Ajax v Rangers
Rangers return to the Champions League and get an early reunion with Calvin Bassey following the Nigerian’s move to Ajax this summer. The Dutch side have had a busy off-season with manager Erik ten Hag and Anthony leaving for Man Utd, while other key performers Sebastian Haller (Dortmund) and Ryan Gravenberch (Bayern) also departed.
Despite the summer sales, Ajax have recovered from a 5-3 defeat to PSV in the Dutch Super Cup to win their opening five league games, with Steven Bergwijn bagging six across the last four. There was an average of four goals per game across these six matches overall, while it was similar case in Europe last term with five of their eight Champions League matches featuring a minimum of four goals.
The prospect of home goals appears particularly strong when considering Rangers’ dismal display in the weekend’s 4-0 derby defeat to Celtic. Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s men may have kept a clean sheet visiting PSV in the play-offs, but that remains their only shut out across their past six appearances. The Gers were no strangers to some action-packed ties on their run to the Europa League final last season, most notably as they shared 10 goals with Dortmund.
Ajax are bidding to reach the Champions League knockouts for the third time in five years, whereas Rangers have managed the feat in just one of their past 10 campaigns at this level, as they’d do well to avoid an early exit. However, Ajax retain some experience at this level and it’s worth bearing in mind that van Bronckhorst held a poor record against the Amsterdam side when in charge of Feyenoord. He won just two of 10 encounters (W2-D2-L6), with four of the last five ending in defeat, while all four away trips ended in a loss. Five of the six defeats in total saw a minimum of three goals too, so the Gers’ shaky backline should be actively employed.
AJAX TO WIN AND OVER 2.5 GOALS
Inter Milan v Bayern Munich
With Barcelona also a part of Group C, neither side here can afford an early slip-up if they want to ensure progress to the knockout stages. Inter are of course underdogs despite their home advantage, while Simeone Inzaghi must be concerned with his side’s current form. His team found it easy against weaker outfits Lecce, Spezia and Cremonese, but they’ve lost tussles with Lazio and Milan in their hardest challenges so far this season.
Bayern have made a fairly slow start to the campaign by their own lofty domestic standards, being held to 1-1 draws with M’gladbach and Union Berlin, though their season began with some fairly hefty wins as they still appear capable of scoring bucket loads in the absence of Robert Lewandowski. Leipzig (5-3), Frankfurt (6-1), Wolfsburg (2-0), Bochum (7-0) and Viktoria Koln (5-0) have all been brushed aside, with the addition of Sadio Mane softening the blow of losing the Polish marksman.
Excluding clashes with much weaker side Sheriff Tiraspol, Inter’s other six Champions League games in Simeone Inzaghi’s debut season at the helm each saw a maximum of two goals. That included a pair of encounters with both Real Madrid and Liverpool, as each ended either 1-0 or 2-0 with the Nerazzurri suffering three defeats.
Bayern were unexpectedly stopped by a well-coached Villarreal side last term, but they remain a highly impressive W26-D3-L2 in this competition since 2019/20. Julian Nagelsmann also benefits from virtually a fully fit squad, whereas the hosts are likely to be without Romelu Lukaku again after the Belgian missed their last two games through injury.
BAYERN TO WIN
Napoli v Liverpool
Liverpool are yet to get going this season as since opening the season with a Community Shield win over Man City, Jurgen Klopp’s side are W2-D3-L1 as they’ve drawn with the likes of Fulham, Palace and Everton. They also suffered a defeat at Old Trafford to Man Utd as they’re yet to taste an away day victory, while the treatment room remains stacked with bodies.
Ibrahima Konate, Calvin Ramsey, Jordan Henderson, Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are certain to miss out, Thiago is unlikely to make the squad just yet, while Fabio Carvalho is a slight doubt as well. Deadline day acquisition Arthur Melo could be called upon with the midfield looking light, though it remains to be seen if the Brazilian proves a good fit at the club or is just there to make up the numbers.
Luciano Spalletti doesn’t have the same big-picture problem with injuries, but winger Hirving Lozano and star striker Victor Osimhen are both doubts here, potentially denying the hosts some key firepower. They do however remain unbeaten in the new campaign with three wins from five games, including a hard-fought victory over Lazio at the weekend.
That result leaves Napoli in second place in Serie A, ahead of expected title challengers Milan, Inter and Juventus. They’ve only actually lost two of 14 Champions League games since 2018/19, both coming on the road, and although one of those was a narrow 1-0 defeat at Anfield, they actually won both home clashes with Liverpool over this period and took a point in their other trip to Merseyside.
NAPOLI DRAW DOUBLE CHANCE
Tottenham v Marseille
Tottenham received a kind group-stage draw but they now have to deal with increased expectations, though Antonio Conte will be more than pleased with the results his team have delivered so far this season. They remain unbeaten after six games, with the only blemishes stalemates away to Chelsea and West Ham, as they’ve maintained a perfect record back at home. In fact, Tottenham have now won nine of their last 10 at home, scoring at least three times on six occasions.
Marseille finished second only to PSG last term and have started brightly with five wins from six unbeaten games. However, it should be noted that eighth-placed Clermont are the highest team they’ve faced in the table so far. They were found wanting in the Europa Conference League last term when they met eventual finalists Feyenoord, and there’s little to suggest they’ll provide an upset here. Indeed, they’ve lost 14 of 15 Champions League games going back to March 2012, failing to score in five of the six most recent appearances at this level since the 2020/21 campaign.
Lucas Moura is the host’s only main absentee, with Bryan Gil also a doubt, but neither make Conte’s strongest line-up and so a combination of Harry Kane, Heung-min Son, Dejan Kulusevski and Richarlison should be able to carry the attacking burden. Tottenham may only have two clean sheets to their name this season, coming against low-scoring Wolves and promoted outfit Nottingham Forest, but only current top two Arsenal and Man City hold better xGA records this term as the team looks in decent shape all over the pitch.
Marseille will also see their attacking threat reduce with Alexis Sanchez suspended for this fixture, while Dimitri Payet is a doubt to feature as well. Forwards Cedric Bakambu and Bamba Dieng were also omitted from their European squad, so the hosts should back themselves for a clean sheet.
SPURS TO WIN TO NIL
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