Champions League matchday 2 preview: Can Liverpool spark against Spartak?

Champions League Preview Liverpool

Liverpool’s inability to kill off a vulnerable Sevilla outfit at Anfield two weeks ago has raised the stakes for Tuesday’s visit to Spartak Moscow, current champions of Russia, on matchday two in the Champions League. If there was one positive from Liverpool’s draw last time around, it was that Group E’s other match also ended all square, leaving all four teams tied on one point. Jurgen Klopp’s men might not have made a hugely convincing start to their Premier League season, but are still in a far better place domestically than Spartak, whose title defence already looks doomed as they lag 11 points off the pace and could only manage a 2-2 draw at home to Anzhi Makhachkala at the weekend. Still, the Russians will be well aware of Liverpool’s propensity to self-destruct at the back and in Luiz Adriano and Quincy Promes, they have the attacking talent to exploit it to deadly effect. Also in Group E, Sevilla welcome Maribor to Spain, with the 2016 Europa League winners fortunate to get a draw at Anfield and suffering a 2-0 defeat to Atletico Madrid on Sunday. Still, they will be expected to get the better of their Slovenian opponents on Tuesday.

Moscow will be awash with red-shirted football fans from the north-west of England this week, as 24 hours after Liverpool face Spartak, Manchester United take on CSKA in Group A. Both teams won their opening fixtures, with Jose Mourinho’s men comfortably swatting aside the challenge of Basel. These two met in the group stage a couple of years ago, when the English club won both games against CSKA but still failed to qualify for the last 16. The Russians had a surprise come-from-behind win away to Benfica on matchday one, but were held to a scoreless draw by city rivals Dinamo at the weekend and are five points off league leaders Zenit St Petersburg. The group’s other clash takes place in Switzerland as Basel host Benfica, with both sides in need of points after losing last time around. The visitors could especially do with at least a draw as they then face into a double header with Manchester United.

In a prime example of the twists of fate which football has a habit of throwing up, Chelsea visit Atletico Madrid less than a week after Diego Costa completed his long-awaited move from London to the Spanish capital. He won’t be able to play for Atletico until January and if he did watch his former team-mates on the weekend, he would have seen compatriot Alvaro Morata plunder a hat-trick to suggest that Antonio Conte could be right in moving Costa on. The Blues are the early leaders in Group C, having thrashed Qarabag while Atletico were held scoreless by Roma. Diego Simeone’s men are in good form domestically, though, and looked very impressive against Sevilla on Sunday. Elsewhere in the group, Azerbaijan stages Champions League football for the first time as Qarabag take on Roma. The group stage debutants will probably see this as their best chance of recording a landmark victory in this competition, although the Serie A side should still have too much for them.

Fans of Liverpool, Feyenoord, Watford and Crystal Palace will not envy those of a Shakhtar Donetsk persuasion on Tuesday night as the Ukrainians become the latest team to be thrust into the path of the Manchester City juggernaut. Pep Guardiola’s men made light work of Feyenoord two weeks ago and will be hot favourites against Shakhtar, especially at home. Their opponents promise a much sterner test than the subjects of City’s recent conquests, though, and notched an impressive win over Napoli on matchday one. With both teams only too willing to attack, a decent spectacle is in store at the Etihad Stadium. The other Group F action this week sees Napoli play host to Feyenoord, with the Italian side very much expected to register their first win of the campaign, especially with their Serie A form so bountiful.

Tottenham have a 100% away record in the Premier League thus far and they will hope to carry that over to their Champions League campaign when they visit Cyprus to take on Group H minnows APOEL Nicosia on Tuesday. Spurs go into the game on the back of a superb victory over Borussia Dortmund on matchday one, a rare Wembley outing to remember for their supporters, and will be expecting to beat APOEL, although the Cypriots held firm away to Real Madrid for most of the first half a couple of weeks ago. The holders are involved in the glamour tie of matchday two, paying a visit to Borussia Dortmund. The Germans are in excellent domestic form, currently leading the Bundesliga and destroying Borussia Monchengladbach 6-1 on Saturday. Also, when the two teams were in the same group last season, it was Dortmund and not Real Madrid who finished in first place.

Celtic’s occupation of an area flanked by a rock and a hard place was laid bare by their 0-5 home drubbing against Paris Saint-Germain two weeks ago, making their domestic dominance seem far less satisfying. However, Brendan Rodgers’ men make the trip to Anderlecht on the back of victory in the Old Firm derby and should find the Belgian champions’ strike force far more manageable than the fearsome front trio of PSG. Anderlecht were also comprehensively beaten in their last European outing and have made a disastrous start domestically, lying nine points off first place after just eight matches. While the match in Brussels could go a long way to determining who will take the Europa League dropout berth, the titanic tussle of PSG and Bayern Munich at the Parc des Princes may well see one of the Group B heavyweights tighten their grip on top spot in the group. That promises to be a cracking encounter.

Barcelona gave one of the most impressive performances of matchday one when they hammered last season’s runners-up Juventus 3-0. Allied to their fantastic start in La Liga, Ernesto Valverde’s men could hardly be in a better place right now, although the long-term loss of Ousmane Dembele to injury was most unwelcome. On Wednesday, Barca make the trip to Sporting Lisbon, who also got off to a winning start in Group D, even if they almost relinquished the entirety of a three-goal lead to Olympiakos. It doesn’t get any easier for the Greek champions, who are away to a Juventus side that has won each of their first six games in Serie A and will be chomping at the bit to atone for their disastrous loss at the Nou Camp.

In Group G, Monaco and Porto meet for the first time since they formed a novel pairing in the Champions League final of 2004, when Mourinho led the Portuguese club to glory. Nowadays, though, it is Monaco who are much the stronger, having won the French title last season and having made a fine start to 2017/18 despite losing several top players over the summer. Leonardo Jardim’s men had to be content with a draw away to RB Leipzig on matchday one, but that was a minor imperfection compared to Porto’s 1-3 home reverse against Besiktas. The Turkish champions will be confident of making it two wins from two when they host Leipzig, who have made a decent start to their second Bundesliga season but are still finding their feet in European competition.

Nothing clear-cut will be decided on matchday two, but for teams like Liverpool whose initial results were less than what was hoped, the pressure is on to ensure that those register as nothing more than mere blips. Spartak might have been the top seed that almost every Liverpool fan wanted, but any win in Moscow is hard-earned and the Reds remain an enigmatic, unpredictable outfit. Victory would be a job very well done while a draw could be regarded as good or bad depending on context. Defeat would leave Klopp’s side with a real task on their hands to avoid a third consecutive group stage failure in the Champions League.