Real Madrid, Man United and Lionel Messi all discussed in Sport360’s UEFA Champions League 2017/18 predictions

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Champions League football returns this week (September 12).

Our Sport360 team place their reputations on the line and make 2017-18 UEFA Champions League predictions, including – winners, surprise package, flops and top goalscorer.

Who do you see claiming glory next May?

And who will flatter to deceive?

Get in touch!

Share your thoughts via Twitter and Facebook.

STUART APPLEBY

Winners: Real Madrid. They have the experience and talent to land a third-consecutive title.
Dark horses: Napoli. Quality-ridden up front, Maurizio Sarri’s men can upset anyone.
Flops: Liverpool. Likely to struggle defensively against Europe’s best sides.
Top scorer: Antoine Griezmann. Diego Simeone’s men always go far.

Real Madrid's defender Sergio Ramos (L) smiles beside the trophy celebrating the team's win from an onpen decker bus on Plaza Cibeles in Madrid on June 4, 2017 after the UEFA Champions League football match final Juventus vs Real Madrid CF held at the National Stadium of Wales in Cardiff on June 3, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / OSCAR DEL POZO (Photo credit should read OSCAR DEL POZO/AFP/Getty Images)

Will Ramos lift the trophy for a third successive time?

CHRIS BAILEY

Winners: Man City. They have not messed around this summer. Expect them to gel in time for May.
Dark Horses: RB Leipzig. With Timo Werner and Naby Keita, the debutants could surprise.
Flops: Tottenham. Another group stage exit beckons after under-investment.
Top scorer: Lionel Messi. Neymar is out of the picture and more records await.

BARCELONA, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 09: Lionel Messi of Barcelona looks on during the La Liga match between Barcelona and Espanyol at Camp Nou on September 9, 2017 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images)

Always in the goals: Messi.

ALEX BROUN

Winners: It has to be either Juventus or Real Madrid and I’m going with Juve, Dybala the x-factor.
Dark Horses: Liverpool. Unlike the Premier League they still have a fear factor in Europe.
Flops: Bayern Munich. Not as strong as in previous seasons, vulnerable.
Top scorer: Neymar. After all the move drama, he’ll want to make a statement.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 09: Jurgen Klopp of Liverpool looks on during the Premier League match between Manchester City and Liverpool at Etihad Stadium on September 9, 2017 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

The Reds have been tipped to shine.

NIALL MCCAGUE

Winners: Real Madrid. When Ronaldo, Isco and Benzema fire, they can beat anyone.
Dark horses: Manchester United. If they can continue strong start, no reason can’t go far.
Flops: Liverpool. Have yet to demonstrate their class against big opposition.
Top scorer: Lionel Messi. The Barcelona star continues to hum with godliness.

Manchester United's English defender Chris Smalling (L), Manchester United's French striker Anthony Martial (2L), Manchester United's English midfielder Jesse Lingard (C), Manchester United's English defender Luke Shaw (2R) and Manchester United's Spanish midfielder Juan Mata attends a team training session at the club's training complex near Carrington, west of Manchester in north west England on September 11, 2017, on the eve of their UEFA Champions League Group A football match against FC Basel. / AFP PHOTO / Paul ELLIS (Photo credit should read PAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images)

Man United return to the European big time.

MATT MONAGHAN

Winners: Paris Saint-Germain. Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and no other real distractions.
Dark horses: Besiktas. Have steadily built up a strong side capable of creating shocks.
Flops: Atletico Madrid. Have lost some of their lustre. Tough group beckons.
Top scorer: Mbappe. Will add many more to his brilliant six from last season.

Besiktas' new Portuguese defender Pepe smiles during his signing ceremony with the club on July 5, 2017, at the Vodafone Park stadium in Istanbul. Portuguese international defender Pepe on July 5 arrived in Istanbul to join Turkish champions Besiktas from Real Madrid on a two-year deal. According to the NTV Spor website, Pepe will receive an annual salary of 3.35 million euros ($3.8 million), plus performance bonuses, as well as a sign-on fee of three million euros. / AFP PHOTO / OZAN KOSE (Photo credit should read OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images)

Besiktas have a Champions League winner in their ranks with Pepe.

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Marcus Rashford, Ousmane Dembele and the other young stars to watch out for in the Champions League

Sport360 staff 11/09/2017

With the Champions League proper returning this week, Europe's premier club competition will once again offer a stage for some of the continent's brightest young talents, some already established, some looking to make a name for themselves, and some looking to rejuvenate their careers.

Marcus Rashford belongs firmly in the first group despite being only 19. His remarkable rise to stardom began in Europe, when he scored a brace on debut for Manchester United against Midtjylland in the Europa League, but he has yet to play in the Champions League.

Likewise, Ousmane Dembele is no new face, and indeed starred for Borussia Dortmund in last year's Champions League, but the 20-year-old has a different level of attention on him after becoming Barcelona's record signing last month, and his form will go far in determining the Spanish club's fortunes this season.

Anderlecht's Leander Dendoncker and his former club team-mate Youri Tielemans, now at Monaco, will be looking for performances on the big stage that justify the hype that has surrounded both players. With Monaco having reached the semi-finals last year, Tielemans will be among the players relied upon as the team look to hit the same heights in this campaign. Have a look at the gallery above to see the other young players to watch out for in this season's Champions League.

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Five things Bayern Munich need to fix ahead of their Champions League game against Anderlecht

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Bayern Munich kick off their Champions League campaign at home to Anderlecht on Tuesday, with German pundits sharpening their knives for coach Carlo Ancelotti amid unrest in his star-studded squad.

Bayern crashed to a shock 2-0 defeat at Hoffenheim on Saturday which left them sixth in the Bundesliga table – their worst position after the first three games since 2010/11.

German fans nickname the defending Bundesliga champions ‘FC Hollywood’ for times when in-fighting starts and tensions bubble and drama is threatening to unfold once more in Munich.

Ancelotti has a few key areas to address for the opening Group B match, with Paris Saint-Germain and Celtic to come in Europe.

WHERE TO PLAY MULLER?

Thomas Mueller

German’s position is not settled: Muller.

Thomas Muller set up two goals last Monday for Germany in a World Cup qualifier, yet was poor on the right wing at Hoffenheim in his 400th game for Bayern.

The stats say he won just 20 percent of his challenges and touched the ball only 32 times before being hauled off on 78 minutes.

Muller, a cult figure at Bayern, complained about starting on the bench for their win at Werder Bremen two weeks ago, yet did nothing against Hoffenheim to help his cause.

Germany head coach Joachim Loew lets Mueller roam as an attacking midfielder, but Thiago Alcantara fills the number 10 role under Ancelotti, who has yet to find the best place at Bayern for Mueller.

“Of course, there is tension. Muller is not a ‘7’ like Robben or a ‘9’ like Lewandowski, he is a free spirit,” said Bayern legend Lothar Matthaeus.

“If a coach knows how to treat him, that helps the team, but if the coach isn’t 100 percent convinced, then it is hard for him.”

TOO MUCH ROTATION

Arjen Robben

Should Robben be playing every game?

When faced with a group of star players and only 11 names to pick, rotating the team often helps a Bayern coach keep egos happy in his squad.

However, Ancelotti paid the price for starting with wingers Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben on the bench in Hoffenheim.

Robben, 33, came on for the last 33 minutes while Ribery, 34, who is fit after spending the international break training, only played the last 12 minutes alongside James Rodriguez, who made his debut.

“I would have started with my full-strength team,” said Matthaeus. “He (Ancelotti) certainly didn’t help matters with his team line-up.”

ATTITUDE PROBLEMS

Robert Lewandowski

The Pole has been critical.

With Mueller having moaned about being benched and Robert Lewandowski criticising the club’s spending policy, the attitude of Bayern’s stars does not help.

Only a spirited and dominant performance against Anderlecht and at home in the league to Mainz on Saturday will get the Bavarian giants back on track.

“It’s not so bad,” said defender Mats Hummels after the Hoffenheim defeat. “But only if we show the right reaction – two home wins this week.”

TOO PLACID

Carlo Ancelotti

All has not been plain sailing for Ancelotti.

Ancelotti cuts a calm figure on the sidelines with arms folded, quietly chewing gum and rarely barking instructions.

It contrasts with his predecessor Pep Guardiola, who would rant heatedly on the sidelines when urging and organising his players.

“I miss the chaos and craziness, like under Pep Guardiola,” said ex-Germany and Bayern midfielder Paul Breitner.

“Carlo Ancelotti has not let the team develop. “I haven’t seen any movement, it’s all static and the team has taken at least a step backwards.

“Some of the players seem to be restricted, above all Thomas Mueller, but what about David Alaba?

“When was the last time we saw him play a game when he was tearing up and down the wing for 90 minutes?”

SYSTEM FAULT

Manuel Neuer

Star goalie: Neuer.

Bayern won the 2013 Champions League with an attack-minded 4-2-3-1 system, while Ancelotti likes a 4-3-3 line-up.

Even captain Manuel Neuer diplomatically admitted that Ancelotti’s system does not always allow enough players to push forward on attack.

“We had too few players in the box,” said Neuer in Hoffenheim. “It isn’t necessarily the fault of the system, but perhaps another system would allow more players in the box.”

Provided by AFP Sport

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