By Jamie Greer
Following last night’s demolition of Sporting Lisbon by Manchester City, and Mbappe helping PSG squeak a win against potential future side Real Madrid, the Champions League is officially back. This weeks fixtures sees two huge matches, with one seeing a clash between European heavyweights and the other seeing an old power in Bayern facing a new up and coming one in RB Salzburg.
Inter Milan v Liverpool
This is the clash of two historic European clubs who, after a spell of underachievement, are now back at Europe’s top table. Both have won their respective domestic titles and reached European finals in recent years.
Reigning Serie A champions Inter have confounded expectations this season. Despite losing manager Antonio Conte, top striker Romelu Lukaku to Chelsea, and right back Hakimi to Inter, the Italians currently sit top of the league. They are, however, firmly locked into a three-way title race with Napoli and local rivals AC Milan, with all three teams separated by just one point. They finished second in their group, albeit thanks to victories against weaker teams in the form of FC Sheriff and Shakhtar Donetsk. Though manager Simone Inzaghi has deployed the same 3-5-2 formation as Conte did, he has given his players much more freedom to roam in general play. Left wing back Ivan Perisic has particularly benefitted from this approach, with his 5 goals already bettering his tally from last season. Meanwhile, 35-year-old Edin Dzeko has thrived this season with 14 goals.
After some rocky moments earlier this season, it seems that Liverpool are hitting their stride at the right time. The reds travel to the San Siro on the back of six straight wins and a 100% record in the Champions League this season. Jurgen Klopp has a full-strength squad to choose from, which is useful given that they are currently fighting in four competitions. They have already played at the San Siro this season, beating AC Milan 2-1 in their final group game despite deploying a weakened team. They won the competition in 2019 and reached the quarter finals last season. Given the demands Klopp’s puts on his players of high-intensity pressing, it is unlikely that Liverpool’s style will be affected by the abolition of away goals. Crucially, Mohammed Salah and Sadio Mané have returned from the African Cup of Nations, giving Liverpool one of the strongest attacks in the competition.
Inter Milan absences: Nicolò Barella, Robin Gosens (injury) and Joaquin Correa (suspension).
Liverpool absences: no injury concerns.
Prediction: Inter Milan 1-3 Liverpool
Inter deserve huge credit for challenging for the Serie A title this season in spite of last summer’s upheaval. However, the Premier League operates at a far higher standard, and this Liverpool squad have a wealth of experience in Europe’s premier club competition. Inter, by contrast, are playing in the knockout stage for the first time in ten years.
RB Salzburg v Bayern Munich
RB Salzburg sit comfortably top of the Austrian Bundesliga, 14 points clear of the nearest rivals RZ Pellets WAC. The Austrians are a relatively new player in the Champions League thanks to heavy investment from their owner, Red Bull from 2005 onwards. Nevertheless, they struggle to consistently challenge for into the latter stages thanks to the lower standards of the Austrian league and the need to sell their best players every summer. They are also without 6 first team players due to injury Centre forward Karim Adeyemi has been their key man this season, with 18 goals in all completions. They finished 2nd in a evenly matched group of Lille, Seville and Wolfsburg. Manger Matthias Jaissle is not well known on the European stage, with his only previous managerial experience coming at fellow Austrian side FC Liefering.
Bayern Munich continue to maintain their Domaine in the German Bundesliga, six points clear at the top of the table. They progressed through their group with ease last season too, emulating Liverpool’s six wins out of six. There have been some chinks in their amour this season though under new coach Julian Naglessman, most recently in a 4-2 defeat at the weekend against mid-table team VfL Bochum 1848. His relentless attacking style can leave their defenders, most notably Dayot Upemacano, exposed at the back. They do still possess a very strong squad despite some inuries to key players, with the remarkable Robert Lewandoski spearheading the attack. The Ballon d’or runner up has netted a remarkable 37 times already this season.
RB Salzburg absences: Albert Vallci, Sekou Koita, Ousmane Diakité, Zlatko Junuzovic, Bryan Okoh, Bernardo, Benjamin Sesko, Luka Sucic, Mamady Diambou (injury).
Bayern Munich absences: Manuel Neuer, Leon Goretzka.
Prediction: RB Salzburg 0-3 Bayern Munich
Champions in 2020 and quarter finalists last time around, Bayern should have too much for Salzburg. Both teams will play attractive attacking football, but Bayern possess quality players in every department.