UEFA Champions League: The 5 Must Watch Group Stage Fixtures of Matchday 1

The 2019/20 UEFA Champions League group stage begins with matchday one this week, with all 32 teams in action all over the continent across Tuesday and Wednesday.

Here’s a look at five of the biggest ‘must watch’ games taking place…


Napoli vs. Liverpool

?Tuesday 17 September, 21.00 (CEST) @ Stadio San Paolo

Sadio Mane

Liverpool begin the defence of their Champions League title by facing a team they had to beat at home no matchday six just to get out of the group stage last season.

The Reds may have gone on to lift the trophy in May, but they were beaten when they travelled to Stadio San Paolo in early October. Liverpool, who would lose all three group stage away games, failed to score and conceded a late Napoli winner from Lorenzo Insigne.

With Genk and Red Bull Salzburg completing Group E, this trip to Napoli is likely to be Liverpool’s most challenging game and toughest test in this phase of the competition.


Borussia Dortmund vs. Barcelona

Tuesday 17 September, 21.00 (CEST) @ Westfalenstadion 

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Already a huge game as one of Europe’s most exciting young teams takes on an established giant, the potential return of Lionel Messi makes Barcelona’s visit to Borussia Dortmund even more enticing as the superstar is in the squad after missing the first four games of the season.

Dortmund have plenty to prove in Europe this season as they were eliminated from the group stage last year, while their overall reputation does not marry up with a team that has won just two Champions League knockout ties since playing in the 2013 final.

Barcelona will be desperate to make a strong start in difficult times as Group F also features a resurgent Inter and will claim a high profile scalp.


Chelsea vs. Valencia

Tuesday 17 September, 21.00 (CEST) @ Stamford Bridge

Mason Mount,Tammy Abraham

Group H could hardly be more open and that is why it is vital for Chelsea to get an early win under their belt when Valencia visit Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea were fired to Premier League victory over the weekend by home-grown youngsters Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount and Fikayo Tomori, all of whom will be taking a step into the known for what will be their respective Champions League debuts.

Chelsea have the second leakiest defence in the Premier League this season after conceding 11 goals in five games, and they will therefore be vulnerable against a technical La Liga side, even one that has started the 2019/20 domestic season poorly.


Paris Saint-Germain vs. Real Madrid

?Wednesday 18 September, 21.00 (CEST) @ Parc des Princes

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The team that has been craving Champions League glory for years without success against the team that has won it more times than other club history, Paris Saint-Germain will host Real Madrid in a heavyweight clash at the Parc des Princes in Group A on Wednesday.

After brushing off an early season blip, PSG are on in Ligue 1, which is more than can be said for Real, who have only won two of their opening four domestic games and conceded six times.

A lot of focus will be on Neymar in Paris this week. The Brazilian superstar didn’t get his dream return to Barcelona during the summer and was heckled and booed by his own club’s fans when he made his first appearance of the season over the weekend – despite scoring a fairly incredible bicycle kick. 


Atletico Madrid vs. Juventus

Wednesday 18 September, 21.00 (CEST) @ Wanda Metropolitano

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Atletico Madrid and Juventus meet in matchday one of Group D after playing out an epic two-legged knockout tie in the Champions League last season. On that occasion it took a Cristiano Ronaldo hat-trick to overturn the tie for Juventus after a 2-0 first leg deficit.

Atletico have undergone a mini transformation since then, shedding Antoine Griezmann and Diego Godin and bringing in younger talents like Joao Felix and Marcos Llorente.

These great clubs are two of European football’s biggest underachievers at a continental level. They have played in 12 European Cup/Champions League finals between them over the years, but have lost as many as 10 of those – including four in a row between 2014 and 2017.


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Carles Puyol: Club Legend Set to Reject Chance to Return to Barcelona as Sporting Director

?Barcelona legend Carles Puyol is thought to have decided against becoming the club’s sporting manager, despite La Blaugrana’s desire to bring him back.

President Josep Maria Bartomeu recently confirmed that they were ?negotiating with Puyol to try and bring him in as part of their team of directors, with Bartomeu eager to work with someone with Puyol’s experience and knowledge.

Carles Puyol

Unfortunately for ?Barcelona, SER Catalunya’s Jofre Mateu Gonzalez revealed (via ?Mundo Deportivo) that Puyol will almost certainly reject the offer as he has other plans for himself.

Jofre said: “Although he has been thinking about it, right now I can tell you that he will not be a sports director. It is 99% certain that Puyol will not assume the position. He has other plans.”

However, according to ?Mundo Deportivo, he may not have definitively decided just yet. MD believe that Puyol is still deliberating, as he wants to think about whether this would be the right move for him at this point in time.

He is believed to be evaluating the situation and intends to have responded to the club by the last week of September at the very latest.

Bartomeu wants Puyol to work alongside both Eric Abidal and Ramon Planes, although he did confess that filling the vacant position of sporting director was not one of his top priorities at the moment.

Carles Puyol

As a result, Barcelona will likely give Puyol as much time as necessary to make a final decision, as his years of commitment to La Blaugrana has earned him a huge amount of respect at Camp Nou.

Having started his career as part of the academy at Barcelona, Puyol spent 15 years with the senior side, making 593 appearances in all competitions. He led the club to six ?La Liga titles and three ?Champions Leagues.

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Paco Alcacer Reveals Barcelona Teammates ‘Treated Him Badly’ Ahead of Champions League Reunion

Borussia Dortmund striker Paco Alcacer has claimed he was treated badly by some of his Barcelona teammates ahead of his reunion with his former employers in the Champions League.

The Spanish international joined ?Barcelona from Valencia on a five-year deal in 2016, scoring a reasonable 15 goals in 50 games.

However, it was last season’s initial loan spell at ?Dortmund where he rediscovered his shooting boots, earning a permanent move to Germany after netting 19 goals from 32 appearances.

He will come up against his former side in BVB’s opening Champions League group game, and in the lead up to the game, Alcacer has revealed that he felt disrespected and treated unfairly by some of his then Barcelona teammates.

In an interview with ‘Que T’hi Jugues’ on Cadena SER, as quoted by ?Marca, Alcacer said: “I have respect for many people and many colleagues, as many people at ?Barcelona treated me very well and others very badly.

The players acted very well with me and the fans also, although others treated me badly. For me it was very important to see that they trusted me and many people did not prove it.”

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Alcacer continued by admitting the difficulties he faced in trying to oust Luis Suarez from the team, though he did state that he was pleased with the performances he put in, when given the opportunity.

He continued: “I must be happy with the games I played there. I did what I could to continue playing, but in the end it is up to the coach who plays.

“It is very difficult to play with players like Luis Suarez next up”.

Marco Reus,Jadon Sancho,Paco Alcacer

It is likely that he will face the Uruguayan in Tuesday’s tie, with Suarez very much in-form after netting a hat-trick at the weekend. Alcacer, meanwhile, is in good touch himself, and has hit the ground running in 2019/20 with five goals in Dortmund’s opening four ?Bundesliga fixtures.

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Manuel Neuer Responds to Marc-André ter Stegen Outburst Over Lack of Germany Playing Time

?Manuel Neuer has insisted goalkeepers must ‘stick together’ following recent comments from Marc-Andre ter Stegen complaining about a lack of playing time with the German national team.

Despite featuring every week for Barcelona, Ter Stegen finds himself as second choice with Die Mannschaft, as stalwart Neuer is chosen ahead of his teammate by manager Joachim Löw. Despite making his Germany debut in 2012, since the 27-year-old has only made 22 appearances due to the immense form of his compatriot.

The most recent outing for the duo came during the recent international break, with the ?Bayern Munich stopper getting the nod over ?Ter Stegen in both the defeat to Netherlands and subsequent win over Northern Ireland. That prompted some questionable comments from the ?Blaugrana goalkeeper, who hinted at a potential exit from the national side if things didn’t improve.

“It drives me a bit mad. You give the best of yourself and you aren’t where you want to be,” he ?said. “I have established my priorities. I want to be successful and the big objective I have is to be the first choice keeper for my country.”

Those comments prompted a response from the more senior figure of Neuer, who insisted that his fellow countryman must think of the team in such instances, with unity the key to success no matter who plays in between the sticks.

“I think he’s a good keeper and he is performing well, but I’m not sure if that helps us,” Neuer told Sky, via ?Marca.

Marc-Andre Ter Stegen,Manuel Neuer

“We are a team and should present ourselves as such. We have great goalkeepers. We have Kevin Trapp, Bernd Leno… these are all great goalkeepers who also want to play and then sit on the bench. We are a team. We have to stick together. The goalkeepers also have to stick together.”

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David Beckham’s Inter Miami ‘Step Up’ Pursuit of Barcelona’s Lionel Messi

Since the transfer window closed and killed dead any concrete transfer speculation, ?Lionel Messi’s hypothetical Barcelona exit has become one of the major stories in European football. 

But while we had previously had no word on where he may actually go if and when he decided to call time, with vague suggestions he could join Andres Iniesta in Japan or head to MLS, reports have now boldly named David Beckham’s Inter Miami as a potential destination. 

Beckham’s new franchise will make their debut in the 2020 season which gets underway in March, and their squad is still in the embryonic stages of its development, with just four players announced as having signed – most recently Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder David Norman. 

They are yet to add any marquee stars to their ranks ahead of their debut campaign, and while it’s reasonable to expect them to venture into Europe to recruit one or two big names, ?the Sun say that Beckham is eyeing the coup of all coups, and wants to take advantage of the reported clause in Messi’s contract that will ?allow him to leave on a free as of next summer. 

Yep, that’s the same Messi who is currently second favourite for the Ballon d’Or, after a season that saw him score 51 goals in 50 appearances. 

Regardless of the facts, the report pushes ahead with claims that Beckham desperately wants to make the move happen, and wants to bring Messi in for the start of the next MLS season in March – when Barcelona will hope to be firmly in the throws of a Messi-inspired Champions League campaign. 

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If interest does come to fruition, then it may all hinge on how keen Messi is to secure a move away from his beloved Barcelona. 

But let’s be real – an MLS move would make no sense while the Argentine is at the peak of his powers. Try this one again in a few years’ time. 

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Barcelona 5-2 Valencia: Report, Ratings & Reaction as Brilliant Ansu Fati Puts on a Show

?Barcelona thumped a rather tepid Valencia side 5-2 to get their second win of the season, and pile more misery on a struggling team in the midst of a managerial crisis.

A Lionel Messi-less Barca certainly didn’t look like they were missing him, with two goals inside the first 10 minutes, which was a major hammer blow to Valencia.

16-year-old Ansu Fati emphatically side-footed home the first goal from a Frenkie de Jong cross, and the youngster returned the favour for the Dutchman with a brilliant assist four minutes later.

Anssumane Fati,Antoine Griezmann,Jasper Cillessen

Valencia hit back soon after, with Kevin Gameiro poking home after a VAR check.

However, Gerard Pique restored Barca’s two goal cushion in the second half after former Barcelona goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen fumbled Antoine Griezmann’s shot.

?Luis Suarez was soon after subbed on for the brilliant Fati, and scored with practically his first touch – a fantastic finessed finish into the near post. He then doubled his goal tally with around five minutes left with a near post strike that, in truth, Cillessen should probably have done better with again.


In the dying embers of the game, substitute Maxi Gomez managed to score his first goal for the club and, although it was simply just a consolation, it may give the forward some confidence going into a crucial couple of games for Valencia.

Without Messi, Barca have now shown in consecutive game weeks that they can cope without him in these games, while Valencia know that despite being outclassed by a brilliant Barcelona, they were no where near good enough, and have some serious thinking to do.


BARCELONA

?Key Talking Point

Much of the talk before the game was about wonder kid Ansu Fati; and boy did he deliver. The winger scored in Barca’s last game, and today he upped the ante.

He was electric, constantly causing problems for Valencia, and even managed to grab a goal and assist.

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He looks the real deal, and if he continues to perform this way, then ?Barcelona have something seriously special. 

Lionel Messi who?


Player Ratings

Starting XI: ter Stegen (6); Semedo (5), Pique (7), Lenglet (6), Alba (6); Arthur (7), Busquets (7), de Jong (8); Perez (6), Griezmann (8); Fati (9*)

Subs: Suarez (8), Rakitic (6), Vidal (6)


STAR MAN

Yup. You guessed it. Ansu Fati. This felt like a huge game for the youngster, as he seemingly announced himself to the world.

I’ve already heaped enough praise on Fati. It’s early days of course, and he needs to follow up this exhilarating performance to prove he’s not just a one game wonder. 





VALENCIA

?Key Talking Point

There’s only one place to start: the shock sacking of Marcelino Garcia Toral – the man who bought solidarity to Valencia and a first trophy in 11 years – threw the club into crisis.

There had been a problem stewing for a while, and with the appointment of Albert Celades, Valencia’s season faces the threat of going from bad to worse.

Jose María Sanchez Martinez

The mauling they received at the hands of Barca won’t be the biggest disappointment; he manner of it was the largest problem. There was simply nothing – at all – good about the performance. 

Celades needs to find a way to turn this around, and fast.


Player Ratings

Starting XI: Cillessen (4); Wass (5), Gabriel (5), Garay (5), Gaya (5); Torres (5), Coquelin (7), Parejo (5), Guedes (5); Gameiro (7*), Rodrigo (6).

Subs: Lee Kangin (5), Cheryshev (6), Gomez (7).


STAR MAN

Kevin Gameiro was definitely the best player on the pitch for Valencia. His all-round game was brilliant and he was constantly a huge thorn in Barca’s side during the game.

His hold up play was impressive, and his good performance included a tidy finish into the bottom corner.

The Frenchman is a fine striker, and will cause a lot of problems to many a La Liga defence this season.




Looking Ahead

Barcelona needed this win. They picked up just the one win from their first three games, and needed a boost going into their Champions League fixture against Borussia Dortmund.

?They take on Granada next week and will be looking to get their La Liga campaign really up and running with back to back victories. They will likely be without ?Messi once again, but they have an in-form Fati in his absence.

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A loss to Barcelona isn’t the end of the world for Valencia, but with all the chaos of losing their manager, they really need to get a positive result as soon as possible.

Valencia take on a flying Chelsea and Tammy Abraham in midweek, and know they face an uphill task in that game.

It’s set to be a tough week for Valencia.

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Neymar: PSG Fans Call Brazilian Star a ‘Son of a B***h’ During Return for French Side

?Neymar made his return for Paris Saint-Germain in Saturday’s game against Strasbourg, but the Brazilian star received anything but a warm welcome from the Parisian supporters, as they chanted ‘Neymar, son of a b***h’ at the Parc des Princes.  

The 27-year-old made it clear that he intended to leave les Parisiens this summer, and the French side were in talks with Barcelona over a potential move to Camp Nou. 

The deal never materialised however, and Neymar was left with little option than to play for PSG – at least until January. 

The Brazil international has not been welcomed back with open arms by the PSG faithful however, as ?Get French Football News tweeted a video of supporters singing ‘?Neymar, hijo de p**a. 

The PSG faithful sang their insults in Spanish to make their feelings truly known to the Brazilian star, their song translating to ‘Neymar, son of a b***h’.

Their anger didn’t stop there, as they then booed every touch that their want-away star took, during the French champions’ disappointing first half against Strasbourg. 

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It is unlikely that Neymar’s long-term future remains in France, as la Blaugrana are likely to make another bid for the ?ex-Barca player next summer. 

The Spanish giants were very keen to bring Neymar to La Liga, but they could not afford another big signing following the arrival of Antoine Griezmann from ?Atletico Madrid. 

Until the next transfer window opens however, the Brazil international may need to put up with some harsh treatment from his supporters, as he has clearly not earned their forgiveness just yet. 

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Barcelona Launch Super Vibrant Champions League Goalkeeper Kit & Twitter Is Divided

?Barcelona have revealed their new third-choice goalkeeper kit for the 2019/20 season and supporters online were left debating wondering whether it is a piece of art or rubbish.

The strip is made by Nike – who used a similar template on recent Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur shirts – and will be worn during La Blaugrana’s Champions League campaign. The front panel has a multi-coloured graphic that dominates the design, oozing yellow, pink and blue in a style befitting the 1990s. 


The sleeves, collar, shorts and socks of the kit are entirely black. Likewise, the Nike logo and that of sponsors Rakuten are black, whilst inky stripes stretch diagonally across the front of the shirt.

Number one Marc-Andre ter Stegen could debut the kit on Tuesday night as he and his teammates travel to Signal Iduna Park, where they will open their European campaign with a game against ?Borussia Dortmund.

It’s certainly a bold and eye-catching design for ?Barça to go with, which has unsurprisingly divided the fan base. 

A few adored the design and were quick to let social media know…


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However, some of their fellow supporters were less impressed…


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Others just compared it to the works of Pablo Picasso…


But, not everyone is a fan of Cubism…


The kit is available for £74.95 on Barcelona’s official online store, which can be found ?here.

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Barcelona Confirm Samuel Umtiti Injury Diagnosis Following Withdrawl From France Duty

?Barcelona have confirmed that defender Samuel Umtiti is set for at least five weeks on the sidelines as a result of the foot injury which kept him out of international duty with France.

Umtiti missed Les Bleus’ meetings with both Albania and Andorra as he returned to Barcelona for a ?haematoma in his right foot, but no official recovery time was given to begin with.

Samuel Umtiti

However, ?Barcelona have confirmed on their ?official website that, during their treatment of the injury, they have discovered that Umtiti has suffered a small bone fracture in his foot, and he will now miss between five and six weeks of action.

Not only will he miss Saturday’s meeting with Valencia, but he is expected to miss important games against Villarreal and Sevilla, whilst he also remains a doubt for the visit of fierce rivals ?Real Madrid on 27th October.

Umtiti will also have to watch on as Barcelona begin their ?Champions League campaign against ?Borussia Dortmund on Tuesday, whilst ?Inter’s visit to Camp Nou on 2nd October will also come too soon for the Frenchman.

For Umtiti, it is a continuation of the struggles which have plagued his Barcelona career. The 25-year-old lost his place in the starting lineup as he battled with a knee injury last season, and there is no chance of him getting that back any time soon.

In his place, fellow Frenchman Clement Lenglet will likely continue to line up alongside ?Gerard Pique, whilst 19-year-old Jean-Clair Todibo could also be handed opportunities to impress in Ernesto Valverde’s side.

Clement Lenglet

La Blaugrana currently sit eighth in ?La Liga, having picked up four points from their opening three games. They have been without a number of attacking stars – ?Lionel Messi, ?Luis Suarez and ?Ousmane Dembele have all been injured – but they now have a defensive injury problem to solve.

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Liverpool Join Barcelona & Real Madrid in Race for Napoli Star Fabian Ruiz

Liverpool have reportedly entered the race for Napoli midfielder Fabian Ruiz, with Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich already circling the Spaniard.

Ruiz, who is a graduate from the Real Betis academy, was snapped up last summer by the Partenopei for €30m, after several high-profile Spanish sides, including Barça, passed up the opportunity to sign him. 

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La Blaugrana also had several chances to sign the Spanish international before that, once for as little as €6m, but passed every time, a fact which has fortified their desire to bring the player to Camp Nou in the coming transfer windows.

However, as reported by Calciomercato, they are now set to face considerable competition from Liverpool for his signature, alongside the already-interested pair of Bayern and Real. 

Ruiz has notched seven goals and three assists in 42 appearances thus far for Carlo Ancelotti’s side, and has a deal with the Italian side until 2023.

Ancelotti and Napoli club president Aurelio de Laurentiis are aligned in their desire to keep the 23-year-old at the Stadio San Paolo, hence why they have already begun talks with the player about a new deal with the club.


Jurgen Klopp, however, is keen to bolster his midfield, with James Milner getting on in years and last year’s summer signing Naby Keita failing to ignite his Anfield career thus far.

And the German will have a chance to scout Ruiz next Tuesday, when his European champions travel to the south of Italy to take on Napoli in the Champions League group stage. Of course, as is a given these days, the Italians will not be willing to let their man leave on the cheap, with a fee of more than €60m already mooted.

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