This season had been going better than anyone had expected for Barcelona. The departure and long-winded saga of Neymar along with feisty club politics and what had been viewed as an underwhelming transfer window had not made for an optimistic start.
However, a few weeks into the campaign, and all is rosy for Ernesto Valverde’s side. The long-term injury to Osumane Dembele is about the only negative thing to have happened since they started La Liga, which they currently lead by 4 points already, having won six straight games in Spain.
The absence of Neymar has put responsibility back upon Lionel Messi and the Argentinean has relished his new role back as the main man, carrying all before him with nine goals in La Liga so far. Messi was also key in an impressive 3-0 win against Juventus when he dismantled the Azzuri with two goals, and since then Barcelona have won their next four in the league.
Paulinho has started impressive, quickly dispelling fears about his role in the midfield or his time at Spurs, and that atmosphere in general at Barcelona is completely different to just a few short weeks ago.
Sporting Lisbon too, will be happy with their season, being close to the fierce domestic pace that Porto are setting with 19 points so far – a tally that arguably should be higher given how many hots they managed to pepper Moriense with at the weekend – and they were impressive in taking three points from Olympiakos on the first matchday.
However, this is likely to be a test on a different level for them and the Catalans can continue their great start to the season with a comprehensive win here. Barcelona are 11/10 to cover a one-goal handicap, and they have covered that in all but one of their wins so far this season.
We’ve only come to the end of September but already this season hold plenty of promise for Manchester United and they can kickstart an important period by making it 2/2 in the Champions League at CSKA Moscow.
Jose Mourinho’s side had to fight hard to take three points from Southampton but they were resolute in doing so and they made it three clean sheets in their last four games. They have quickly built up a head of steam in the Premier League and whilst they have had some tough patches, it is clear that there’s a very functional, competent side at United which is much improved for Jose’ first season there.
They will need to be wary against CSKA, who held Bayer Leverkusen and Monaco on home soil last term whilst also holding United 1-1 when they last met two seasons ago, but they should be good enough.
Roma’s start to the season has been entirely dictated by the fixture list. They have failed to win against the two best teams they’ve faced., with Inter winning 3-1 at the Stadio Olimpico and Atletico Madrid dominating their 0-0 draw on matchday one. They have beaten all of the other opposition that they’ve faced however, and in three of those four wins they’ve covered a one goal handicap. Led by the red hot Edin Dzeko, who has scored five in his last three games, they have put Roma, Beneveto, and Udinese to the sword and they are capable of doing the same to Qarabag, who Chelsea took apart 6-0 on the opening matchday.
The big clash of the evening is PSG v Bayern, which comes off the back of draws for both sides. Not all is well at PSG, here Neymar’s demands appear to have upset many of the original squad, not least Edison Cavani, whilst Bayern’s squad appear to be longing for the regime of Pep Guardiola to return once again.
Their 2-2 draw at home to Wolfsburg was a big surprise at the weekend and worryingly, a lack focus appeared to be the key factor in that match as well as 2-0 defeat to Hoffenheim earlier “We were lacking that 100 percent commitment,” said Mats Hummels.
“We were slow, not compact enough and had no intensity. We’ll have to play differently in Paris,” said Carlo Ancelotti.
For PSG, Neymar’s supposed demand to take penalties and the squad upset threatens to break up a forward line that had quickly become just as lethal on the pitch as it looked on paper, with Neymar, Cavani and Mbappe filling their boots in Ligue 1 and against Celtic on the first matchday. This clash should tell us a lot about both sides.
The other big clash of the night is Atletico Madrid taking on Chelsea in a game that will go a long way to deciding who comes out on top in Group C. Atletico have quickly bedded into their magnificent new stadium, the Wanda Metropolitano, with two wins in two games there, and they are the same old team in their new home’; An extremely functional side that is built from the back, with individuals capable of creating goals out of nothing.
Chelsea, however, have made a quietly impressive start to the season in England and haven’t conceded for the games in a row now following their impressive 4-0 win at Stoke. Alvaro Morata fits into the forward line perfectly with other agile forward like Eden Hazard and Pedro, but this could become a battle of the defences.
Filipe Luis, Diego Godin, Stefan Savic and Juanfran compete shut out Roma on the first matchday and Sevilla could not get so much as a shot on target. However, Alteti will find Chelsea a tougher unit to break down than either of those two sides and Antonio Rudiger, Marcos Alonso, Cezar Azpilicueta and Andreas Christensen have gelled quickly.
It took a bad back pass for Atletico to open the scoring at the weekend but before then they hadn’t threatened and they had to work very hard to break down Malaga the week before. This has the makings of a tight game so no goalscorer and the draw look to be decent options.
4 pts Barcelona -1 (10/11 general)
1 pt Barcelona -2 (11/4 general)
1 pt No Goalscorer in Atletico Madrid v Chelsea (15/2 general)
1 pt draw in Atletico Madrid v Chelsea (23/10 general)
2 pts Roma -1 (13/10 Betfair)