Last night threw up a few small surprises but nothing too dramatic like what we have seen in the Premier League. Most games were predictable but Lazio comfortably beating Dortmund and Man Utd snatching a late winner in Paris were the biggest results of the night. Pique's red card in their 5-1 win over Ferencvaros may come back to haunt them as they will be without him in their next CL match vs Juventus. We move on to tonight's matches.
Real Madrid v Shakhtar Group B 17:55
The Spanish giants and 13 time winners of the competition start their campaign against 13 time Ukranian Premier League winners. Shaktar have finished third in the CL group stages for the past two years and have generally caused less problems than the previous year when their Brazilians were causing teams a lot of trouble at the back. Real Madrid look certain to be without captain Ramos but they can recall some rested players from the weekends 1-0 shock loss to Cadiz, Hazard and Odegaard will not play through injury. The El Classico being on the weekend may mean Zidane could be tempted to rotate his side against a Shakter team missing players themselves. Key men Moraes a Matviyenko tested positive for Covid and should be returning to the team soon but this match may be too soon for them. Real Madrid should win this but I can see Shaktar getting a goal.
Red Bull Salzburg v Lokomotiv Group A 17:55
In the other early kick off, Salzburg, the dominant team in Austria over the past decade and another emerging force in Europe under the Red Bull project will look to get off the mark with 3 very important points if they are to qualify from Group A which also contains champions Bayern Munich and the mighty Atl. Madrid. Lokomotiv are on a decent run of form but they know they have to get points from the two Salzburg games for any chance to even reach the Europa League spot. Salzburg are also on a good run and I expect that to continue tonight. Ajax v Liverpool Group D 20:00
A fixture between two European greats. Ajax won the tournament three times in the 70s with maestro Johan Cruyff in the side and still have one of the best academies in world football and play football the beautiful way. Their international dominance has since fallen away as they just can't compete financially, however in the past few years they have had some strong results reaching the Europa League Final as well as the CL semi final where they were beaten in the last kick of the game by Tottenham. Some of their top talent has moved on which was evident in last year's campaign where they failed to reach the knockout rounds but this year they have a good chance with an easier group. Liverpool strong favourites to win the group will be hurt by the loss of Van Dijk, the cool as you like defender looks to be out for the domestic season and probably the Euros which is a huge blow to him as he approaches 30 years old. The 6 times winners will be looking to put that bad news behind them and get the three points tonight in the only way they know how, press hard and punish the slightest of mistakes. Salah and Mane have started the season very well and it will take a huge defensive performance to stop Liverpool from scoring. Van Dijk is not the only absentee, Matip has not travelled and Thiago is recovering the Richarlison tackle from the derby. Liverpools shakey away record in the group stages in recent years will provide Ajax with plenty of hope tonight at the Johan Cruyff Arena. This should be an exciting watch , plenty of goals in which I think Liverpool will come out on top. Bayern Munich v Atletico Madrid Group A 20:00
Last year's champions blew everyone away by scoring goals for fun and just generally dominating all over the park. Power, pace, skills, tactical astuteness and a huge desire propelled the German giants to lift their 6th CL trophy. They start the tournament as worthy favorites and they will likely go deep into the competition. Atl. Madrid have come up short in the past few years edition of the CL, knocking Liverpool out of the tournament was a huge result but they were well beaten by RRB Leipzig in the quarter finals. The year before they were knocked out by Juventus after a 2-0 1st leg victory, and the year before that they didn't even make it to the knockout stages. They have strengthened this year by bringing in Luis Suarez and are always a very tough team to break down but they have got off to a mixed start in the league. Simeone still plays a perfect low block defensive style of play to the highest of levels but encouraging Bayern to sit in their half will be asking for trouble. Bayern are capable of scoring all kinds of goals so Atl. Madird will have to make their counter attacks count. This game should go to the home team but like the Liverpool game last season, Simeone's men seem to thrive on the challenge of frustrating flowing attacking teams. It will be an intriguing clash between two different styles of play, the only notable absentee is Diego Costa missing from duty due to injury but this should be a tasty affair. Inter v Borussia Mönchengladbach Group B 20:00
Inter are back on the rise but were humbled to a Europa League spot in last season's edition. They will be looking to progress into the knockouts this time round and look certain to do it on paper but Shaktar and Gladbach are no walkover. The Italian outfit will have to make sure they take their chances but this group is somewhat easier. They have brought in experienced players and reaching last year's Europa League final shows they are moving in the right direction. They will want to put their derby defeat to AC Milan quickly behind them with a win tonight. Gladbach are consistent performers in the Bundesliga but will need something special tonight to walk away with any points. They are a tidy, well organised side and will make it tough for Inter but I can only see a home win here, especially if Lukaku is in the mood.
Man City v Porto Group C 20:00
Man City were humbled last time out by Lyon in the knockouts and it's been poor generally from them in the tournament. They tend to cruise through groups which I expect them to do again but when they face the elite clubs of Europe in the knockouts, they seem to stutter and falter at the most unexpected of times. Perhaps it's an inferiority complex, perhaps it's the pressure, either way their CL campaigns have been big failures. The Portugese champions will be looking to pile the misery on their CL campaign with skillful and attacking players but getting anything at the Etihad will be a big ask. Man City are not at full strength however, Aguero may be back but Jesus, De Bruyne, Laporte and Mendy are definitely out which does weaken the Premier League team significantly. Man City have started the season with a mixed set of results so Porto will be arriving in the North West of England with hope. Porto are never short of goals and Peps teams like to dominate the ball so it will be a decent match for the neutral. Hopefully we will see some quality play and plenty of goals.
Midtjylland v Atalanta Group D 20:00
CL first timers and Danish champions Midtjylland host an exciting Atalanta team who have been excellent to follow. The occasion will be special for Midtjylland, playing legendary Liverpool and Ajax at their iconic stadiums and tonight is a good match for them to give it their best at home, they are huge outsiders to progress past the group stages and tonight will be their most realistic chance of getting any points. Atalanta will have other ideas, the Italians will want to continue playing their flowing football, take the game to them and take all 3 points to give themselves a solid start to the group while favourites to qualify Liverpool and Ajax fight it out in Amsterdam.
Olympiakos v Marseille Group C 20:00
A tight match in Greece tonight with both teams looking to get off the mark in a very tight group. They both won on the weekend and they will need to get another win from the fixtures between each other as points may be hard to come by against Man City and Porto. I think Marseille may edge a victory in this one.