The Champions League 2020/21 group stage begins this week, with question marks over a number of Europe's top clubs. Who could be in trouble early and who could surprise? Renuka Odedra takes a look...
Will Premier League clubs find their form?
Virgil van Dijk's ACL injury might just derail Liverpool’s defence, which Ajax would be looking to capitalise on. They’ve managed a single clean sheet this season despite having a strong-looking defence on paper. Still, if they can keep the goals out, they’re not short of attacking prowess with Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah in good form.
Frank Lampard has added players who have experience in the competition, like Thiago Silva who they will count on to stand tall at the back. Defensive woes continue to be a running theme in the Premier League this year and Chelsea are no different. The Blues have faltered with two 3-3 draws and nine goals in total conceded in the Premier League.
It’s spooky season and Manchester City need to dust off the cobwebs of the past. They’ve had a torrid couple of European campaigns, with Pep Guardiola failing to progress with City past the quarter-final stage. With a shaky start in the league campaign, injured players might halt the rotation Guardiola needs to get his team one step closer to that big-eared trophy.
Chelsea have signed former PSG captain Thiago Silva to strengthen their defence
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Who could make an early exit?
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s young Manchester United side that beat PSG in their memorable last-16 clash was heroic or lucky at best. But they won’t have such an easy ride this time. The Parisians will be looking to get a taste of payback after that defeat with their main man Kylian Mbappe one goal shy of 20 in the competition.
United could be in danger of an early exit after being drawn in the ‘group of death’ - yes it exists every year. Facing PSG, Leipzig and İstanbul Basaksehi could take its toll on a side that has failed to strengthen its squad over the summer.
Ajax are another team who could struggle in their group with Liverpool, Atalanta and Midtjylland. They’ve lost some key players over a couple of transfer windows, such as Donny van de Beek, Hakim Ziyech and Matthijs de Ligt.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer could be in trouble if Man Utd exit the Champions League early
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Will the Messi and Ronaldo show continue?
La Liga giants Barcelona and Real Madrid also have some work to do ahead of their Champions League ties against Ferencvarosi TC and Shakhtar Donetsk respectively. The Spanish papers haven’t bitten their tongue when it comes to the form of some players.
Lionel Messi always finds a way to show his flair and pure brilliance every Champions League campaign. As an individual, you never doubt to think he’ll do well, but as a collective, the pieces of the jigsaw just aren’t fitting at Barcelona. You get the feeling they’re riding of their past glories and rifts at the top could prove costly on the pitch.
Juventus are without their star player, Cristiano Ronaldo who is self-isolating after testing positive for coronavirus. The empty spotlight could allow the likes of Paulo Dybala and Alvaro Morata to shine. Meanwhile it will be a trip down memory lane in some ways for manager Andrea Pirlo. He’ll be standing alongside Mircea Lucescu on the touchline, the Kyiv manager being the person who gave him his first Serie A debut.
Underdog to watch out for
If there’s one team that could prove the underdog energy is well and truly alive it could just be Atalanta. Rising through the ranks in European competitions and since qualifying for the Champions League for the first time last season they’ve been one to watch. Sitting third in Serie A, they’ve got a heap of talent and the momentum every underdog needs.