getting very far without him.
Group D - Ajax vs FC Midtjylland: 20:00, Johan Cruyff Arena (BT Sport Extra 2)
It may have taken three games for Ajax record a first victory in the group stages but they have been generally impressive across all competitions this season. Slightly unlucky not get more from their games against Liverpool and Atalanta they dispelled fears of having a Covid-ravaged squad to take all three points against FC Midtjylland last time out. Keep an eye out for striker Lassina Traoré, the teenager has been scoring for fun in the Eredivisie.
Midtjylland gave a good account of themselves against Ajax and have been in impressive form since. Dismantling FC Copenhagen four-nil and sitting at the summit of the Danish Superliga. If they can get a point against Ajax they may fancy themselves against an out-of-sorts Atalanta side. Sadly for them, Ajax are in excellent form and I think it will continue.
Group D - Liverpool vs Atalanta: 20:00, Anfield (BT Sport 2HD)
Much has been made of how Liverpool will fare without Virgil Van Dijk and now Joe Gomez and it will be interesting to see if Jurgen Klopp will go with the younger centre half pairing to protect Fabinho and Joel Matip for the league. The German has expressed his grave concerns with the fixture schedule but will take comfort in seeing young defenders Rhys Williams and Nat Phillips adapt to first team life with such aplomb.
It has been a really difficult season for Atalanta, after starting so well they are struggling winning only one of their past six games. As varied as their attacking play is, their game suits Liverpool perfectly and I expect the Reds to pick them off with similar ease that they did in the first game.