The observant among you will have noticed that there is something familiar about this week’s Champions League fixtures.
Yes, that’s right: they’re the same as the last lot! Only in reverse! Fancy that!
So we have Manchester City welcoming Barcelona to the Etihad, looking to avenge their 4-0 defeat a fortnight ago. Arsenal head to Bulgaria in search of more goals against Ludogorets, while Tottenham are back at Wembley to play Bayer Leverkusen.
Elsewhere, Leicester travel to Copenhagen, Borussia Monchengladbach host Celtic and Juventus face Lyon in the Miralem Pjanic clasico.
Here are five things to look out for this week:
Aguero out to prove a point
Leaving your deadliest striker on the bench is always likely to raise eyebrows, so it was no great shock that Pep Guardiola’s decision to drop Sergio Aguero from his starting XI against Barcelona at the Camp Nou hogged the headlines.
Despite the Manchester City manager’s claims that the decision had been a purely tactical one (“We wanted more in the middle”) and that the forward had accepted his omission without causing a fuss (“I spoke to Sergio about that, he was so understanding”), it sparked a wave of dizzy speculation. There were reports of tension between the pair. Some even claimed that Aguero was being ushered towards the exit door in preparation for a summer squad renovation.
That may all be fanciful – Guardiola would have to be certifiable to want rid of a player closing in on 150 goals for the club – but there’s little doubt that Aguero would have been stung at missing out on what was City’s biggest game of the season so far. Big players want to play, special tactics or otherwise.
On Saturday, the Argentine put forward a compelling argument for his inclusion for this week’s rematch. After three league games without a goal, Aguero was back to his best against West Brom, netting twice and setting up another as Guardiola’s men returned to winning ways in some style.
Walking off the pitch, the coach approached hisand thanked him, before telling him that City need him. Aguero will be aiming to ram home that point at the Etihad.
‘Robbendowski’ all loved up
A few years ago, it was all about the ‘Robbery’ wing partnership at Bayern Munich. Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery would torment opponents down the flanks for Bayern Munich, scoring goals and teeing up countless more for the Bavarian giants. It was a match made in heaven, even if injuries often interrupted the courting process.
Now, though, there’s a new romance blossoming at the Allianz Arena: that between Robben and Robert Lewandowski, who combined to the tune of three goals in the win over Augsburg at the weekend. The Dutchman teed up Lewandowski for the opener, fired home from the striker’s pull-back to make it 2-0, then laid on another for his new beau.
There is love in the air at the Allianz Arena. “They’ve got a date tonight,” joked Bayern CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, which only seemed to egg Robben on. “If he’d added a third, then maybe it would have been a night out,” added the wideman. “But this way we’ll be sticking just to a meal.”
Lewandowski was a touch more prosaic (“I’m delighted we combined so well in many situations. It can only be positive for the whole team”), perhaps because his mind is on the new contract he’s expected to sign in the days ahead. But he will no doubt be on the lookout for more gifts from his partner in crime when the German champions play PSV Eindhoven – Robben’s old team – on Tuesday.
Bale looking to cap golden week
£150million over six years: no, not my freelance earnings forecast, but the value of the new contract signed by Gareth Bale at Real Madrid on Sunday. As if that number were not staggering enough, the Welshman’s buyout clause has risen to a frankly mind-numbing €1billion. It’s football, Jim, but not as we know it.
Bale’s decision to extend his deal is not the only reason for the Real faithful to be cheerful. The side’s form has also picked up markedly after a shaky spell: there have been 24 goals in the last five matches, all of them wins (albeit one against lower-league opposition in the Copa del Rey). Nor would you bet against them racking up a few against Legia Warsaw, 5-1 losers at the Bernabeu a fortnight ago.
Bale bagged the opener that night and will be hopeful of making it a week to remember with a gala display on Wednesday night.
Spurs face tough Wembley return
Tottenham’s Champions League campaign got off to an inauspicious start in September, when Monaco caught them cold in the unfamiliar surrounds of Wembley. Four points from two away games – against CSKA Moscow and Bayer Leverkusen – was a good return, but there will be a few nerves jangling as they prepare to host the Germans on Wednesday night.
After the 1-1 draw with Leicester, Mauricio Pochettino’s side are now without a win in five in all competitions. The absence of Harry Kane is clearly taking its toll in attack, with the supporting cast unable to muster the same threat on a constant basis, while Toby Alderweireld has been a big loss at the back. Neither will feature this week.
The good news for Spurs is that Leverkusen aren’t exactly firing on all cylinders either: they snuck past Wolfsburg at the weekend but were knocked out of the German Cup by minnows Sportfreunde Lotte four days earlier and are languishing in 10th in the Bundesliga. In the Champions League, they’re a wounded animal: they squandered leads against CSKA and Monaco and will be desperate to claw back lost ground. It’s going to be a battle of attrition.
Arsenal, PSG, Napoli, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Bayern, Dortmund, Real Madrid, Leicester, Juventus and Sevilla all stand a chance of securing progress to the knockout stages this week.
Dynamo Kiev, Celtic, PSV, Legia Warsaw, Club Brugge and Dinamo Zagreb are all in danger of getting eliminated at the first hurdle. Or second, if they made it past the play-off round. Or third or fourth, if they played in the quali… oh, you get the picture.