B/R Expert Predictions, September 12-14
The UEFA Champions League is back on the menu, and there are intriguing matches in store this week.
Defending champions Real Madrid kick off their quest for a hat-trick of successive titles at home to Apoel Nicosia FC, while arguably the tie of the week sees Barcelona play host to Juventus. How will the Camp Nou side cope without Neymar?
Speaking of the Paris Saint-Germain star, can he cut it on a wet Tuesday night in Glasgow? We'll soon find out.
Read on for our experts' views on the games.
Barcelona vs. Juventus
It's not too outrageous to suggest this match—even as early on in the season—could make or break Barcelona fans' faith in this team.
Beating a big name in European football could buy time for the board, earn manager Ernesto Valverde respect and get the fans onside with the new signings—even if the club didn't get all the names they wanted.
Defeat at home, on the other hand, will leave their worst fears realised. Juventus don't have to win this game, and with one or two absentees, they may feel it's worth sitting tight and trying to frustrate while sniping on the counter.
However, they will also be mindful that taking the game to Barcelona worked extremely well in short bursts last season.
Prediction: Barcelona 2-1 Juventus
First goalscorer: Lionel Messi
Celtic vs. Paris Saint-Germain
Celtic just can't get away from Neymar, can they?
Having drawn Barcelona last season in the group stage when he played for them, they will meet the Brazilian once again as he lines up for Paris Saint-Germain.
PSG are one of few "top" teams who have won every game they have played so far this season, and most of those have come by two- or three-goal margins.
It will take a brave person to suggest Celtic are the ones to halt that run—even with the home crowd behind them—and there will be no such predictions made here.
Prediction: Celtic 1-3 Paris Saint-Germain
First goalscorer: Neymar
Chelsea vs. Qarabag FK
Pick a number between two and four and you will have a decent chance of predicting Chelsea's winning margin on Tuesday night.
The Blues are in good shape and will look to get this game won as early as possible so that players can be rested for Sunday's London derby with Arsenal.
Starts for Danny Drinkwater and Davide Zappacosta are possible, and it would not be surprising to see Eden Hazard given a lengthy run-out as he returns from an ankle injury.
Qarabag FK lost twice to Tottenham Hotspur two seasons ago in the UEFA Europa League. This game is significant back in Azerbaijan in both a football and political sense, but a result will prove beyond them.
Prediction: Chelsea 4-0 Qarabag FK
First goalscorer: Willian
Bayern Munich vs. Anderlecht
Things might not be so rosy at Bayern Munich right now, what with a shock weekend loss to TSG Hoffenheim fresh in the memory and reports of manager Carlo Ancelotti's agreement on contract to manage in China from January.
However, regardless of their (temporarily) fragile state, Anderlecht aren't the team to take advantage of it—particularly at the Allianz Arena.
This has home win written all over it, but the presence of several interesting players in the Belgian outfit's ranks—notably Leander Dendoncker (scouted by much of Europe's elite, per Chris Davie of Metro) and Henry Onyekuru (on loan from Everton)—makes for an intriguing watch.
Prediction: Bayern Munich 3-0 Anderlecht
First goalscorer: Thomas Muller
Manchester United vs. FC Basel
Football just doesn't feel right without United in the Champions League, but normal order has been restored.
United won the Europa League last season, and now that they are back with Europe's elite, they'll look to make a big statement.
This could be the perfect occasion to play Anthony Martial from the start. His natural attacking threat would cause all sorts of trouble to the Swiss champions, and he needs a platform to prove he is deserving of starts in the Premier League.
It will be a huge ask for FC Basel to take anything from Old Trafford, and this game could be the ideal way for Romelu Lukaku to make his bow in the competition.
Raphael Wicky is in charge of Basel, after spells managing the under-18s and under-21s. He will relish the chance to test his tactical nous against United manager Jose Mourinho, but his team have already lost to Young Boys and Lausanne-Sport in domestic competition this term.
Prediction: Manchester United 2-0 FC Basel
First goalscorer: Romelu Lukaku
AS Roma vs. Atletico Madrid
Placed in a tough group that contains Chelsea, Atletico Madrid will travel to the Italian capital knowing defeat to AS Roma would likely make progress difficult.
Diego Simeone's men will be well-prepared and have the knowledge that their chemistry remains intact after a summer of stability.
The opposite is true of Roma, with new boss Eusebio Di Francesco taking over a group that lost their most important attacking player (Mohamed Salah) and best defender (Antonio Rudiger) during the transfer window.
A 3-1 loss to Inter Milan on Aug. 26 highlighted their fragility, while their weekend clash at Sampdoria was postponed, meaning they are likely to be somewhat off the pace here.
Prediction: AS Roma 1-2 Atletico Madrid
First goalscorer: Yannick Carrasco
Feyenoord vs. Manchester City
This is the competition Manchester City dream of winning for the first time, but a trip to the Netherlands will not prove to be straightforward.
Feyenoord have enjoyed a perfect start to their season, with four wins out of four to put them top of the Eredivisie table. Right-sided forward Steven Berghuis is a man to watch, with four goals to his name already.
Pep Guardiola's men were fortunate at the weekend, as they were able to take their foot off the gas once they'd built up a lead over Liverpool, who imploded after Sadio Mane's red card.
It means players are better-rested than might have otherwise been the case, although goalkeeper Ederson is unlikely to feature after receiving a kick to the face that led to Mane's red card.
City were knocked out by AS Monaco last season but recruited two of their best players, Bernardo Silva and Benjamin Mendy, to make them more resilient. Both men will prove great additions, particularly in Europe.
Prediction: Feyenoord 1-1 Manchester City
First goalscorer: Gabriel Jesus
Liverpool vs. Sevilla
Liverpool could hardly have wished for a worse buildup to this game, but if there's a silver lining, it will be that key forwards Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah saw reduced game time at the weekend and should be raring to go on Wednesday.
Sevilla's start has been good in terms of points in La Liga, but they haven't had a big test as yet, and back-to-back clean sheets might be soon forgotten in the face of the Reds' firepower.
Europa League final memories won't be extinguished on either side, although Sevilla have had a lot of turnover in the squad since 2016, and this match could be different if the home side's mentality is right.
Prediction: Liverpool 2-1 Sevilla
First goalscorer: Roberto Firmino
RB Leipzig vs. AS Monaco
Two attacking teams, who play 4-4-2/4-2-2-2, collide here in what promises to be quite a spectacle. "Expect goals" is not a particularly bold statement given the teams who will take to the pitch.
The two sides enjoyed different weekend results—RB Leipzig produced a strong win over Hamburg, while OGC Nice decked Monaco 4-0 in arguably the biggest surprise in any league—but you would imagine that counts for little.
They will go at each other hammer and tongs on Wednesday, and we'll gladly lap it up for 90 minutes.
Prediction: RB Leipzig 2-2 AS Monaco
First goalscorer: Timo Werner
Real Madrid vs. Apoel Nicosia FC
Zinedine Zidane's decision to rotate at the weekend backfired spectacularly, and it was all the more perplexing given Real Madrid have arguably their easiest Champions League group-stage game first up.
A lack of a recognised centre-forward hasn't hampered the team too much, particularly if Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale are paired as a two-man attack ahead of a diamond. And it's hard to imagine Apoel Nicosia have much chance of holding out for 45 minutes, let alone 90, at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Greater challenges will lie ahead for Madrid, but they dare not slip up again so soon after successive league draws.
Prediction: Real Madrid 4-0 Apoel Nicosia FC
First goalscorer: Marco Asensio
Tottenham Hotspur vs. Borussia Dortmund
This is an intriguing Group H opener, as these sides are likely to be battling it out for the runners-up spot behind Real Madrid.
By now, we all recognise Spurs have become more of a threat away from home than at Wembley Stadium, but that situation has to change at some point.
The 3-0 win at Everton on Saturday was exactly what we expect of this dynamic team, but for some reason, they have struggled to fulfil their potential when playing at the national stadium.
The attacking threat of Christian Eriksen and Harry Kane is key to any success, but they will have their work cut out against a Dortmund team that are yet to concede a Bundesliga goal.
Spurs will have been delighted to see Ousmane Dembele move to Barcelona—a lack of cutting edge was evident in Dortmund's 0-0 draw with SC Freiburg at the weekend.
Mario Gotze and Christian Pulisic will still provide a serious threat with balls in behind the Spurs back line for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, though.
Prediction: Tottenham Hotspur 1-1 Borussia Dortmund
First goalscorer: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
Shakhtar Donetsk vs. Napoli
Having failed to progress beyond the group stage in each of the last two seasons, a settled Shakhtar Donetsk squad will be hoping to improve on recent Champions League showings.
Manager Paulo Fonseca's side has a strong Brazilian influence, with Fred, Marlos, Bernard and Taison all attack-minded players who will look to punish any mistakes.
However, this opening fixture sees them take on a determined, dangerous Napoli, who have won six of their last nine away matches in Europe.
With no injury worries and some good early domestic performances, Maurizio Sarri's 4-3-3 formation and free-flowing football is once again bringing the best from a talented group of players.
Prediction: Shakhtar Donetsk 1-2 Napoli
First goalscorer: Marek Hamsik
Austria Vienna vs. AC Milan
Austria Vienna face a mammoth task in their Europa League outing on Thursday, taking on an AC Milan side unrecognisable from the one that finished last season.
The home side were runners-up for the Austrian Bundesliga title last term and will be hoping to improve upon their 2016/17 showing in this competition where they finished bottom of the group.
Milan, meanwhile, will be looking to bounce back from a 4-1 defeat away to Lazio on Sunday, the first loss for this new-look side.
Coach Vincenzo Montella will need to work quickly to find the defensive cohesion that was so clearly absent at the weekend and hope the experience of new captain Leonardo Bonucci can help.
Prediction: Austria Vienna 0-2 AC Milan
First goalscorer: Nikola Kalinic
Arsenal vs. FC Cologne
How seriously will Arsenal take the Europa League? Mourinho put everything into it last season, and it proved a great decision as Manchester United won the competition and qualified for this season's Champions League. It would be advisable for Gunners boss Arsene Wenger to follow his lead.
It's time for this competition to become more respected in England. Wenger would benefit from ending this season with a European trophy in his hands.
FC Cologne are in poor shape after three straight defeats, and another confidence boost could probably do a lot for Arsenal's first XI.
No doubt, though, Wenger will have an overhaul of his side and treat it more like a Carabao Cup match than a European fixture.
The Germans are back in Europe after a 25-year absence and have been looking forward to this clash. An upset could be on the cards if Arsenal don't treat them with courtesy.
Prediction: Arsenal 2-1 FC Cologne
First goalscorer: Theo Walcott