Cristiano Ronaldo returns to the Spanish capital where he enjoyed extraordinary success with Atletico’s crosstown rivals, Real. But it may well be a new Portugal star in Joao Felix who makes an impact in the continental competition’s first round of fixtures.
Here, we look at the talking points ahead of this intriguing clash at the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium on Wednesday:
Felix made just one appearance in last season’s Champions League before Benfica were relegated to the Europa League where he impressed.
So effectively, this is the Portuguese starlet’s first real campaign among the European elite and expectations couldn’t be higher.
As if a price tag of €126 million didn’t place enough pressure on the 19-year-old, his excellent start for Los Rojiblancos has only raised the bar. Fortunately, Felix appears to be one of those rare talents unfazed by the overwhelming scrutiny that can come from being branded as one of football’s budding superstars.
Kylian Mbappe, for example, thrived under the European floodlights with Monaco two years ago and hasn’t looked back since. More recently, Matthijs de Ligt enjoyed a sensational first Champions League campaign last term as the then Ajax captain inspired his side to the brink of the final.
Now it’s Felix’s turn to prove his prodigious talent on the grandest stage.
YET TO HIT THEIR STRIDE
Atletico will take comfort from sitting above La Liga rivals Real Madrid and Barcelona in the standings even at this early stage.
New signings Felix and Kieran Trippier in particular have hit the ground running, but an influx of new players was always going to bring a transitional period.
That was evident even before their 2-0 defeat at the hands of Real Sociedad over the weekend. Diego Simeone’s side had to come back from two-goals down to defeat Eibar 3-2 at home before the international break. This side is still a work in progress.
To a certain extent, the same can be said about Juventus. Maurizio Sarri’s specific 4-3-3 system requires a bedding in process and the Italian champions are coming off a disappointing result of their own after a goalless stalemate against Fiorentina.
Meanwhile, Ronaldo is yet to come into his own this season.
Compounding Juventus’ concerns is a growing injury list. Jan Oblak will most likely be the key absentee for Atletico after taking a boot to the face from Nacho Monreal on Saturday, but the Bianconeri will be missing a whole host of players.
Giorgio Chiellini is a long-term absentee but injuries to Douglas Costa, Miralem Pjanic and Danilo against Fiorentina have hit Sarri’s side hard. With Mattia De Sciglio already sidelined, Danilo’s absence may force Juan Cuadrado to operate as a makeshift right-back.
Should Pjanic also be unavailable for the encounter, Juventus will lose a key player in facilitating Sarri’s possession oriented style.
A replay of an intriguing round-of-16 clash from the previous edition of the Champions League will grab plenty of attention as Atletico Madrid host Juventus.
The Turin side emerged victorious with Cristiano Ronaldo scoring a hat-trick to power Juventus to a second-leg comeback. This time both the teams will vie for the top spot of Group D, with Bayer Leverkusen lurking in anticipation of a slip-up.
The opening clash on Wednesday could hence play a crucial role in determining which team wins the group. We take a look at some battles ahead of the key tie:
CRISTIANO RONALDO V KIERAN TRIPPIER
25 goals, four hat-tricks and eight assists – few would disagree that Ronaldo loves playing against Atletico. Two of those four hat-tricks have arrived in the Champions League, thus warranting heavy caution for the hosts on Wednesday.
With just one goal in three games in the Serie A, the 34-year-old would have hoped for a better start to his season. But he has never been the one to let a temporary blip in form affect his prolificacy in a crucial tie.
Kieran Trippier will be excited at the prospect of testing himself in Atletico colours after making the final with Tottenham just over three months ago. His first challenge will require him to keep Ronaldo off the score sheet at Wanda Metropolitano.
JOAO FELIX V MATTHIJS DE LIGT
The biggest attacking talent will go face-to-face against arguably the biggest defensive talent in the world as Felix leads Atletico’s front-line against De Ligt.
The Portugal youngster has wasted no time in settling in at his new club and has earned his tag as potentially the most influential player on Wednesday. He had scored a brace against Juventus when the two teams met in a friendly last month.
Netherlands centre-back De Ligt has not looked sharp ever since his move to the Turin club. He will look to shake off his poor performance against Napoli and deliver a solid show.
Keeping Felix at bay should help him build his confidence ahead of the bigger games to come.
BLAISE MATUIDI V KOKE
Blaise Matuidi will look to lead the Juventus midfield, with Miralem Pjanic likely to miss the game because of injury.
Douglas Costa is also set to miss the key clash which means the creative burden on Matuidi will be high.
Koke has looked sharp in the four games he has featured in this season. He has delivered an average of 2.3 key-passes per game.
The 27-year-old, in partnership with Saul Niguez, could go a long way in running the show in midfield and feeding Felix with plenty of chances.
The midfield battle is a crucial part of every tie and the team that dominates the centre of the park is likely to dominate the game.
Napoli boss Carlo Ancelotti believes Liverpool’s Champions League triumph makes them a more formidable opponent than the team the Azzurri toppled on home soil last season.
Jurgen Klopp’s side begin the defence of their European crown with a trip to the Stadio San Paolo, where Lorenzo Insigne’s last-gasp strike was all that separated the sides in the corresponding group-stage fixture last season.
The Reds prevailed in the reverse encounter at Anfield to secure their passage into the knockout rounds at Napoli’s expense, which Ancelotti thinks impacted his team’s domestic prospects.
Liverpool, meanwhile, went on to scoop the most prestigious trophy in European club competition, but glory does not appear to have blunted their ambition as they have started the Premier League campaign with five straight wins.
With the teams paired together in the Champions League for the second successive season, Ancelotti is aware of the visitors’ threat but claims Napoli have also improved ahead of their Group E meeting on Tuesday night.
Ancelotti said at a press conference: “We’re playing the best team in Europe and they haven’t dropped any points in the Premier League yet.
“The result is very important in matches like this but it’s even more important we have the confidence to match the best teams out there.
“Last year we were in a really tough group and we very nearly qualified. We’re determined to erase the disappointment of last season, which had a psychological effect on us in Serie A too.
“Normally it’s the European champions who are favourites but we hope it ends the same way as last year’s game at the San Paolo.
“Liverpool have improved because winning the Champions League gives you belief.
“Napoli have improved too and we’ve bolstered our squad with the addition of some quality players. I think it will be a great game – hard fought and intense.”
Liverpool pipped Napoli in qualifying for the last 16 last term by virtue of scoring more goals in the group stage after the teams could not be split on points and a number of other determining factors.
Ancelotti is looking forward, rather than back, and added: “We want to play a starring role, first by reaching the knockout stage and cementing our place as one of Europe’s top clubs.
“We know how good we are and we want to prove it on the international stage.”
Napoli summer signing Fernando Llorente is out for revenge against Liverpool, having been part of the Tottenham side that lost last season’s final in Madrid.
The former Spurs and Swansea striker said: “I’m still bitter about losing in the final against them last year and I really hope I can settle the score this time around as a Napoli player.
“Napoli can make an impact in the Champions League this season. At Tottenham last season, we certainly weren’t touted as one of the favourites, yet we reached the final.”