Real Madrid v Inter Milan
Live on BT Sport ESPN
Inter Milan have won just one of their last six games in all competitions, mostly because of a propensity to get caught on the break in the spaces around Aleksandar Kolarov. The left sided centre-back is expected to get forward and help the attack, which leads to him getting caught ahead of the ball, with gaps emerging for the opposition right winger.
To combat this weakness, Zinedine Zidane should start Rodrigo, whose directness off the bench has given Real impetus in recent weeks following some below par performances on the right from Marco Asensio. Even if the Brazilian doesn’t start, his impact from the bench could expose a familiar flaw in Antonio Conte’s tactical setup.
What’s more, there are signs that Eden Hazard is back to his best. His superb goal in Real’s 4-1 win over SD Huesca at the weekend – only his second for the club – was classic Hazard as he cut in from the left and split the lines. He can disrupt Inter’s central midfield, sucking players towards him and in turn creating more space for Rodrigo on the right.
Atalanta v Liverpool
Live on BT Sport 2
Atalanta are one of the most attractive teams in Europe, playing a high-energy style of vertical possession football that can blow away the opposition. However, it isn’t necessarily the best way of approaching a team with the pace and energy of Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool, and indeed there is reason to believe Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah will pull the Atalanta defence out of shape.
The most impressive, but also the most risky, part of Atalanta’s strategy is a man-to-man pressing all over the pitch, including among the back three. The three centre-backs will follow Mane, Salah, and Roberto Firmino around, meaning big gaps will emerge as these three seek space. More importantly, isolating the centre-backs one-on-one against Salah and Mane is a bad idea.
Both players are superb at dribbling past their opponent, creating space for themselves with unexpected turns in the half-spaces. Atalanta’s expansive system will put Liverpool under pressure in an open and entertaining game, but ultimately they will not have the ability to limit the visitors’ dangerous forwards.
RB Leipzig v PSG
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RB Leizpig are still wounded from that chastening 5-0 defeat to Manchester United last weekend, a game in which Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side were able to take advantage of Leipzig’s high line and commitment to attack. United’s counter-attacks were ruthless, but they were helped enormously by the dreadful communication between Dayot Upamecano and Ibrahima Konate, the right-sided centre-back in a three.
United’s first goal was the best example of this issue as Paul Pogba easily fed Mason Greenwood by slotting a pass between the two defenders, but there were numerous examples throughout the match. Upamecano’s injury, and the subsequent move to a back four for Leipzig’s 1-0 defeat to Monchengladbach at the weekend, only adds to the problem on this side.
That points to big games for Kylian Mbappe, from the left, and Moise Kean, who scored both goals in Paris Saint-Germain’s victory over Istanbul Basakhesir in last week’s game. Kean is at his best as a poacher, sniffing out pace between centre-backs, while Mbappe’s runs off the left will be targeted by Rafinha. In a game between two of last season’s Champions League semi-finalists, the loser is likely to crash out in the group stage (although I think United may have some trouble in Turkey). Nevertheless, that’s a lot of pressure for the RB Leipzig defence to cope with.
Istanbul Basakhesir v Man Utd
Live on BT Sport 3
Istanbul Basakhesir might have lost both of their Champions League group games so far this season, but Manchester United’s preference for counter-attacking football complicates matters. The sharp contrast between United’s performances against RB Leipzig and Arsenal highlighted the extent to which Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s improvisational tactics, as opposed to structured attacking lines, limits them.
United are good when allowed to play on the counter and break into spaces, but are suddenly neutered by a low block. The lack of tactical coaching means there isn’t enough movement to pull a compact defence apart, which hands Istanbul Basakhesir the chance of recording a shock result in midweek.
What’s more, wide men Deniz Turuc and Edin Visca, who average 6.8 key passes per game in Turkey, are likely to find a lot of room on the counter-attack on the outside of the Man Utd midfield. Basakhesir were surprisingly threatening on the break against PSG. Solskjaer could be set for another disappointing result.