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Monday, December 4, 2023

Champions League: Ronaldo misses meeting with Messi, as Lewandowski on hunt after blank

A much-anticipated Champions League meeting between Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi will not take place this week but Juventus v Barcelona is still a highlight of the group stage.

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A much-anticipated Champions League meeting between Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi will not take place this week but Juventus v Barcelona is still a highlight of the group stage.

Serial Serie A champions Juventus have made a stuttering start under new coach Andrea Pirlo while new Barca boss Ronald Koeman is looking to bounce back from weekend defeat in the Clasico in Wednesday’s game.

Holders Bayern Munich head to Lokomotiv Moscow with star striker Robert Lewandowski seeking his first goal in the tournament while Atalanta v Ajax and Manchester United v RB Leipzig are among the intriguing fixtures of matchday 2.

With Ronaldo still isolating after a positive coronavirus test, Pirlo is demanding the rest of his side up their game after being held 1-1 at home to underdogs Hellas Verona on Sunday.

“We reacted after their goal in the second half, but we don’t need a slap in the face to wake us up – we have to start with more determination,” he said.

The rookie tactician hopes for the recovery of defensive veterans Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci for the Group G game which will take place behind closed doors.

Barcelona will be without Philippe Coutinho who has a hamstring strain but Koeman could start with Antoine Griezmann after leaving him out of the Clasico lost 3-1 to Real Madrid.

Juve and Barca both won their opening games to top the group while Dynamo Kiev meet Ferencvaros with both chasing a first point in the other match.

Bayern’s Lewnadowksi hit a weekend hat-trick in the 5-0 romp over Eintracht Frankfurt having failed to find the net in the opening 4-0 success against Atletico Madrid – a rare blank.

“Robert Lewandowski is incredibly difficult to defend,” said his team-mate Jerome Boateng, “because he has everything: a left foot, a right foot, aerial prowess.

“He moves very well and is extremely agile. That makes him the best striker in the world today.”

Lokomotiv drew their previous Group A game with RB Salzburg, who now visit an Atletico Madrid side without the injured Diego Costa.

Manchester United’s clash with RB Leipzig could see another opportunity for Uruguay’s Edinson Cavani after he made his debut as a substitute in a goalless Premier League draw with Chelsea.

“He showed he’s a presence in the box and he’s had a great impact on the training ground already,” United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said.

“We know he needs game time to get his sharpness. The more we can get the ball in the box to him, we can get some goals from him.”

Bundesliga leaders Leipzig also top Group H with Julian Nagelsmann relishing their good start to the season.

“Competition is the reason we’re players and coaches,” he said. “If there’s something to play for, you’re always more up for it.”

Paris Saint-Germain look to bounce back from defeat to United when they visit Istanbul Basaksehir, who host their first game in the competition.

Borussia Moenchengladbach host record champions Real Madrid in a classic Group B encounter with Eden Hazard in Zinedine Zidane’s squad for the first time this season after injury.

Shakhtar Donetsk host Inter Milan in the other game.

Group D is evenly balanced when Liverpool could welcome back defender Kostas Tsimikas and midfielder Thiago Alcantara for Tuesday’s tie with Midtjylland.

Virgil van Dijk and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (both knee) are long-term absentees but goalkeeper Alisson made his comeback against Sheffield United after a three-week lay-off with a shoulder injury

“Getting Allison back is a pretty big boost for all of us,” said manager Juergen Klopp. “He was missing for three weeks so I’m really happy when he gave us the green light and said, ‘yes, I’m ready.’”

In the other game high-scoring Atalanta host tradition-rich Ajax in what could be a thriller.

It is their first Champions League match at the renewed Gewiss Stadium, after playing at Milan’s Giuseppe Meazza in their maiden elite campaign last season.

The Dutch league leaders crushed VVV-Venlo 13-0 this weekend, consoling themselves after Liverpool beat 1-0 at home in the event’s opener.

Club Brugge and visiting Lazio meet as Group F leaders while Borussia Dortmund and Zenit St Petersburg chase their first points.

Dortmund are boosted by a Saturday derby win over rivals Schalke.

“We have to stay hungry and prove it time and time again,” said head of professional football Sebastian Kehl. “Ultimately, we will be measured by our successes. But we can deal with that too.”

In Group C, Manchester City’s injury list is growing after losing Sergio Aguero again to a hamstring problem before they visit Olympique Marseille on Tuesday.

The Argentina striker had only just made his comeback after a four month absence with a knee injury from last season but Kevin de Bruyne and Raheem Sterling will be available.

City won their opening game, as did Olympiacos who now visit Porto.

The other fixtures are in Group E when Krasnodar host Chelsea and Sevilla welcome Rennes on Wednesday.

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