Real Madrid travel to face Paris Saint-Germain in a high-profile kick-off to Champions League Group A, and both managers have been forced into tactical reshuffles after being confronted by a long list of absentees.
Realistically, Thomas Tuchel and Zinedine Zidane should see their teams advance to the next stage irrespective of Wednesday night’s outcome, but pride and a sense of positivity will be at stake in a game which provides plenty of talking points.
Here are three of them.
Navas seeking sweet revenge?
This fixture’s most hotly-anticipated individual outing will have to wait for the return match, with Neymar unable to face Madrid – the club which reportedly considered signing him in the summer transfer market – due to a suspension incurred after his social media criticism of the officiating during his team’s exit against Manchester United in last season’s competition.
There is, however, still a personal battle to savour, albeit from a distance of 100 metres, as Keylor Navas takes on his former club and the man who usurped him in the starting position at the Bernabeu, Thibaut Courtois.
Navas was an undisputed starter for Los Blancos for three seasons, winning back-to-back-to-back Champions League titles and becoming a firm favourite of Zidane, who was reportedly highly reluctant to allow the Costa Rican to lose his place to big-money signing Courtois but caved in to pressure from the boardroom.
Navas certainly will not feel that he has anything to prove to Zidane, but he would certainly relish the chance to send a hefty reminder of his shot-stopping talents to Madrid club president Florentino Perez, and the PSG stopper’s motivation to keep out his former teammates could not be higher.
Can Choupo-Moting seize his moment?
Neymar isn’t the only high-profile absentee for the hosts, with fellow superstar forwards Kylian Mbappe and Edinson Cavani also out through injury and deadline day signing Mauro Icardi a doubt after only playing 27 minutes of football this season.
Cameroon forward Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting – who has started the campaign with three goals in as many games – is therefore likely to lead the line against a Madrid defence also missing some familiar faces with Marcelo injured and Sergio Ramos banned for deliberately earning a red card in the first leg of his team’s tie against Ajax last season.
Nacho is also suspended, so Zidane will give a full debut to summer signing Eder Militao, who suffered a shaky half-hour from the bench as Madrid held on to a nervy 3-2 home victory at home to Levante on Saturday afternoon.
The lack of familiarity between Eder and central defensive partner Raphael Varane, who have played just those 30 minutes together, could provide an opening for PSG to exploit – especially with Ferland Mendy only making his second competitive appearance for the club at left-back.
After spending the 2017/18 season with Stoke City following three years with Schalke, Choupo-Moting could never have dreamed that he would be starting for PSG against Real Madrid in the Champions League. But considering the raft of absentees in the opposition back line, this could be his moment to truly shine.
James back in the limelight…or back on the bench?
One highly positive aspect of Madrid’s 3-2 victory over Levante was a bright and influential display from James Rodriguez. Like teammate Gareth Bale – who is also expected to start in Paris on Wednesday – James was expected to leave the club in the summer after being designated persona non grata by Zidane.
But no suitable bids were made and the Colombian playmaker was forced to stay put. And now, with Luka Modric, Isco and Marco Asensio all missing through injury, James has been thrust into the starting line-up and is playing very much as though he is determined to make up for lost time.
However, his place in the starting XI is by no means guaranteed because Zidane hinted that big summer signing Eden Hazard is set to start for the first time after recovering from injury and making his debut from the bench against Levante.
Bale, James, Hazard, Vinicius Junior and Lucas Vazquez are battling for three places in the starting line-up, and Zidane’s long-term preference is thought to be positioning the Belgian in the centre of the field behind Karim Benzema. As that is exactly where James played on Saturday, he could well be forced back onto the bench just when he appeared to be finding his old form.
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.