Marc Bartra v Cristiano Ronaldo and other key battles as Borussia Dortmund take on Real Madrid

Andy West 25/09/2017
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Borussia Dortmund will aim to maintain their unbeaten record at home to Real Madrid in the Champions League on Tuesday and spoil Cristiano Ronaldo’s 150th European appearance.

Dortmund and title holders Real meet in the group stage for the second year running and here are three key battles ahead of the game.

MARC BARTRA V CRISTIANO RONALDO

All eyes, as always, will be on Cristiano Ronaldo as the Champions League’s all-time leading scorer attempts to end his ‘barren run’ of two games – a lifetime by his standards.

The Portuguese star will be even more hungry than usual, if that’s possible, to get his name on the scoresheet, and he will be faced by a familiar foe in the form of Marc Bartra, who started his career at Barcelona.

Bartra reads the game well and has the pace to limit Ronaldo’s shooting opportunities, but he is prone to occasional errors by over-playing – and Ronaldo will be ready to pounce.

PIERRE-EMERICK AUBAMEYANG V RAPHAEL VARANE

Exciting Dortmund frontman Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has long been linked with a move to Madrid as a potential replacement for Karim Benzema, especially after the Gabon international registered a goal and an assist when the teams drew in Madrid last year.

Although skipper Sergio Ramos will also obviously have an important role, the man best equipped to handle Aubameyang is Raphael Varane, who can use his pace and anticipation to limit the impact of a striker who comes into the game in great form and full of confidence, scoring a hat-trick in Saturday’s league win against Borussia Moenchengladbach.

JULIAN WEIGL V ISCO

Another player Dortmund player subjected to speculation over a move to Madrid is young midfielder Julian Weigl, whose composed passing skills and strong defensive instincts have earned comparisons with Barcelona’s Sergio Busquets.

Tonight, Weigl’s key defensive task will be closing down the space available to Isco, who provides the link between Madrid’s midfield and attack. Isco will also often drift wide and Weigl will then turn his attentions to the darting runs of Luka Modric and Toni Kroos, as well as Ronaldo dropping deep.

If Weigl succeeds in providing a shield for his back four, his team’s chances will increase significantly.

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Key battles as Liverpool's Mohamed Salah has potential to rip Spartak Moscow apart

Alex Rea 25/09/2017
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Liverpool travel to Russia on Tuesday as they take on Spartak Moscow at the Otkrytie Arena in their second Champions League Group E clash.

The Reds were held to a 2-2 draw with Sevilla at Anfield in their opening fixture two weeks ago while Russian Premier League champions Spartak drew 1-1 away to Maribor.

We take a look at three key battles which will form the foundation of an intriguing battle.

Dmitri Kombarov v Mohamed Salah

Congested traffic moves quicker than the Spartak left-back and up against the frightening pace of Salah, Kombarov could be flattened.

In fact, both flanks pitch Liverpool’s greatest strength against the host’s most obvious weakness and the Egyptian in particular has been the brightest spot despite dark days so far in this campaign.

Salah has five goals in eight games to completely dispel the notion he could struggle to adapt to English football after his miserable spell with Chelsea.

The combination of Kombarov’s positional vacancy and Salah’s quickness could be where the game is won and lost for either side.

Luiz Adriano v Dejan Lovren

Neither one of the Liverpool centre-back pairing of Lovren and Joel Matip are in form but the former has been repeatedly chastised for a series of individual errors so far this season.

Indeed, Liverpool are only bettered by Man City for restricting sides to the fewest shots in the Premier League but Lovren’s anxiety has spread leading to mistakes like the one which resulted in Sevilla’s opener last time out in Europe.

It’s not just his hesitancy under the high ball and the unconvincing nature he clears danger that is a concern but his positional sense is shocking at times.

While Adriano isn’t quite the mobile target man we saw at Shakhtar Donetsk, the 30-year-old still has devastating ability and his physical prowess will mean he’s a genuine threat from set-pieces. If Liverpool’s defensive deficiencies rear their head again, Adriano will prosper and Jurgen Klopp best hope his attacking talents get them out of that potential hole once again.

Fernando v Jordan Henderson

Back and front lines will be under the microscope, of course, but with Spartak likely adopting a 4-2-3-1, the shield in front of the defence will come in the form of Brazilian Fernando.

With captain Denis Glushakov unlikely to feature, the transition from the back, where the host’s will likely find themselves for most of the opening stages, to the front will come through the tidy Fernando.

Henderson will be the man to operate in the corresponding deeper role for the Reds and the two pivots on opposite sides will dictate how this game is played. The Liverpool skipper rediscovered his finest form against Leicester at the weekend and will be looking to build on that momentum after a flurry of criticism in recent weeks.

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Will Cristiano Ronaldo and Real Madrid's superstar forwards step up and other key questions

Andy West 25/09/2017
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Borussia Dortmund will aim to maintain their unbeaten record at home to Real Madrid in the Champions League on Tuesday and spoil Cristiano Ronaldo’s 150th European appearance.

Dortmund and title holders Real meet in the group stage for the second year running and here are three key talking points ahead of the game.

DO OR DIE FOR DORTMUND?

Group H offers a relative rarity in the modern Champions League: unpredictability. Unlike most other groups, there’s a large amount of uncertainty over the identity of the two teams to progress to the knockout phase, with Madrid, Dortmund and Tottenham all capable of advancing deep into the competition while APOEL make up the numbers.

The English team made a flying start with a 3-1 win over Dortmund a couple of weeks ago, and Madrid did the necessary with a straightforward home victory against APOEL.

Dortmund, then, cannot afford too many more slip-ups – especially as Tottenham are expected to move to six points with their game against APOEL tonight – and the German team will be particularly desperate to pick up points from their home games.

Realistically a draw would be a pretty decent result for both teams, and from a tactical point of view the question is how many risks they will be prepared to take in pursuit of victory. With these two attack-minded teams a dour stalemate is unlikely, but if the final stages arrive with the scores level we can perhaps expect to see both protect what they already have, rather than go all-out for victory.

CAN MADRID’S FORWARDS GET BACK ON TRACK?

Real Madrid’s morale-boosting victory at Alaves on Saturday came courtesy of two strikes from young midfielder Dani Ceballos, with Cristiano Ronaldo firing blanks for the second consecutive game while Gareth Bale was left on the bench.

That continued the trend of the season to date for Los Blancos, with midfielders Toni Kroos, Casemiro, Lucas Vazquez and Marco Asensio also getting on the scoresheet to compensate for the lack of goalscoring activity from the forward line.

Sooner or later, though, Madrid’s superstar forwards will have to step up and start registering their share of goals if the team is to challenge for major honours this season, and as always the chief burden will fall upon Ronaldo.

In fairness to the Portuguese star, he was unlucky not to register at Alaves, twice hitting the post in the second half, and he also netted a brace in the Champions League group opener against APOEL. It would be pretty unwise to bet on the competition’s leading scorer to continue his dry run for much longer, and Dortmund’s defence could feel his wrath on Tuesday night.

A frustrated Cristiano Ronaldo during the clash with Alaves

A frustrated Cristiano Ronaldo during the clash with Alaves

ZIDANE SHOWS OFF HIS A TEAM

With the exception of injured duo Karim Benzema and Marcelo, the visitors are likely to be at full strength in Dortmund as Zidane puts his rotation policy to one side to field his best possible eleven.

At left-back, the highly dependable but consistently underrated Nacho will step in for Marcelo, with summer signing Theo Hernandez missing out through injury. Nacho’s versatility makes him a key member of Zidane’s squad and he will be a more than reliable deputy.

Further upfield, it’s most likely that Zidane will revert to the midfield diamond plus a front two which performed so well at the end of last season, with Ronaldo partnering Bale while Isco drives ahead of Casemiro, Kroos and Luka Modric.

That will mean no place in the eleven for young star Marco Asensio, whose worthiness of inclusion in the strongest line-up will continue to be hotly debated throughout the season.

Nacho (L) celebrates with Dani Ceballos and Marco Asensio

Nacho (L) celebrates with Dani Ceballos and Marco Asensio

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