Blog

Champions League preview: Match week 5

As we reach the boiling point of the Champions League group stage, Simon Hart returns to preview the action of match week 5

WORDS Simon Hart

Fans of Barcelona could be forgiven a sense of trepidation when Bayern München, the Group C leaders, come to town on Wednesday night.

After all, in two of the past three seasons, the German titleholders have been the team to push Barcelona through the Champions League exit door. And in pretty bruising fashion. First, there was that 8-2 humiliation in a Lisbon quarter-final in 2020. Then, last term, Bayern won 3-0 at Camp Nou and achieved an identical victory in Bavaria to cement Barcelona’s first group-stage exit since 2001.

So to the present where Xavi’s men risk another early elimination, lying three points adrift of second-placed Inter against whom they took a solitary point in their October double-header. They showed spirit and scoring power in the latter meeting with Inter – a 3-3 home draw – but paid the price for defensive errors. If they fail to beat Bayern and Inter avoid defeat at home against Plzeň, the section’s bottom club, that will be that. Even a victory will not suffice if Inter prevail.

On the bright side, Barcelona are unbeaten at home since the final day of last season – an eight-match sequence – and swept aside Athletic Bilbao 4-0 on Sunday night. Yet their record in the Champions League of late offers less reassurance: just three wins in their last 13 matches. After they lost to Real Madrid on 16 October, much was said about the fact Xavi had won fewer of his first 50 games as Barcelona coach (28) than his predecessor Ronald Koeman (33). They have posted back-to-back wins since then but a far bigger statement would be victory over a Bayern side who, for the record, arrive in Catalonia unbeaten in 32 games in the group stage.  

Can Robert Lewandowski be the hero against his old club? The Pole cut a subdued figure in Munich in September when Bayern beat the Blaugrana 2-0. However, he has five goals from Barcelona’s last three home fixtures in all competitions, including the injury-time equaliser against Inter. Moreover, he has registered the most shots so far in this season’s Champions League (22) and the most on goal (11). Only Erling Haaland and Mohamed Salah have matched his five goals. If Barcelona are to avoid a third calamity at Bayern’s hands, you suspect Lewandowski – scorer of 344 goals for the Bavarian club – will have a key role to play.  

Do Liverpool’s stumbles give Ajax glimmer of hope?

You have to go back eight years for the last time Liverpool had lost more games at this stage of a season. Saturday’s 1-0 loss at Nottingham Forest was their fourth in all competitions. Last season, they did not lose a single game before 7 November.  

Six days after the Anfield success against Manchester City, Jürgen Klopp described as a “massive blow” his club’s first league reverse against Forest since 1996. The reasons for their dip this term have been much-discussed. One longstanding observer of the Merseyside football scene cites key players consistently underperforming as one principal factor. Bad luck – and the injury list is long – is another. Klopp has alluded to a certain mental staleness too, admitting he had tweaked their tactical approach (to a 4-4-2) to give his players something fresh to think about. Whisper it, there may have been a loss of aura too – temporary or not.

That said, in the Champions League Liverpool have won three games in a row (and nine of their last 10 in the group stage), including the 7-1 Ibrox rout of Rangers a fortnight ago. They have created more chances (66) than any other team and only Napoli have matched their total number of shots (82). Yes, their levels may have slipped a fraction or two thus far this season, but the slip from sky-high still leaves them higher than most. Ajax, thrashed 6-1 by Napoli in their last home outing in Group A, need a dramatic improvement to achieve the win required to reinject life into their campaign. Liverpool, with a draw, will be through to the knockout stage for the fifth year running.

Hey Jude

Last season Jude Bellingham scored four goals for Borussia Dortmund. With his double against Stuttgart on Saturday (his first Bundesliga strikes of 2022/23), the English teenager raised his tally for this campaign to eight. This tally includes one in each game of Dortmund’s Group G campaign to date. The only teenager to have scored in five games running in the Champions League was Erling Haaaland for Salzburg in the 2019/20 group stage.  

Matching the feat of his old team-mate on the evening Haaland returns to his former club with Manchester City would be something to savour. “I can’t get anything over that geezer,” he joked to one post-match interviewer when reminded in Seville that Haaland had also managed four in four. Bellingham certainly has the knack of scoring against City. He was unfortunate to have a goal ruled out in Manchester when the sides met in the 2020/21 quarter-finals. He then scored in the second leg and was on target against City again on matchday 2 of this campaign.

If the young England midfielder can summon another spark or two of inspiration, it might be enough for Dortmund to get the result they need to join the English champions in advancing from the section. A win would guarantee that; a draw would suffice if Copenhagen failed to beat Sevilla in Spain.

The number: 12

Overall, a dozen teams are looking to book their passage to the last 16 this week. They are Benfica, Chelsea, Dortmund, Inter, Leipzig, Liverpool, Marseille, Paris Saint-Germain, Porto, Salzburg, Sporting and Tottenham. Of the 12, Marseille might be seen as the biggest outsiders: currently second in Group D, they have not reached the competition’s knockout phase since 2011/12 and visit Eintracht Frankfurt having lost their last five Champions League matches against German clubs.  

Let me highlight two other fixtures to look out for. Salzburg v Chelsea brings together the top two in Group D with each team knowing victory would assure their progress. Salzburg reached the last 16 for the first time last season and are unbeaten in their last six home matches in the competition. Chelsea, held at home by the Austrian champions in Graham Potter’s first match in charge, will likely be tested again.

The other fixture is Benfica v Juventus in Group H, an opportunity for the unbeaten Eagles to advance – and seal the fate of a Juventus side standing on the edge of a first early elimination since 2013. Barcelona are not the only big name on the brink …

Fans of Barcelona could be forgiven a sense of trepidation when Bayern München, the Group C leaders, come to town on Wednesday night.

After all, in two of the past three seasons, the German titleholders have been the team to push Barcelona through the Champions League exit door. And in pretty bruising fashion. First, there was that 8-2 humiliation in a Lisbon quarter-final in 2020. Then, last term, Bayern won 3-0 at Camp Nou and achieved an identical victory in Bavaria to cement Barcelona’s first group-stage exit since 2001.

So to the present where Xavi’s men risk another early elimination, lying three points adrift of second-placed Inter against whom they took a solitary point in their October double-header. They showed spirit and scoring power in the latter meeting with Inter – a 3-3 home draw – but paid the price for defensive errors. If they fail to beat Bayern and Inter avoid defeat at home against Plzeň, the section’s bottom club, that will be that. Even a victory will not suffice if Inter prevail.

On the bright side, Barcelona are unbeaten at home since the final day of last season – an eight-match sequence – and swept aside Athletic Bilbao 4-0 on Sunday night. Yet their record in the Champions League of late offers less reassurance: just three wins in their last 13 matches. After they lost to Real Madrid on 16 October, much was said about the fact Xavi had won fewer of his first 50 games as Barcelona coach (28) than his predecessor Ronald Koeman (33). They have posted back-to-back wins since then but a far bigger statement would be victory over a Bayern side who, for the record, arrive in Catalonia unbeaten in 32 games in the group stage.  

Can Robert Lewandowski be the hero against his old club? The Pole cut a subdued figure in Munich in September when Bayern beat the Blaugrana 2-0. However, he has five goals from Barcelona’s last three home fixtures in all competitions, including the injury-time equaliser against Inter. Moreover, he has registered the most shots so far in this season’s Champions League (22) and the most on goal (11). Only Erling Haaland and Mohamed Salah have matched his five goals. If Barcelona are to avoid a third calamity at Bayern’s hands, you suspect Lewandowski – scorer of 344 goals for the Bavarian club – will have a key role to play.  

Do Liverpool’s stumbles give Ajax glimmer of hope?

You have to go back eight years for the last time Liverpool had lost more games at this stage of a season. Saturday’s 1-0 loss at Nottingham Forest was their fourth in all competitions. Last season, they did not lose a single game before 7 November.  

Six days after the Anfield success against Manchester City, Jürgen Klopp described as a “massive blow” his club’s first league reverse against Forest since 1996. The reasons for their dip this term have been much-discussed. One longstanding observer of the Merseyside football scene cites key players consistently underperforming as one principal factor. Bad luck – and the injury list is long – is another. Klopp has alluded to a certain mental staleness too, admitting he had tweaked their tactical approach (to a 4-4-2) to give his players something fresh to think about. Whisper it, there may have been a loss of aura too – temporary or not.

That said, in the Champions League Liverpool have won three games in a row (and nine of their last 10 in the group stage), including the 7-1 Ibrox rout of Rangers a fortnight ago. They have created more chances (66) than any other team and only Napoli have matched their total number of shots (82). Yes, their levels may have slipped a fraction or two thus far this season, but the slip from sky-high still leaves them higher than most. Ajax, thrashed 6-1 by Napoli in their last home outing in Group A, need a dramatic improvement to achieve the win required to reinject life into their campaign. Liverpool, with a draw, will be through to the knockout stage for the fifth year running.

Hey Jude

Last season Jude Bellingham scored four goals for Borussia Dortmund. With his double against Stuttgart on Saturday (his first Bundesliga strikes of 2022/23), the English teenager raised his tally for this campaign to eight. This tally includes one in each game of Dortmund’s Group G campaign to date. The only teenager to have scored in five games running in the Champions League was Erling Haaaland for Salzburg in the 2019/20 group stage.  

Matching the feat of his old team-mate on the evening Haaland returns to his former club with Manchester City would be something to savour. “I can’t get anything over that geezer,” he joked to one post-match interviewer when reminded in Seville that Haaland had also managed four in four. Bellingham certainly has the knack of scoring against City. He was unfortunate to have a goal ruled out in Manchester when the sides met in the 2020/21 quarter-finals. He then scored in the second leg and was on target against City again on matchday 2 of this campaign.

If the young England midfielder can summon another spark or two of inspiration, it might be enough for Dortmund to get the result they need to join the English champions in advancing from the section. A win would guarantee that; a draw would suffice if Copenhagen failed to beat Sevilla in Spain.

The number: 12

Overall, a dozen teams are looking to book their passage to the last 16 this week. They are Benfica, Chelsea, Dortmund, Inter, Leipzig, Liverpool, Marseille, Paris Saint-Germain, Porto, Salzburg, Sporting and Tottenham. Of the 12, Marseille might be seen as the biggest outsiders: currently second in Group D, they have not reached the competition’s knockout phase since 2011/12 and visit Eintracht Frankfurt having lost their last five Champions League matches against German clubs.  

Let me highlight two other fixtures to look out for. Salzburg v Chelsea brings together the top two in Group D with each team knowing victory would assure their progress. Salzburg reached the last 16 for the first time last season and are unbeaten in their last six home matches in the competition. Chelsea, held at home by the Austrian champions in Graham Potter’s first match in charge, will likely be tested again.

The other fixture is Benfica v Juventus in Group H, an opportunity for the unbeaten Eagles to advance – and seal the fate of a Juventus side standing on the edge of a first early elimination since 2013. Barcelona are not the only big name on the brink …

Read the full story
Sign up now to get access to this and every premium feature on Champions Journal. You will also get access to member-only competitions and offers. And you get all of that completely free!

Fans of Barcelona could be forgiven a sense of trepidation when Bayern München, the Group C leaders, come to town on Wednesday night.

After all, in two of the past three seasons, the German titleholders have been the team to push Barcelona through the Champions League exit door. And in pretty bruising fashion. First, there was that 8-2 humiliation in a Lisbon quarter-final in 2020. Then, last term, Bayern won 3-0 at Camp Nou and achieved an identical victory in Bavaria to cement Barcelona’s first group-stage exit since 2001.

So to the present where Xavi’s men risk another early elimination, lying three points adrift of second-placed Inter against whom they took a solitary point in their October double-header. They showed spirit and scoring power in the latter meeting with Inter – a 3-3 home draw – but paid the price for defensive errors. If they fail to beat Bayern and Inter avoid defeat at home against Plzeň, the section’s bottom club, that will be that. Even a victory will not suffice if Inter prevail.

On the bright side, Barcelona are unbeaten at home since the final day of last season – an eight-match sequence – and swept aside Athletic Bilbao 4-0 on Sunday night. Yet their record in the Champions League of late offers less reassurance: just three wins in their last 13 matches. After they lost to Real Madrid on 16 October, much was said about the fact Xavi had won fewer of his first 50 games as Barcelona coach (28) than his predecessor Ronald Koeman (33). They have posted back-to-back wins since then but a far bigger statement would be victory over a Bayern side who, for the record, arrive in Catalonia unbeaten in 32 games in the group stage.  

Can Robert Lewandowski be the hero against his old club? The Pole cut a subdued figure in Munich in September when Bayern beat the Blaugrana 2-0. However, he has five goals from Barcelona’s last three home fixtures in all competitions, including the injury-time equaliser against Inter. Moreover, he has registered the most shots so far in this season’s Champions League (22) and the most on goal (11). Only Erling Haaland and Mohamed Salah have matched his five goals. If Barcelona are to avoid a third calamity at Bayern’s hands, you suspect Lewandowski – scorer of 344 goals for the Bavarian club – will have a key role to play.  

Do Liverpool’s stumbles give Ajax glimmer of hope?

You have to go back eight years for the last time Liverpool had lost more games at this stage of a season. Saturday’s 1-0 loss at Nottingham Forest was their fourth in all competitions. Last season, they did not lose a single game before 7 November.  

Six days after the Anfield success against Manchester City, Jürgen Klopp described as a “massive blow” his club’s first league reverse against Forest since 1996. The reasons for their dip this term have been much-discussed. One longstanding observer of the Merseyside football scene cites key players consistently underperforming as one principal factor. Bad luck – and the injury list is long – is another. Klopp has alluded to a certain mental staleness too, admitting he had tweaked their tactical approach (to a 4-4-2) to give his players something fresh to think about. Whisper it, there may have been a loss of aura too – temporary or not.

That said, in the Champions League Liverpool have won three games in a row (and nine of their last 10 in the group stage), including the 7-1 Ibrox rout of Rangers a fortnight ago. They have created more chances (66) than any other team and only Napoli have matched their total number of shots (82). Yes, their levels may have slipped a fraction or two thus far this season, but the slip from sky-high still leaves them higher than most. Ajax, thrashed 6-1 by Napoli in their last home outing in Group A, need a dramatic improvement to achieve the win required to reinject life into their campaign. Liverpool, with a draw, will be through to the knockout stage for the fifth year running.

Hey Jude

Last season Jude Bellingham scored four goals for Borussia Dortmund. With his double against Stuttgart on Saturday (his first Bundesliga strikes of 2022/23), the English teenager raised his tally for this campaign to eight. This tally includes one in each game of Dortmund’s Group G campaign to date. The only teenager to have scored in five games running in the Champions League was Erling Haaaland for Salzburg in the 2019/20 group stage.  

Matching the feat of his old team-mate on the evening Haaland returns to his former club with Manchester City would be something to savour. “I can’t get anything over that geezer,” he joked to one post-match interviewer when reminded in Seville that Haaland had also managed four in four. Bellingham certainly has the knack of scoring against City. He was unfortunate to have a goal ruled out in Manchester when the sides met in the 2020/21 quarter-finals. He then scored in the second leg and was on target against City again on matchday 2 of this campaign.

If the young England midfielder can summon another spark or two of inspiration, it might be enough for Dortmund to get the result they need to join the English champions in advancing from the section. A win would guarantee that; a draw would suffice if Copenhagen failed to beat Sevilla in Spain.

The number: 12

Overall, a dozen teams are looking to book their passage to the last 16 this week. They are Benfica, Chelsea, Dortmund, Inter, Leipzig, Liverpool, Marseille, Paris Saint-Germain, Porto, Salzburg, Sporting and Tottenham. Of the 12, Marseille might be seen as the biggest outsiders: currently second in Group D, they have not reached the competition’s knockout phase since 2011/12 and visit Eintracht Frankfurt having lost their last five Champions League matches against German clubs.  

Let me highlight two other fixtures to look out for. Salzburg v Chelsea brings together the top two in Group D with each team knowing victory would assure their progress. Salzburg reached the last 16 for the first time last season and are unbeaten in their last six home matches in the competition. Chelsea, held at home by the Austrian champions in Graham Potter’s first match in charge, will likely be tested again.

The other fixture is Benfica v Juventus in Group H, an opportunity for the unbeaten Eagles to advance – and seal the fate of a Juventus side standing on the edge of a first early elimination since 2013. Barcelona are not the only big name on the brink …

Champions League preview: Match week 5
Blog

Champions League preview: Match week 5

As we reach the boiling point of the Champions League group stage, Simon Hart returns to preview the action of match week 5

WORDS Simon Hart

Fans of Barcelona could be forgiven a sense of trepidation when Bayern München, the Group C leaders, come to town on Wednesday night.

After all, in two of the past three seasons, the German titleholders have been the team to push Barcelona through the Champions League exit door. And in pretty bruising fashion. First, there was that 8-2 humiliation in a Lisbon quarter-final in 2020. Then, last term, Bayern won 3-0 at Camp Nou and achieved an identical victory in Bavaria to cement Barcelona’s first group-stage exit since 2001.

So to the present where Xavi’s men risk another early elimination, lying three points adrift of second-placed Inter against whom they took a solitary point in their October double-header. They showed spirit and scoring power in the latter meeting with Inter – a 3-3 home draw – but paid the price for defensive errors. If they fail to beat Bayern and Inter avoid defeat at home against Plzeň, the section’s bottom club, that will be that. Even a victory will not suffice if Inter prevail.

On the bright side, Barcelona are unbeaten at home since the final day of last season – an eight-match sequence – and swept aside Athletic Bilbao 4-0 on Sunday night. Yet their record in the Champions League of late offers less reassurance: just three wins in their last 13 matches. After they lost to Real Madrid on 16 October, much was said about the fact Xavi had won fewer of his first 50 games as Barcelona coach (28) than his predecessor Ronald Koeman (33). They have posted back-to-back wins since then but a far bigger statement would be victory over a Bayern side who, for the record, arrive in Catalonia unbeaten in 32 games in the group stage.  

Can Robert Lewandowski be the hero against his old club? The Pole cut a subdued figure in Munich in September when Bayern beat the Blaugrana 2-0. However, he has five goals from Barcelona’s last three home fixtures in all competitions, including the injury-time equaliser against Inter. Moreover, he has registered the most shots so far in this season’s Champions League (22) and the most on goal (11). Only Erling Haaland and Mohamed Salah have matched his five goals. If Barcelona are to avoid a third calamity at Bayern’s hands, you suspect Lewandowski – scorer of 344 goals for the Bavarian club – will have a key role to play.  

Do Liverpool’s stumbles give Ajax glimmer of hope?

You have to go back eight years for the last time Liverpool had lost more games at this stage of a season. Saturday’s 1-0 loss at Nottingham Forest was their fourth in all competitions. Last season, they did not lose a single game before 7 November.  

Six days after the Anfield success against Manchester City, Jürgen Klopp described as a “massive blow” his club’s first league reverse against Forest since 1996. The reasons for their dip this term have been much-discussed. One longstanding observer of the Merseyside football scene cites key players consistently underperforming as one principal factor. Bad luck – and the injury list is long – is another. Klopp has alluded to a certain mental staleness too, admitting he had tweaked their tactical approach (to a 4-4-2) to give his players something fresh to think about. Whisper it, there may have been a loss of aura too – temporary or not.

That said, in the Champions League Liverpool have won three games in a row (and nine of their last 10 in the group stage), including the 7-1 Ibrox rout of Rangers a fortnight ago. They have created more chances (66) than any other team and only Napoli have matched their total number of shots (82). Yes, their levels may have slipped a fraction or two thus far this season, but the slip from sky-high still leaves them higher than most. Ajax, thrashed 6-1 by Napoli in their last home outing in Group A, need a dramatic improvement to achieve the win required to reinject life into their campaign. Liverpool, with a draw, will be through to the knockout stage for the fifth year running.

Hey Jude

Last season Jude Bellingham scored four goals for Borussia Dortmund. With his double against Stuttgart on Saturday (his first Bundesliga strikes of 2022/23), the English teenager raised his tally for this campaign to eight. This tally includes one in each game of Dortmund’s Group G campaign to date. The only teenager to have scored in five games running in the Champions League was Erling Haaaland for Salzburg in the 2019/20 group stage.  

Matching the feat of his old team-mate on the evening Haaland returns to his former club with Manchester City would be something to savour. “I can’t get anything over that geezer,” he joked to one post-match interviewer when reminded in Seville that Haaland had also managed four in four. Bellingham certainly has the knack of scoring against City. He was unfortunate to have a goal ruled out in Manchester when the sides met in the 2020/21 quarter-finals. He then scored in the second leg and was on target against City again on matchday 2 of this campaign.

If the young England midfielder can summon another spark or two of inspiration, it might be enough for Dortmund to get the result they need to join the English champions in advancing from the section. A win would guarantee that; a draw would suffice if Copenhagen failed to beat Sevilla in Spain.

The number: 12

Overall, a dozen teams are looking to book their passage to the last 16 this week. They are Benfica, Chelsea, Dortmund, Inter, Leipzig, Liverpool, Marseille, Paris Saint-Germain, Porto, Salzburg, Sporting and Tottenham. Of the 12, Marseille might be seen as the biggest outsiders: currently second in Group D, they have not reached the competition’s knockout phase since 2011/12 and visit Eintracht Frankfurt having lost their last five Champions League matches against German clubs.  

Let me highlight two other fixtures to look out for. Salzburg v Chelsea brings together the top two in Group D with each team knowing victory would assure their progress. Salzburg reached the last 16 for the first time last season and are unbeaten in their last six home matches in the competition. Chelsea, held at home by the Austrian champions in Graham Potter’s first match in charge, will likely be tested again.

The other fixture is Benfica v Juventus in Group H, an opportunity for the unbeaten Eagles to advance – and seal the fate of a Juventus side standing on the edge of a first early elimination since 2013. Barcelona are not the only big name on the brink …

Penalty Pedigree

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Fans of Barcelona could be forgiven a sense of trepidation when Bayern München, the Group C leaders, come to town on Wednesday night.

After all, in two of the past three seasons, the German titleholders have been the team to push Barcelona through the Champions League exit door. And in pretty bruising fashion. First, there was that 8-2 humiliation in a Lisbon quarter-final in 2020. Then, last term, Bayern won 3-0 at Camp Nou and achieved an identical victory in Bavaria to cement Barcelona’s first group-stage exit since 2001.

So to the present where Xavi’s men risk another early elimination, lying three points adrift of second-placed Inter against whom they took a solitary point in their October double-header. They showed spirit and scoring power in the latter meeting with Inter – a 3-3 home draw – but paid the price for defensive errors. If they fail to beat Bayern and Inter avoid defeat at home against Plzeň, the section’s bottom club, that will be that. Even a victory will not suffice if Inter prevail.

On the bright side, Barcelona are unbeaten at home since the final day of last season – an eight-match sequence – and swept aside Athletic Bilbao 4-0 on Sunday night. Yet their record in the Champions League of late offers less reassurance: just three wins in their last 13 matches. After they lost to Real Madrid on 16 October, much was said about the fact Xavi had won fewer of his first 50 games as Barcelona coach (28) than his predecessor Ronald Koeman (33). They have posted back-to-back wins since then but a far bigger statement would be victory over a Bayern side who, for the record, arrive in Catalonia unbeaten in 32 games in the group stage.  

Can Robert Lewandowski be the hero against his old club? The Pole cut a subdued figure in Munich in September when Bayern beat the Blaugrana 2-0. However, he has five goals from Barcelona’s last three home fixtures in all competitions, including the injury-time equaliser against Inter. Moreover, he has registered the most shots so far in this season’s Champions League (22) and the most on goal (11). Only Erling Haaland and Mohamed Salah have matched his five goals. If Barcelona are to avoid a third calamity at Bayern’s hands, you suspect Lewandowski – scorer of 344 goals for the Bavarian club – will have a key role to play.  

Do Liverpool’s stumbles give Ajax glimmer of hope?

You have to go back eight years for the last time Liverpool had lost more games at this stage of a season. Saturday’s 1-0 loss at Nottingham Forest was their fourth in all competitions. Last season, they did not lose a single game before 7 November.  

Six days after the Anfield success against Manchester City, Jürgen Klopp described as a “massive blow” his club’s first league reverse against Forest since 1996. The reasons for their dip this term have been much-discussed. One longstanding observer of the Merseyside football scene cites key players consistently underperforming as one principal factor. Bad luck – and the injury list is long – is another. Klopp has alluded to a certain mental staleness too, admitting he had tweaked their tactical approach (to a 4-4-2) to give his players something fresh to think about. Whisper it, there may have been a loss of aura too – temporary or not.

That said, in the Champions League Liverpool have won three games in a row (and nine of their last 10 in the group stage), including the 7-1 Ibrox rout of Rangers a fortnight ago. They have created more chances (66) than any other team and only Napoli have matched their total number of shots (82). Yes, their levels may have slipped a fraction or two thus far this season, but the slip from sky-high still leaves them higher than most. Ajax, thrashed 6-1 by Napoli in their last home outing in Group A, need a dramatic improvement to achieve the win required to reinject life into their campaign. Liverpool, with a draw, will be through to the knockout stage for the fifth year running.

Hey Jude

Last season Jude Bellingham scored four goals for Borussia Dortmund. With his double against Stuttgart on Saturday (his first Bundesliga strikes of 2022/23), the English teenager raised his tally for this campaign to eight. This tally includes one in each game of Dortmund’s Group G campaign to date. The only teenager to have scored in five games running in the Champions League was Erling Haaaland for Salzburg in the 2019/20 group stage.  

Matching the feat of his old team-mate on the evening Haaland returns to his former club with Manchester City would be something to savour. “I can’t get anything over that geezer,” he joked to one post-match interviewer when reminded in Seville that Haaland had also managed four in four. Bellingham certainly has the knack of scoring against City. He was unfortunate to have a goal ruled out in Manchester when the sides met in the 2020/21 quarter-finals. He then scored in the second leg and was on target against City again on matchday 2 of this campaign.

If the young England midfielder can summon another spark or two of inspiration, it might be enough for Dortmund to get the result they need to join the English champions in advancing from the section. A win would guarantee that; a draw would suffice if Copenhagen failed to beat Sevilla in Spain.

The number: 12

Overall, a dozen teams are looking to book their passage to the last 16 this week. They are Benfica, Chelsea, Dortmund, Inter, Leipzig, Liverpool, Marseille, Paris Saint-Germain, Porto, Salzburg, Sporting and Tottenham. Of the 12, Marseille might be seen as the biggest outsiders: currently second in Group D, they have not reached the competition’s knockout phase since 2011/12 and visit Eintracht Frankfurt having lost their last five Champions League matches against German clubs.  

Let me highlight two other fixtures to look out for. Salzburg v Chelsea brings together the top two in Group D with each team knowing victory would assure their progress. Salzburg reached the last 16 for the first time last season and are unbeaten in their last six home matches in the competition. Chelsea, held at home by the Austrian champions in Graham Potter’s first match in charge, will likely be tested again.

The other fixture is Benfica v Juventus in Group H, an opportunity for the unbeaten Eagles to advance – and seal the fate of a Juventus side standing on the edge of a first early elimination since 2013. Barcelona are not the only big name on the brink …

Read the full story
Sign up now to get access to this and every premium feature on Champions Journal. You will also get access to member-only competitions and offers. And you get all of that completely free!

Fans of Barcelona could be forgiven a sense of trepidation when Bayern München, the Group C leaders, come to town on Wednesday night.

After all, in two of the past three seasons, the German titleholders have been the team to push Barcelona through the Champions League exit door. And in pretty bruising fashion. First, there was that 8-2 humiliation in a Lisbon quarter-final in 2020. Then, last term, Bayern won 3-0 at Camp Nou and achieved an identical victory in Bavaria to cement Barcelona’s first group-stage exit since 2001.

So to the present where Xavi’s men risk another early elimination, lying three points adrift of second-placed Inter against whom they took a solitary point in their October double-header. They showed spirit and scoring power in the latter meeting with Inter – a 3-3 home draw – but paid the price for defensive errors. If they fail to beat Bayern and Inter avoid defeat at home against Plzeň, the section’s bottom club, that will be that. Even a victory will not suffice if Inter prevail.

On the bright side, Barcelona are unbeaten at home since the final day of last season – an eight-match sequence – and swept aside Athletic Bilbao 4-0 on Sunday night. Yet their record in the Champions League of late offers less reassurance: just three wins in their last 13 matches. After they lost to Real Madrid on 16 October, much was said about the fact Xavi had won fewer of his first 50 games as Barcelona coach (28) than his predecessor Ronald Koeman (33). They have posted back-to-back wins since then but a far bigger statement would be victory over a Bayern side who, for the record, arrive in Catalonia unbeaten in 32 games in the group stage.  

Can Robert Lewandowski be the hero against his old club? The Pole cut a subdued figure in Munich in September when Bayern beat the Blaugrana 2-0. However, he has five goals from Barcelona’s last three home fixtures in all competitions, including the injury-time equaliser against Inter. Moreover, he has registered the most shots so far in this season’s Champions League (22) and the most on goal (11). Only Erling Haaland and Mohamed Salah have matched his five goals. If Barcelona are to avoid a third calamity at Bayern’s hands, you suspect Lewandowski – scorer of 344 goals for the Bavarian club – will have a key role to play.  

Do Liverpool’s stumbles give Ajax glimmer of hope?

You have to go back eight years for the last time Liverpool had lost more games at this stage of a season. Saturday’s 1-0 loss at Nottingham Forest was their fourth in all competitions. Last season, they did not lose a single game before 7 November.  

Six days after the Anfield success against Manchester City, Jürgen Klopp described as a “massive blow” his club’s first league reverse against Forest since 1996. The reasons for their dip this term have been much-discussed. One longstanding observer of the Merseyside football scene cites key players consistently underperforming as one principal factor. Bad luck – and the injury list is long – is another. Klopp has alluded to a certain mental staleness too, admitting he had tweaked their tactical approach (to a 4-4-2) to give his players something fresh to think about. Whisper it, there may have been a loss of aura too – temporary or not.

That said, in the Champions League Liverpool have won three games in a row (and nine of their last 10 in the group stage), including the 7-1 Ibrox rout of Rangers a fortnight ago. They have created more chances (66) than any other team and only Napoli have matched their total number of shots (82). Yes, their levels may have slipped a fraction or two thus far this season, but the slip from sky-high still leaves them higher than most. Ajax, thrashed 6-1 by Napoli in their last home outing in Group A, need a dramatic improvement to achieve the win required to reinject life into their campaign. Liverpool, with a draw, will be through to the knockout stage for the fifth year running.

Hey Jude

Last season Jude Bellingham scored four goals for Borussia Dortmund. With his double against Stuttgart on Saturday (his first Bundesliga strikes of 2022/23), the English teenager raised his tally for this campaign to eight. This tally includes one in each game of Dortmund’s Group G campaign to date. The only teenager to have scored in five games running in the Champions League was Erling Haaaland for Salzburg in the 2019/20 group stage.  

Matching the feat of his old team-mate on the evening Haaland returns to his former club with Manchester City would be something to savour. “I can’t get anything over that geezer,” he joked to one post-match interviewer when reminded in Seville that Haaland had also managed four in four. Bellingham certainly has the knack of scoring against City. He was unfortunate to have a goal ruled out in Manchester when the sides met in the 2020/21 quarter-finals. He then scored in the second leg and was on target against City again on matchday 2 of this campaign.

If the young England midfielder can summon another spark or two of inspiration, it might be enough for Dortmund to get the result they need to join the English champions in advancing from the section. A win would guarantee that; a draw would suffice if Copenhagen failed to beat Sevilla in Spain.

The number: 12

Overall, a dozen teams are looking to book their passage to the last 16 this week. They are Benfica, Chelsea, Dortmund, Inter, Leipzig, Liverpool, Marseille, Paris Saint-Germain, Porto, Salzburg, Sporting and Tottenham. Of the 12, Marseille might be seen as the biggest outsiders: currently second in Group D, they have not reached the competition’s knockout phase since 2011/12 and visit Eintracht Frankfurt having lost their last five Champions League matches against German clubs.  

Let me highlight two other fixtures to look out for. Salzburg v Chelsea brings together the top two in Group D with each team knowing victory would assure their progress. Salzburg reached the last 16 for the first time last season and are unbeaten in their last six home matches in the competition. Chelsea, held at home by the Austrian champions in Graham Potter’s first match in charge, will likely be tested again.

The other fixture is Benfica v Juventus in Group H, an opportunity for the unbeaten Eagles to advance – and seal the fate of a Juventus side standing on the edge of a first early elimination since 2013. Barcelona are not the only big name on the brink …

Penalty Pedigree

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