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The UEFA Champions League finally kicks off this week and Matchday 1 is loaded with storylines, including a Messi-less Barcelona looking to usher in a new generation of European glory without the Argentinian superstar.
At week's end, Premier League Matchday 5 concludes with a London derby.
Here’s everything you need to know about footy action in the upcoming week:
Barcelona vs. Bayern
Tuesday, Sept. 14 at 3:00PM ET | Live stream
Barcelona enters the Champions League without Lionel Messi for the first time since 2003.
Messi and Barcelona won four Champions League titles, with the last one coming in 2015. Since then, the Catalonian side has advanced past the quarterfinal stage just once.
With the Argentinian magician now gone, they’ll look to renew past glories with a new era of Barcelona FC soccer led by Memphis Depay, Frenkie de Jong and Pedri.
But it’s the past they’ll be hoping to forget against their Group E opponent. Barcelona last met Bayern Munich in the 2019-20 Champions League quarterfinals, when the Bavarian side triumphed with a humiliating 8-2 victory.
Facing Bayern should provide a good measuring stick for Barcelona but could very well dampen any expectations of lifting a trophy as the German giants boast one of the most devastating squads in Europe.
Champions League winners in 2020, Bayern enters Camp Nou without a road loss in the competition since September 2017. The squad is stacked with names like Robert Lewandowski, Thomas Muller, Joshua Kimmich, and, of course, Canada’s Alphonso Davies, who carved out the Barcelona defence before setting up a goal in the 8-2 thrashing.
Inter Milan vs. Real Madrid
Wednesday, Sept. 15 at 3:00PM ET | Live stream
For the second consecutive year, Inter Milan and Real Madrid share a group in the Champions League. As Group D action gets underway Wednesday, the Italian side will be looking for a different result than last season after failing to advance to the knockout stages and losing both contests vs. Madrid.
Madrid is no longer the dominant side that won three consecutive Champions League titles with Cristiano Ronaldo as the frontman from 2016 to 2018, but remains a true contender to win the competition as a side that made the semifinal last season before falling to eventual champions Chelsea.
Los Blancos have started this La Liga campaign with three wins and one draw and currently top the league. Frenchman Karim Benzema is in full form with five goals and four assists to his name to lead the league in both categories. Not bad for a 33-year-old.
Despite the lack of Champions League success last season, Inter won its first Serie A title since 2010. They’ll look to repeat that feat and extend those fortunes to the UCL with new manager Simone Inzaghi.
Liverpool vs. AC Milan
Wednesday, Sept. 15 at 3:00PM ET | Live stream
This one is rooted in history.
In 2005, Liverpool came back from a 3-0 first-half deficit vs. AC Milan in the Champions League final and won on penalties. Just two years later, Milan avenged the defeat with a 2-1 victory over Liverpool in the 2007 final.
For the first time since then, and the first time ever in the Champions League, the two sides face off in the group stage.
After a run of slight mediocrity, by their standards, Liverpool is once again a perennial top club in Europe, having won the Champions League in 2019 and the Premier League in 2020 with players like Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Virgil van Dijk.
On the other hand, Milan is making its first UCL appearance since 2013-14 and is a far cry away from the side that won the title in 2007.
Still, the Italian club will hope to build off a perfect 3-0-0 Serie A start this season and stun Liverpool at Anfield in Group B action on Wednesday with almighty Zlatan Ibrahimovic leading the way.
Tottenham vs. Chelsea
Sunday, Sept. 19 at 11:30AM ET | Live stream
The current top two London clubs meet for a Premier League tilt at White Hart Lane with Tottenham in sixth and Chelsea in second. But those positions are subject to change as the two sides are separated by just one point.
Spurs are coming off their first loss of the season after Crystal Palace demolished the 10-man London side with a three-goal onslaught late in the second half last weekend.
Meanwhile, Chelsea has yet to lose in this Premier League campaign and is in great form after a 3-0 victory over Aston Villa. Romelu Lukaku is wasting no time in finding his groove in blue with three goals in three matches.
Spurs will hope that Chelsea’s mid-week Champions League matchup vs. Zenit can tire out the Blues before the weekend.
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