Champions League Matchdays 3, 4 feature two-legged fixtures
As a result of the need for UEFA’s club competitions to accelerate their schedules due to the November-December FIFA World Cup, the third and fourth rounds of the Champions League group stage will take place over the next two weeks.
As always, teams will face the same opponent across both matchdays. However, games will be played in back-to-back weeks instead of the usual two-week gap between the two games.
Here is a preview of who faces who in these double confrontations.
Groups A, B: Napoli, Club Brugge look to clinch knockout round
Groups A and B have an identical look as we head into the upcoming two weeks. In the former, Napoli find themselves on top with 6 points. Liverpool and Ajax each have 3 points, while Rangers is bottom without a point.
Club Brugge surprisingly tops group B with a perfect 6 for 6. Bayer Leverkusen and Atletico Madrid are on 3 points, while FC Porto is in the basement on zero.
Ajax faces Napoli in what promises to be a cracking pair of games. Should one team get 4 points out of 6, they will have the best chances of making the Round of 16.
Liverpool, facing Rangers twice over the next fortnight, will look to shake off the struggles of this early part of the season. They will be expected to get a full 6 points against a Rangers side who know that at least one win would be of great help should they wish to avoid last place.
Porto takes on a Bayer Leverkusen club that has failed to impress so far this season. The Portuguese regulars have not convinced in the competition and will need a change in performance otherwise they could be staring into the abyss.
Club Brugge, the shock leaders in this section, go toe-to-toe with Atletico Madrid. At least one more win will almost surely ensure the Belgian champions springtime football in Europe.
Groups C, D: Bayern, Sporting in commanding positions
The German giants lead their group with two wins from two. Both Barcelona and Inter are locked on 3 points, while Czech side Viktoria Plzen is still looking for their first points in group C.
Sporting CP is sitting in an advantageous position in Group D, courtesy of two wins. Tottenham and Eintracht Frankfurt are level on 3 points, while Olympique Marseille sit bottom.
Anything less than 6 points for Bayern against Viktoria Plzen would be seen as an incredible shock. The Bavarians could even win the group by the end of these doubleheaders if things go their way.
Meanwhile, the two games between Barça and Inter will likely determine who join Bayern in the next round. The Nerazzurri could not get the job done against the Blaugrana three years ago. Can they do it this time?
Sporting CP is on track for a second consecutive appearance in the Champions League knockouts. They will not have it straightforward against Marseille, who is second in France. While they lost their opening games , they clearly have shown the quality they have.
Spurs will have Europa League winners Eintracht Frankfurt over the next two weeks. It will be fascinating to see what happens here as both know that 6 points would be crucial to their aspirations of progression.
Groups E, F: Chelsea and Leipzig must show their mettle
Chelsea is unexpectedly in last place in their group with just 1 point from two games. Salzburg have a point more than the Blues, while Milan are on 4 points and Dinamo Zagreb with 3 are the top two as things stand.
Champions League holders Real Madrid have two wins in the bank in Group F. Shakhtar Donetsk is on 4 points, three more than third place Celtic. Leipzig is bottom, still looking for their first points.
Austrian champions Salzburg face off against Dinamo Zagreb in a battle of two teams who always win their league. Given the situation in this group, they know wins will be of imperial significance if they entertain hopes of progressing.
Chelsea square off with Milan in an eagerly-awaited clash. The Rossoneri is in a promising position, while the contrast could not be greater for the Blues. They will need changes very quickly to avoid humiliation.
Real takes on Shakhtar Donetsk over the next two ties as the Galacticos will move on should 6 more points come at the expense of the Pitmen. These two clubs are familiar with each other through meetings in recent seasons.
While neither Celtic nor Leipzig have claimed 3 points in either of their group games before, both sides face glorious chances to change that. Zero points from two games will likely spell doom for either team should that happen.
Groups G, H: Man City, PSG look to continue flexing muscles
To the surprise of no one, Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City heads Group G. With two wins from two, they are well on their way to the next round. Borussia Dortmund is on 3 points from two games, while Sevilla and FC København have a point each.
The situation in Group H is different, as PSG and Benfica both have 6 points. Juventus and Maccabi Haifa seldom have anything to show from their opening two fixtures.
Should FC København earn anything over their two upcoming games with Manchester City, they will have caused quite the shock. They are still in the hunt for second, so they have nothing to lose.
Sevilla has been a disaster both domestically and in continental play. The same cannot be said for Dortmund. So when the two do battle against each other, the Germans should have more confidence.
Benfica and PSG meet as the two perfect teams in Group H. Both clubs have been near perfect this season, giving them reason to believe they can take a massive step towards the last 16.
Juventus, with a lack of consistency, face Maccabi Haifa. The Israelis will be up against it, but given the weaknesses shown by the Bianconeri this season, a result (or two) may not be out of the question for Barak Bakhar’s men.