Tue 17 Sep by Mark Gleeson
Tonight and tomorrow’s UEFA Champions League matches could offer an early and fascinating glimpse into clubs who might be able to break down English hegemony in the competition.English clubs were in supreme command last season and holders Liverpool, runners-up Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea and Manchester City are all expected to go deep into the competition again as the group campaign gets underway.Their opposition will come from the usual Spanish threat of Barcelona, Atletico and Real Madrid, Italian champions Juventus and their German counterparts Bayern Munich, plus Paris St Germain, where Neymar remains for another season despite his best efforts to get away.The fixture list has thrown up some juicy contests between many of those contenders over the next days, which will allow a peek into their potential.Paris St Germain, for all their spending, were been bundled out in the last-16 of the competition last season, having got to the last eight in each of the four seasons before that.Despite being arguably Europe’s wealthiest club and having unprecedented dominance in the French Ligue 1, they have failed to make any real impact in Europe’s premier club competition.Real Madrid are in Paris tomorrow night with Eden Hazard likely to start for the first time along with Gareth Bale, who was supposed to be leaving in the off-season but refused.Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane was looking for more of an overhaul of his squad, but did not get Paul Pogba or Neymar, who had his first run of the season for PSG on Saturday and scored the stoppage-time winner against Strasbourg despite taking much stick from his own fans.Barcelona remain without an injured Lionel Messi in an away game at Borussia Dortmund tonight. But goals for 16-year-old Ansu Fati in a 5-2 win over Valencia in La Liga at the weekend has taken Messi’s absence off the back pages.Dortmund are among the Bundesliga front-runners after scoring four at home to Bayer Leverkusen in their last outing.Juventus’ trip to Atletico Madrid tomorrow is probably the most interesting game involving the top non-English contenders. The Spanish club remain a study in defensive rigidity, but are up against long-time nemesis Cristiano Ronaldo, who has a rich history of picking Atletico apart.
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