W2W4: In-form Dortmund take on Real, Diego Costa's clubs meet, PSG's drama
Is it Champions League Matchday 2 already? It is indeed and with some big games on the horizon, Nick Ames sums up what to watch for this week.
Dortmund look to stun misfiring Real
When the groups were drawn, Borussia Dortmund's meeting with Real Madrid risked being a slightly tired rerun of a tie that has been played eight times -- often with enthralling results -- in the last five years. The German club were supposed to be recalibrating after the departures of Thomas Tuchel and Ousmane Dembele while Real, the barely changed Champions League holders, were once again expected to steamroller the vast majority of opponents that crossed their path.
Perhaps they still will but the tone around this tie looks different now after surprising starts to the season from both teams. The German side have looked superb under Peter Bosz, sitting top of the Bundesliga and thrashing Borussia Monchengladbach 6-1 at the weekend. Real have not found things so simple in La Liga so far and fell to a shock home defeat to Real Betis last Wednesday, although they did at least win at Alaves on Saturday. They are already seven points behind Barcelona and will not want to complicate their situation in Europe, although the pressure sits more firmly on Dortmund's shoulders after their 3-1 defeat at Tottenham a fortnight ago.
Will Real's misfiring attack find form, or will Bosz's vibrant young team lay down a marker of their own?
Costa watches old and new clubs do battle
Atletico Madrid's shiny Wanda Metropolitano hosts its first European match and they will hope an encouraging settling-in process (two games, two wins, two clean sheets) continues against Chelsea. Diego Simeone & Co. could do with the points to build on their Matchday one draw at Roma, particularly with the Italian side facing Azeri minnows Qarabag this week; a draw would not go down badly for Antonio Conte's side although much of the intrigue on Wednesday night will be found off the pitch.
A matter of days have passed since Diego Costa finally swapped Stamford Bridge for a return to his old employers, which will conclude when he is eligible to play in January. Students of handshakes and body language will be keeping their eyes peeled on any encounters between Costa and Conte in particular. There is an argument that both teams will miss Costa as he sits on the sidelines although his replacement at Chelsea, Alvaro Morata, is in excellent form after scoring a hat-trick at Stoke on Saturday and will have added motivation as a former Real Madrid player.
A decisive contribution from him here might help his club consign Costa's name firmly to the past.
English influx to Moscow may provide World Cup pointer
Liverpool and Manchester United could certainly have travelled to Moscow at a less forgiving time of year. Temperatures in the Russian capital are mellow enough in late September; the English clubs have avoided tricky assignments nearer to winter and will hope that helps them perform the job with a minimum of fuss.
Spartak Moscow and CSKA Moscow are no slouches on the pitch but both should eventually be overcome; another layer of intrigue comes off it, in the form of what some might see as a dress rehearsal for next summer. More than 2,000 English fans will be in Russia's capital to watch the two games and they have already been warned against any thoughts of hooliganism; as long as the same applies to local supporters, the midweek double-header should go off quietly and how things are policed may give some indication of how peacefully the World Cup goes off in June.
In practice, the chances of any major flashpoints look mercifully remote although Spartak's faithful have already landed their club in hot water this season: they threw a flare onto the pitch during the Matchday one draw in Maribor and have been banned from their next Champions League away game, against Sevilla. They will create a hot atmosphere again on Tuesday night but the hope is that football makes the headlines.
Will Neymar and Cavani play nicely?
Will it be happy families again at Paris Saint-Germain? Neymar should return to their lineup for the visit of Bayern Munich after missing the weekend draw at Montpellier through injury and there will be more than a few neutrals hoping they win a penalty at some point in proceedings. The smart money is on Neymar being on his best behaviour after the spat with Edinson Cavani, a brouhaha for which the Brazilian was forced to apologise; that still does not answer the question of who will take a spot kick if PSG are awarded one, and of exactly how well the warring forward pair combine if selected together.
There is also the question of how PSG stand up against more vaunted opposition after routing Celtic on Matchday one. Bayern tripped up against Wolfsburg on Friday but remain a genuine Champions League contender under Carlo Ancelotti; PSG have had more than one false dawn at this level before and the scars of last season's defeat to Barcelona still run deep, but if Neymar et al can dispose of a big gun early in the competition, the signs for what lies ahead will be promising.
2004 winners in early Group G shoot-out
Porto could not have expected a 3-1 home defeat to Besiktas on Matchday one and failure to pick up a positive result at Monaco will leave them floundering in an open-looking Group G. Tuesday's fixture is worth savouring for the fact that their only previous meeting, in 2004, came in the final, with Porto famously winning 3-0. A similar outcome would go down exceptionally well in Portugal but Monaco have (barring an aberration in Nice) made light of their slew of big-name summer departures so far this season and sit only a point behind PSG in Ligue 1. Radamel Falcao has scored four times in their last two games, and a remarkable 11 across just seven league outings in total.
Porto are doing even better domestically, with seven wins from seven games; it feels like a potentially decisive clash for the group, even at this early stage, with Besiktas and RB Leipzig (who face each other in Istanbul) both sure to keep pushing strongly. A defeat at this stage could prove very costly for two of the competition's traditional dark horses.
Nick Ames is a football journalist who writes for ESPN FC on a range of topics. Twitter: @NickAmes82.