Without intending to be disrespectful towards Maribor, there were probably quite a few Liverpool fans who had never heard of the Slovenian club until they were paired together in Champions League Group E eight weeks ago. Maribor were regarded by many as the whipping boys of the group and they were comfortably beaten by Sevilla last time out, but on matchday one they drew with the same Spartak Moscow team that held Liverpool to a 1-1 stalemate. Also, the Reds’ litany of recent draws, two of which have come in this competition, means that they have little room for error in a double header from which six points is the obvious target. You’d like to think that if Jurgen Klopp’s side can continue to create chances at will, there’s going to be a game where the dam bursts and they destroy a team into submission. However, this is what Paul Merson would call a ‘free swing’ for Maribor, who can enjoy the occasion with no great pressure to get a result. Elsewhere in the group, Sevilla will be hoping for better luck in Russia than what Liverpool had. If the Spanish side can defeat Spartak, they would take firm control of the group, especially if Liverpool slip up in Slovenia.
When Tottenham last met Real Madrid at the Bernabeu in the quarter-finals of this competition in 2011, the home side romped to a 4-0 victory. The teams go into Tuesday’s clash as Group H equals, though, with both securing maximum points from their first two matches. The holders seem to be getting back on track domestically after a slow start to the season and, even without Gareth Bale for the visit of his former club, Cristiano Ronaldo has shown no signs of slowing down. Tottenham have been purring nicely, too, and even with Harry Kane kept scoreless they managed to win at the weekend, Christian Eriksen stepping up to the goalscoring plate. Spurs will have a tough assignment on their hands, but it shouldn’t be as one-sided as their previous visit. The other Group H fixture features two teams stuck on zero points, with APOEL Nicosia and Borussia Dortmund facing off in Cyprus. The Bundesliga side will expect to register a first win of the group; any other result leaves them facing a real struggle to make the knockout rounds.
Manchester City rightly earned rave reviews for their seven-goal dismantling of Stoke at the weekend, although they are set for their toughest test of the season so far when they welcome Napoli to the Etihad Stadium on Tuesday. The Serie A leaders actually have an even better domestic record than City so far, with Maurizio Sarri’s men recording eight wins out of eight and pulling clear at the top last weekend with an impressive win away to Roma. However, it’s the Premier League side who have the edge in Group F, with City on six points and Napoli three behind. It’s set to be quite a clash between the sky blue duo, both of whom are absolutely flying. Also in the group, Feyenoord will hope to get their stuttering campaign up and running as they host Shakhtar Donetsk, who beat Napoli on matchday one and were in a contest against Man City for most of that game.
There’s another Premier League versus Serie A clash in Group C on Wednesday night as Chelsea play host to Roma in a clash of the top two in the group. The Blues recorded a very impressive win away to Atletico Madrid three weeks ago, but have lost both of their matches since then, with their Premier League title defence already faltering. Roma were also beaten at the weekend, but that was against a Napoli side with a 100% record in the league. The Italian side made hard work of beating Qarabag last time out, but managed to get the job done and could be meeting injury-hit Chelsea at an opportune moment. The other game in the group sees Qarabag hosting Atletico Madrid, with the La Liga side playing catch-up with just one point to their name so far. A trip to Azerbaijan is not ideal in those circumstances, but Diego Simeone’s men should have enough in their armoury to get a first win of the group.
Celtic would probably have settled for being level on points with Bayern Munich in Group B prior to their double header over the coming fortnight and that’s the position in which Brendan Rodgers’ men find themselves after thrashing Anderlecht last time around. They go to the Allianz Arena, however, to take on a Bayern side which stuck five past Freiburg on Saturday and seem to be getting back into the groove following their humiliation by Paris Saint-Germain three weeks ago. It is not in Rodgers’ nature to be defensive, but he could do worse than try to keep things tight on Wednesday. Meanwhile, Anderlecht have the thankless task of trying to stop PSG in their tracks. If the evidence of matchday two is anything to go by, the Parisian outfit could put Champions League records to the test, and they head into the clash in Brussels having pulled clear at the top of Ligue 1.
Manchester United gave their poorest performance of the season so far at Anfield on Saturday, but expect Jose Mourinho to set them up very differently away to Benfica on Wednesday night. United had two comfortable victories in their group games so far and will fancy their chances of claiming three more points against a Benfica side with two defeats to their name, including a 5-0 hammering at Basel last time out. A double header against the Premier League side is not what they need, but that’s their lot. Elsewhere in Group A, CSKA Moscow host Basel with the teams level on three points apiece. The Russians will see this as a must-win fixture, given that they have to travel to Switzerland two weeks later and visit Manchester United on the final matchday.
Barcelona’s 100% start to the season came to an end on Saturday when they needed a late equaliser to draw with Atletico Madrid. They will be fully expected to get back to winning ways at home to Olympiakos in Wednesday night’s Group C clash. Barca have six points to their name so far, with the Greek champions still waiting to get off the mark, although they did trouble Juventus for large periods of their 2-0 defeat in Turin. Speaking of the Italian side, they host Sporting Lisbon on the back of a surprise 1-2 loss at home to Lazio in Serie A and haven’t set the world alight in the opening weeks of the season. They will be favourites to beat their Portuguese visitors, but it could be a tight affair.
Besiktas are the surprise leaders in Group G as the halfway mark of the group stage approaches. Their 100% record is sure to be rigorously tested on Tuesday when they travel to face Monaco, although the Ligue 1 side have just a point to their name so far and were heavily beaten at home to Porto on matchday two. Last season’s semi-finalists need a win this week to get a stuttering campaign back on track. The group’s other fixture sees RB Leipzig hosting Porto, with the visitors chasing a second successive away win in this competition. They might just get it against an inconsistent Leipzig side, although their tails will be up after a superb win away to Borussia Dortmund at the weekend.
Liverpool may have made a disappointing start to their Champions League campaign, but in such a tight group, there is every chance that a win in Slovenia will put them in a strong position to finish in the top two. The flip side is that failure to beat what many consider the group’s weakest team will leave the Merseysiders right up against it to remain in the competition by 2018.