Karim Benzema is back in the Real Madrid starting XI to face Shakhtar Donetsk as one of four changes made by Zinedine Zidane.

The influential French centre-forward has six goals in 11 appearances across all competitions this season, but he has not featured since netting in a 4-1 LaLiga defeat to Valencia on November 8.

In his absence due to a muscular issue, Benzema's team-mates have fared little better, following a 1-1 draw at Villarreal with a 2-1 defeat at home to Deportivo Alaves.

They did at least manage a 2-0 win against Inter in between those domestic disappointments, leaving them second in Champions League Group B.

Madrid are on seven points, one shy of Borussia Monchengladbach and three ahead of a Shakhtar side who claimed a shock 3-2 win in the Spanish capital to launch their campaign.

Zidane has also recalled Ferland Mendy, Martin Odegaard and Rodrygo to face the Ukrainian champions.

Karim Benzema will miss Real Madrid's LaLiga visit to Villarreal on Saturday after failing to recover from an injury sustained against Valencia a fortnight ago. 

The 32-year-old was substituted in the 76th minute of the 4-1 defeat at Mestalla after experiencing pain in his left adductor.

He did take part in light training on Friday but Zinedine Zidane, perhaps with one eye on the Champions League clash with Inter on Wednesday, has not named him in the squad for this weekend's game.

Benzema is Madrid's top scorer in the league this season, with four goals in his eight appearances. He has also chipped in with three assists, the most of any Los Blancos player alongside Rodrygo. 

There is also no place in the squad for Luka Jovic, who tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday after returning from international duty with Serbia, while Casemiro and Eder Militao – who have been self-isolating following positive coronavirus tests before the international break – are also out. 

Sergio Ramos will also be absent after sustaining a hamstring injury in Spain's 6-0 win over Germany. The Madrid captain is expected to be sidelined for at least 10 days. 

The is better news regarding Eden Hazard, though, who has been named in the 20-man squad after he tested positive for COVID-19 before the Valencia defeat. 

Speaking at his pre-match media conference, Zidane did not want to dwell on the depleted nature of his squad, instead insisting the starting XI he chooses do not take anything for granted against Villarreal.

"What we have to do is be a group," he said. "You're talking about the game tomorrow and on Wednesday it is important for the Champions League, but all games are important, all of them.

"Every time we play, we have to do well. We can't relax, not even for one minute. The opponent demands a lot of you and we know that. We hope tomorrow we'll come out well."

Madrid are fourth in LaLiga, four points behind leaders Real Sociedad, who have played a game more. 

Carlos Soler scored a hat-trick of penalties as Valencia ended a four-match winless run in LaLiga with a 4-1 rout of Real Madrid at Mestalla.

Soler's penalties – the first of which had to be re-taken due to an infringement by Yunus Musah – were added to by Raphael Varane's own goal as Valencia came from behind in a frantic encounter.

Karim Benzema, who has now scored more LaLiga goals than any other player since the resumption in June, opened the scoring with a thunderous strike – his fifth goal in his last four top-flight meetings with Valencia.

But Benzema's brilliance was not enough to inspire Zinedine Zidane's defensively suspect side, whose misery was compounded when Sergio Ramos handled to concede a third spot-kick, which Soler duly converted to condemn Madrid to a second LaLiga defeat of 2020-21.

Madrid struck first – Benzema catching out Jaume Domenech with a thumping 23rd-minute strike – but Lucas Vazquez's handball handed Valencia an opportunity to equalise.

Yet the hosts did so the hard way. After Soler saw his penalty saved and hit the post on the rebound, Musah slammed home, only for it to be disallowed after VAR spotted the 17-year-old had encroached into the area.

Referee Jesus Gil Manzano ordered the penalty to be re-taken and, although Thibaut Courtois again guessed the right way, Soler beat Madrid's goalkeeper at the second time of asking.

More drama followed as Valencia took the lead before half-time – Varane inadvertently looping Maxi Gomez's cross over Courtois, who failed to stop the ball from crossing the line.

However, it was only given after a long VAR check, which also deemed Denis Cheryshev not to have fouled Marco Asensio in the build-up.

Courtois made a fantastic save straight after the restart, tipping Lee Kang-In's strike onto the upright, but he was soon picking the ball out of his net again.

Marcelo scythed down Gomez, and Soler stepped up to convert into the bottom-right corner.

A remarkable hat-trick, and a brilliant Valencia victory, was rounded off in the 63rd minute – Soler picking out the same corner after had Ramos hit the ball away from Musah.

 

What does it mean? Gracia ends Madrid hoodoo

At the seventh attempt, Valencia coach Javi Gracia has managed his first LaLiga win over Madrid, and the triumph takes Valencia up to ninth, level on 11 points with Barcelona.

They are five behind Madrid, who sit fourth, four points off pacesetters Real Sociedad heading into the international break. Zidane also lost Benzema to what appeared to be a groin problem late on.

Soler into LaLiga's record books

Soler's first attempt from 12 yards was poor, but the following three were all dispatched with supreme confidence. In scoring a hat-trick of spot-kicks, the 23-year-old became the first player to score three penalties in a single LaLiga match in the 21st century, and he has been directly involved in five goals in his last three meetings with Madrid at Mestalla.

Varane's bad luck strikes again

While Madrid's entire defence must shoulder the blame, one man in particular stands out. Varane's attempted clearance from Gomez's cross which resulted in Valencia's second goal was a dreadful one, and the France international has now scored two own goals in his last five games for Madrid in all competitions, as many as he had in his previous 324 matches.

What's next?

Madrid travel to Villarreal in their first fixture back after the international break, while Valencia take on Deportivo Alaves a day later.

Rodrygo struck 10 minutes from time to earn Real Madrid a 3-2 win and deny Inter after the visitors had battled back from two goals down in Tuesday's Champions League clash.

Madrid head coach Zinedine Zidane labelled the Group B match a "final" and his side made a bright start thanks to Karim Benzema and Sergio Ramos – the latter scoring his 100th goal for the club.

Inter, who entered the contest one point better off than their opponents, battled back through well-taken strikes from Lautaro Martinez and Ivan Perisic either side of half-time.

But Madrid regained their lead late on when substitutes Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo combined on the counter, making it five games without a win for Inter and under-pressure boss Antonio Conte.

Marco Asensio was denied by a smart Samir Handanovic save and Nicolo Barella scraped the top of the crossbar with a header in a lively and end-to-end start to the showdown.

That set the tone for what was to follow as Benzema pounced on Hakimi's underhit backpass, rounded Inter goalkeeper Handanovic and tucked the ball into an empty net for the 25th-minute opener.

Ramos added a second for Madrid eight minutes later by getting away from his marker to meet Toni Kroos' corner and head in from the edge of the six-yard box.

Inter gave themselves an instant lifeline as Barella superbly flicked the ball into the path of Martinez to pick out the bottom-left corner 10 minutes before the interval.

Conte's Inter, once again without injured striker Romelu Lukaku, initially struggled to get at their opponents in a quieter second half in the Spanish capital.

However, against the run of play, Martinez nodded the ball into the path of Perisic and the makeshift striker held off Lucas Vazquez before rifling across Thibaut Courtois.

Both teams went in search of a winner and it was Madrid who found it – Vinicius leading a break down the left and feeding the ball to fellow Brazilian Rodrygo, who took a touch to set himself and then found the top-right corner to win the match during the closing stages.

Squads are being stretched, injuries are piling up and managers are moaning, but there is no let up as the Champions League group stage rolls around for a third straight week.

There were hard-fought wins, thrilling draws and a few teams on the end of thrashings on matchday two.

Real Madrid's European form continues to cause concern after they followed their loss to Shakhtar Donetsk with a draw at Borussia Monchengladbach; Inter, who are also yet to win, are next up on Tuesday.

Holders Bayern Munich are away to Salzburg, Liverpool head to Atalanta, and Manchester City host Olympiacos with all three clubs aiming to maintain 100 per cent starts.

Salzburg v Bayern Munich: Bavarians brilliant on the road

The defending champions have maximum points from the first two games of their Group A campaign and the omens are good for them as they go to Austria next, with Die Roten unbeaten in 14 away matches in the competition – two shy of the record set by Manchester United between 2007 and 2010.

Whatever the outcome, there is a strong possibility this contest will be a thriller. Since the start of last season, Bayern (58) and Salzburg (38) are among the top three teams in terms of the number of goals their Champions League matches have seen.

Salzburg's Dominik Szoboszlai has found the net in each of his past two appearances in the competition and could become the first Hungarian player to find the net in three consecutive Champions League matches.

Real Madrid v Inter: Zidane keen to avoid unwanted record

Madrid are winless in their past four Champions League matches (D1 L3), which is their worst run in the competition since September 2006 when they went five without a victory. Zinedine Zidane made his last appearance in the competition as a player during that run, and will be out to avoid equalling that record as coach.

Inter have lost eight of their previous 10 Champions League away games in Spain (W1 D1). Although in the history of Europe's premier club competition, only against Lyon (30 per cent) do Madrid have a lower win percentage than they do against Inter (33 per cent, three wins in nine games) among teams they have faced at least five times.

Arturo Vidal could be a lucky charm for the Nerazzurri as he bids to become the first player to score against Madrid in the Champions League for three different clubs, having previously done so during his time at Juventus and Bayern Munich.

Atalanta v Liverpool: Klopp eyes first Italian away success

Jurgen Klopp has lost all five of his away Champions League matches in Italy, losing to Napoli three times plus defeats to Juventus and Roma during his managerial career with Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund. Only former Manchester United boss Alex Ferguson (6) has lost more away Champions League games on Italian soil than Klopp.

The Reds will have to keep an eye on Atalanta's Duvan Zapata, who has been directly involved in six goals in five starts in the competition for the club (four goals and two assists), in the first competitive meeting between the two clubs.

Liverpool's Diogo Jota will attempt to follow his Premier League goalscoring feats in the Champions League. Jota can become only the second player to score in his first two starts in the competition for the Reds, following Robbie Keane back in 2008.

Manchester City v Olympiacos: Torres can match Mbappe and Haaland

City are unbeaten in their past 13 games in the group stage of the Champions League (W10 D3), winning five of the six games at the Etihad Stadium in this run (D1).

Pep Guardiola won has his two previous Champions League matches against Olympiacos, winning 3-0 away and 4-0 at home as Bayern Munich boss in the 2015-16 group stage.

City winger Ferran Torres is looking to become the third-youngest player in competition's history to score in four consecutive appearances (20 years, 248 days), behind only Kylian Mbappe (18 years, 120 days) and Erling Haaland (19 years, 107 days).

Other fixtures:

Lokomotiv Moscow v Atletico Madrid

5 - Should Atletico win they will have beaten Lokomotiv more often than any other side in major European competition, having defeated them four times already.

3Joao Felix scored in both Champions League matches against Lokomotiv last season - no Atleti player has ever scored in three consecutive games against an opponent in the competition.

Shakhtar Donetsk v Borussia Monchengladbach

7 - Shakhtar’s two Champions League starting line-ups this season have featured seven players aged 21 or younger – they could become the first team to do so three times in the competition.

9 - The last nine German teams to visit Ukraine in the Champions League have all failed to win (D6 L3). Bayern's victory over Dynamo Kiev in December 1994 is the most recent.

Midtjylland v Ajax

14 - Ajax will be without Dusan Tadic in Denmark. Since making his debut in the competition for Ajax in September 2018, he has been directly involved in more goals than any other player for the club with 14 (seven goals and seven assists).

14 - The number is also the total shots the Danish side have had on goal in this season's competition; they have the highest expected goals total (2.08) of any of the three teams yet to score.

Porto v Marseille

12 - A defeat in this match for Marseille would see them become only the third team in history to lose 12 consecutive matches in Europe's premier club competition, after Anderlecht (12 between 2003 and 2005) and Jeunesse Esch (16 between 1973 and 1987).

5 - Porto have won five of their past six home games in the Champions League, with their only defeat in this run coming in April 2019 against Liverpool; the team who went on to win the competition that season.

Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane is backing Karim Benzema, Eden Hazard and Marco Asensio to "define an era" for Los Blancos.

In the eyes of many, Madrid have regressed as an attacking force in the years since their much-revered 'BBC' triumvirate of Benzema, Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo was disbanded.

While Benzema has arguably found another level to his game with 45 LaLiga goals since the start of 2018-19, Bale fell out of favour before leaving and Hazard has struggled for form and fitness since essentially being brought in as Ronaldo's replacement last year.

But Hazard made his first appearance of the season in Saturday's 4-1 win over Huesca, scoring for the first time in 392 days, while Asensio is expected to have a big future at the club after recovering from a serious knee injury last term.

While Zidane stopped short of comparing the two trios, he is optimistic the three still at the club can achieve great success in the coming years.

Speaking ahead of Tuesday's Champions League clash with Inter, Zidane said: "The players who are here always want to make history.

"Those three you just said are important and I'm sure they can define an era in Madrid. Those three are important and are going to do important things.

"I know there is talk about us needing to change things in the squad, but what I see inside is that everyone wants to win and compete, and that is very good for the coach, who is me at the moment.

"I enjoy all of my players and we are going to try with everyone to achieve the objectives."

Nevertheless, the Madrid squad has shown evidence of tension of late, with Benzema caught on camera slating team-mate Vinicius Junior to Ferland Mendy in the tunnel during half-time of their previous Champions League outing against Borussia Monchengladbach.

Zidane recently said the pair have spoken and the situation is fine, and Raphael Varane is calling for the team to remain united in the face of uncomfortable reports surrounding the club.

"The Real Madrid dressing room is very close," he said. "We know that there is a lot of pressure here and many things are said outside the club, especially when we lose.

"We have to help each other. We have to be calm with things [coming from] outside the club."

Madrid have failed to win either of their two opening group games for the second season in a row, having previously not done so for 23 years.

Similarly, they are winless in four games in the competition ahead of Inter's visit, their worst run since September 2006.

Real Madrid's shock Champions League defeat to Shakhtar Donetsk could be partly to blame for Los Blancos' recent in-house issues involving Karim Benzema and Vinicius Junior, according to Miners star Tete.

Shakhtar recorded a remarkable 3-2 win at Madrid last month in their Champions League Group B opener, beating the Spanish title-holders despite being without 10 first-team players due to coronavirus.

Madrid were trailing 3-0 at half-time, as exciting Brazilian winger Tete opened the scoring with a neat finish in the 29th minute, before the 20-year-old had a hand in two more goals.

Zinedine Zidane's men attempted to fight back but could only get two goals in the second half, and they followed that defeat with another disappointing result on matchday two, barely salvaging a 2-2 draw away to Borussia Monchengladbach after going 2-0 down.

It was at half-time against Gladbach when Benzema was caught on camera slating team-mate Vinicius to Ferland Mendy in the tunnel, telling his compatriot not to pass to the Brazilian.

In the second half, Benzema failed to play a single pass to Vinicius, while Mendy looked for him on only two occasions, and Tete believes the tension behind such a situation may well have initially been brought on by their loss to Shakhtar.

"I think so," Tete told Stats Perform News when asked if losing to Shakhtar caused something of a crisis for Madrid.

"I believe they suffered some impact from that defeat. We were facing some issues in the squad due to COVID-19, but the most important thing was that we proved the strength of our squad.

"Many people expected us to lose by at least three goals in Madrid, they thought we weren't capable of dealing with the situation, but we surprised everyone. We beat Madrid in Madrid, the most successful club in the Champions League.

"So, I believe it was a shock for them, so if that problem between Benzema and Vinicius really happened, which I don't know if is true or not, but I do think Madrid were impacted after that defeat to us."

Shakhtar then held Inter to a 0-0 draw in their second group outing and Tete believes Shakhtar's performances across the two matches prove they are capable of potentially mounting a surprise challenge for the title.

"I personally always have high ambitions," he said, with Monchengladbach up next on Tuesday. "I think of reaching the final. The team has quality for it, we've shown that our squad has a lot of personality.

"So, we can go further and must keep working hard. On Tuesday there's another crucial game and hopefully it will go well.

"There's always a surprise package in the competition every year and we do think to be the one [this season]. It would be very important for Shakhtar as a club to reach the semi-final or the final, and we do have other surprises as an inspiration."

Eden Hazard scored his first Real Madrid goal for more than a year as the LaLiga champions eased to a 4-1 win over Huesca.

Making his first league appearance of the season, the Belgium star opened the scoring in brilliant fashion before Karim Benzema doubled the lead at Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano.

Federico Valverde scored the third after some fine interplay between Benzema and Hazard, who looked sharp throughout his hour on the pitch, before David Ferreiro's consolation.

Much of the pre-game talk had centred on Benzema and a recording of him appearing to tell Ferland Mendy not to pass to Vinicius Junior during the Champions League draw with Borussia Monchengladbach, and the striker should have scored his side's fourth when teed up by substitute Vinicius in what would have capped an improved Madrid display.

Benzema eventually got his second in the 90th minute, nodding in from Rodrygo's header across goal.

An obstinate Huesca kept Madrid at bay for much of the first half, although Sergio Ramos – making his 500th appearance in LaLiga – saw a header saved by Andres Fernandez.

The breakthrough came 40 minutes, as Hazard produced a moment of true brilliance too rarely seen in a Madrid shirt, rolling away from Kelechi Nwakali's challenge and blasting a left-footed shot beyond Fernandez from nearly 30 yards out.

Benzema doubled the lead just before the interval, chesting down Lucas Vazquez's deep cross before drilling a finish into the bottom-right corner.

Huesca started the second positively but the threat of a comeback was quashed 53 minutes in. After Hazard and Benzema had combined superbly down the left, the latter crossed for Valverde to take a touch and hammer home from 12 yards.

Benzema and Isco missed chances for a fourth before Ferreiro scored a consolation, steering a finish past Thibaut Courtois from Rafa Mir's cross, but Benzema had the final word when he turned in Rodrygo's header from point-blank range.

What does it mean? Hazard looks sharp again as Madrid return to top

The victory moved Madrid back to the summit of LaLiga, two points clear of Real Sociedad after seven games each.

It also marked an impressive return to form for Hazard and Zinedine Zidane's side as a whole, as they once again followed up a disappointing performance in Europe with a much-improved domestic display.

Huesca, one of just two sides without a LaLiga win this season, are 18th after eight games.

Hazard levels rising

This was not a virtuoso Hazard performance: he created zero chances for team-mates, produced no crosses and only had one shot on target.

However, that solitary strike earned him his first goal in 392 days and seemed to breathe some life into his link-up with Benzema. Zidane will be encouraged.

Right-back worries

Auxiliary right-back Lucas Vazquez was taken off after 52 minutes and did not seem to be wholly comfortable. Given injuries to Dani Carvajal and Nacho, any further concerns in that position will be most unwelcome to Zidane.

What's next?

Madrid host Inter in the Champions League on Tuesday before next Sunday's visit to Mestalla to meet Valencia. Huesca have a week off until they host Eibar.

Zinedine Zidane insists there are no lasting issues between Karim Benzema and Vinicius Junior after the Real Madrid striker told Ferland Mendy not to pass to their team-mate. 

In Madrid's 2-2 draw at Borussia Monchengladbach in the Champions League on Tuesday, with Zidane's side two down at half-time, Benzema was caught on camera appearing to discuss Vinicius. 

"Brother, don't pass to him," Benzema told Mendy in the tunnel. "On my mother's life, he is playing against us." 

Benzema did not play a single pass to the Brazilian in the second half, having created an opportunity with one of his three first-half passes, while Mendy found Vinicius just twice more before the latter was substituted in the 70th minute. 

Zidane was not concerned by the part of Benzema - who pulled a gol back before Casemiro levelled - in the conversation, suggesting such exchanges are commonplace but not usually made public. 

"It is clear about Benzema and Vinicius," Zidane said. "They have talked to each other. Things stay on the field. They talked and it is perfect.


"There is no problem between them - the opposite. In the end, the important thing is that the energy is on tomorrow's game [against Huesca].

"Things like Benzema and Vinicius have always happened but they stay on the field. The only thing that has changed is that there are many cameras." 

By the time he made way for Eden Hazard, none of Vinicius' three shots had hit the target, with two blocked, while he did not pick out a team-mate with any of his three crosses, although he did create chances for both Benzema and Mendy. 

A disappointingly low 71.4 per cent of passes found their man, however, and the 20-year-old completed only two of his five attempted dribbles. 

But Zidane expects the forward to bounce back as he remains a big part of Madrid's plans. 

"Vinicius is young," he added. "He has a present and a future at Madrid. He is a boy who wants to learn and improve. He works and that is good for a coach and a team."

Vinicius Junior was the subject of scrutiny in Real Madrid's latest difficult Champions League match on Tuesday.

Madrid rallied from 2-0 down to draw at Borussia Monchengladbach thanks to late goals from Karim Benzema and Casemiro, avoiding what would have been a fourth straight European defeat – a first for Los Blancos had the hosts held on.

Vinicius, however, had long since departed by the time Casemiro struck the equaliser, making way for the fit-again Eden Hazard with 20 minutes remaining.

It had been a particularly tricky outing for the Brazil international and, it seems, some of his team-mates had taken notice.

Footage from French broadcaster Telefoot appeared to pick up a conversation between striker Benzema and left-back Ferland Mendy about Vinicius.

"Brother, don't pass to him," Benzema said, purportedly of the left-sided attacker. "On my mother's life, he is playing against us."

It was advice Mendy looked to have taken on board at the break, as he made just two passes to Vinicius in the second period, having found his colleague four times in the first half.

The France international's total of six passes to Vinicius represents the fewest he has made to the player in a game the pair have both started so far this season.

Benzema appeared particularly reluctant to give Vinicius possession after half-time, not completing a single ball to the winger after three successful passes before the interval.

Vinicius did create a chance for each of Mendy and Benzema against Gladbach, while the Madrid number nine returned the favour on one occasion. Those were the only two opportunities Vinicius forged, however.

None of his three shots hit the target, with two blocked, while he did not find a team-mate with any of his three crosses. A disappointingly low 71.4 per cent of passes found their man, as the 20-year-old completed only two of his five attempted dribbles.

Zinedine Zidane predicted a difficult season for Real Madrid after Casemiro's 93rd-minute goal spared the stuttering LaLiga holders an embarrassing Champions League defeat at Borussia Monchengladbach.

Marcus Thuram's brace gave hosts Gladbach the lead at Borussia-Park but late strikes from Karim Benzema and Casemiro averted a record fourth consecutive European loss for Madrid with a 2-2 draw on Tuesday.

Gladbach became the 30th different opponent Benzema has scored against in the Champions League – only Lionel Messi (36), and Cristiano Ronaldo and Raul (both 33) have scored against more teams in the competition's history.

The comeback did little to paper over the cracks in a chaotic Madrid performance that was strewn with defensive mistakes against the Bundesliga side.

Despite seeing Madrid struggle for the second time in as many Champions League games, following a 3-2 defeat to Shakhtar Donetsk the previous week, head coach Zidane defended his players.

"We didn't think this would be such a drama," Zidane told reporters. "But my team showed that they know how to react.

"I thought we were very good in the first half. The big pain is that we committed a serious error in how we conceded their first goal.

"But this final result is just another demonstration of the character my team has. We always play to win and show the hunger to win. No way were we happy with the draw."

The result leaves Madrid with one win, one draw, and two defeats from their last four games in all competitions, and Zidane must prepare for back-to-back home games against Huesca in LaLiga and Inter in the Champions League.

Failure to take maximum points in those games could leave the Frenchman's position under threat but Zidane said the character shown by his players left him confident.

"We didn't transform the possession we enjoyed into proper chances," said Zidane, whose Madrid avoided defeat in a Champions League away fixture having trailed by two goals for the first time since December 2006.

"What I'll take from this experience is how these players reacted. This was a very important point to secure.

"This is going to be a difficult year for everyone, but I'm proud of my team tonight. Playing like this we'll go through the group to the next round without any doubt."

Life comes at you fast. So, too, does the Champions League this season, as a rearranged fixture list sees three matchdays in the group stage take place in as many weeks. 

The opening round of fixtures did not disappoint, providing plenty of goals and also the odd surprise. 

Perhaps the most shocking result of all was Real Madrid losing at home to Shakhtar Donetsk, and both clubs are back in action on Tuesday. 

Bayern Munich are also on duty as they head to Moscow, while Midtjylland will be hoping they can pull off the mother of all upsets when they visit Merseyside to play Liverpool. 

 

Lokomotiv Moscow v Bayern: Holders head on their travels

The reigning champions opened their defence in style last week, thrashing Atletico Madrid 4-0 at the Allianz Arena. Now they face Lokomotiv in Europe for the first time since a UEFA Cup tie in the 1995-96 season. 

Bayern will be aiming to extend a club-record run of 13 away games without defeat, their last loss on the road coming against Paris Saint-Germain in September 2017. They have won 10 on their travels since, while have only lost once in 14 Champions League meetings with Russian teams. 

Robert Lewandowski scored nine away goals in the Champions League last term, the joint-most by a player in a single edition of the competition alongside Cristiano Ronaldo in 2013-14. 

Shakhtar v Inter: Lukaku the one to watch for hosts

Shakhtar arguably pulled off the result of matchday one with victory in Madrid, though they have never managed to beat Inter in three previous meetings (D1 L2). This, though, will be the first Champions League fixture between the clubs. They have also failed to register a home win in their last six attempts in the competition, stretching back to a 2-1 triumph over Roma in February 2018.

The key to success for the hosts will surely be stopping Romelu Lukaku. The Belgian is on the longest run of scoring in consecutive European appearances for Inter (nine games), while he has been directly involved in 15 goals during that period (11 goals and four assists).

Lukaku has scored in each of his last three Champions League games for the Nerazurri; he could become just the fifth player to score in four in a row for the Italian side, a feat previously achieved by Christian Vieri, Hernan Crespo, Samuel Eto'o and Lautaro Martinez.

Borussia Monchengladbach v Real Madrid: Benzema may be key for Zidane

Can Zinedine Zidane's squad bounce back? A Clasico triumph over rivals Barcelona has helped silence the critics - for now at least.

Madrid are unbeaten in their last nine matches against German teams (W6 D3), a run that started after a 2-0 defeat to Wolfsburg in April 2016. They have won four of their last five away fixtures in the group stages, too.

Karim Benzema, who did not start against Shakhtar, has been directly involved in 19 goals in his last 21 Champions League games when named in the XI, netting 14 goals and providing five assists.

Liverpool v Midtjylland: Salah chases record as Danes visit Anfield

Jurgen Klopp's Reds play their first European home game since a 3-2 reverse to Atletico in March that ended their hopes of reaching a third successive final. That is their only setback in the last 26 European fixtures at Anfield.

There is hope for the Danish side in that Liverpool have failed to keep a clean sheet in their previous four home Champions League fixtures, though the makeshift pairing of Joe Gomez and Fabinho did keep Ajax at bay in Amsterdam in matchday one. Yes, the same Ajax who won 13-0 at the weekend.

As for the hosts, Mohamed Salah is two goals away from equalling Steven Gerrard's club record of 21 in the European Cup/Champions League.

 

Other fixtures:

Marseille v Manchester City:

8 - City games usually provide goals; both teams have scored in each of their last eight Champions League fixtures. They are on their longest wait for a clean sheet in the competition since between February 2015 and 2016 (nine matches).

32 - Dimitri Payet is still looking for his first goal in the competition. He has attempted 32 shots without scoring (21 for Lille and 11 for Marseille).

Atalanta v Ajax:

9 - Ajax are unbeaten in their last nine away games in the Champions League (W6 D3), winning six of their last seven. Only in two of their 15 previous Champions League campaigns have the Dutch side started with two consecutive defeats (2004-05 and 2012-13).

10 - Only Barcelona (11) had more shots on target during the opening round of fixtures this season than Atalanta's tally of 10 in the 4-0 thrashing of Midtjylland.

Porto v Olympiacos:

6 - These clubs have previously faced each other on six occasions in all European competitions, with Porto winning twice. Both of those victories came at home (D1 L3).

12 - Olympiacos have lost 12 of their last 14 away games in the Champions League (W2), losing the last seven in a row and shipping at least two goals in each of those defeats (21 in total).

Atletico Madrid v Salzburg:

1 - Dominik Szoboszlai could become the youngest Hungarian player to score in consecutive Champions League games (aged 20 years and two days), having found the net in Salzburg's 2-2 draw with Lokomotiv.

8 - Atletico are unbeaten in all eight of their previous meetings with Austrian teams in European competition (W7 D1). Having lost their last two European fixtures, they will be looking to avoid suffering three consecutive defeats for the first time in Champions League history.

The pressure is firmly on Zinedine Zidane and Real Madrid heading into Saturday's Clasico at Barcelona.

Madrid were crowned LaLiga champions just three months ago, but recent results have altered the narrative considerably prior to the clash at Camp Nou.

Los Blancos lost to Cadiz in the league last week and then on Wednesday suffered a remarkable Champions League reverse at the hands of Shakhtar Donetsk, who were missing 10 first-team players due to coronavirus.

These defeats followed the closing of a transfer window in which Madrid did not make a single signing, leaving Zidane short on options.

The prospect of this campaign quickly crumbling is especially painful for those in the Spanish capital after they appeared set to finally dominate rivals Barca once more...
 

MADRID'S BIG OPPORTUNITY

Madrid won the most recent Clasico in March, but they have not beaten Barca in consecutive LaLiga matches since May 2008.

On that occasion, the Blaugrana promptly appointed Pep Guardiola and became Spain's premier domestic side. Madrid's 2019-20 title was just their third since then, despite their Champions League supremacy.

But this season seemed to represent a chance for Madrid to secure a hold over Barca and stage a successful defence of their championship for the first time since that 2007-08 campaign.

Barca were embarrassed in the Champions League by Bayern Munich late last season, leading to the sacking of Quique Setien, the appointment of Ronald Koeman and subsequent departures of Luis Suarez, Ivan Rakitic and Arturo Vidal, and of course Lionel Messi's transfer request.

While Messi stayed in the end, the current campaign is widely expected to be his last, meaning Madrid would need only to master the magnificent number 10 and his crisis club one final time.

There was modest investment at Barca, at least topping Madrid's outlay of zero, but the arrivals of Miralem Pjanic and Sergino Dest looked unlikely to turn the tide after the champions ended last season in stunning style.
 

WHERE HAS IT GONE WRONG?

Madrid won 10 straight matches after the 2019-20 season – paused amid COVID-19 – resumed in June, dropping points only in a draw against Leganes on the final day when the title was wrapped up.

A goalless stalemate at Real Sociedad then represented an opening-day setback this term, yet Madrid's form was still relatively steady until the Cadiz match, a 1-0 loss.

Reassessing their start after that defeat, however, shows a clear regression from the end of the previous campaign in one key area: their finishing.

In the final 11 matches of last season, Madrid's shooting accuracy (excluding blocks) only once dipped below 50 per cent – in a 1-0 win against Athletic Bilbao – but is yet to reach that mark at all in five games this term.

Against Cadiz, Zidane's side had 74.8 per cent of the ball – more than in any other fixture since June – yet hit the target just twice from 14 attempts.

Crucially, Karim Benzema has gone off the boil. Only he and Federico Valverde have played in all 16 league games since June, the Frenchman scoring seven times from 28 shots at the end of last season, as well as creating six big chances.

In 2020-21, Benzema has netted only once in the league at a conversion rate of 5.3 per cent, while his shot accuracy is down from 72 per cent to 50 per cent and he has already missed as many big chances (three) in five games as he did in 11.
 

IS THERE A SIMPLE FIX?

Given their lack of transfer activity, leaving the squad a little stale, Madrid have no choice but to wait for Benzema to rediscover the form that saw him net 21 times in consecutive seasons following Cristiano Ronaldo's exit.

There remains no obvious alternative, with Luka Jovic handed another opportunity but so far failing to score and missing his only big chance across three matches. Vinicius Junior has also passed up a trio of clear openings.

The defensive concerns evident against Shakhtar should at least be eased by the return of Sergio Ramos, the captain substituted at half-time at home to Cadiz and then rested in Europe.

Raphael Varane endured another Champions League night to forget in his absence, adding an own goal to his two errors leading to goals in August's 2-1 defeat at Manchester City.

In fact, Madrid have now lost seven of their past eight Champions League games without their skipper – also including the trip to City.

This dependence on a 32-year-old Benzema and 34-year-old Ramos must be a cause for concern given Barca were supposed to be the ageing side.

It certainly suggests Madrid might not find life as straightforward as expected as they attempt to step into the void to be left by Messi.

Holders Bayern Munich begin their Champions League defence with the visit of Atletico Madrid on Wednesday, in a game that will pit Robert Lewandowski against Luis Suarez.

Liverpool, winners in 2019, travel to Ajax, and Real Madrid host Shakhtar Donetsk, with two of the competition's most successful clubs hoping to avoid some worrying runs of defeats.

Antonio Conte's Inter tackle Borussia Monchengladbach and Manchester City host Porto, a team who boast a rather unfortunate record when it comes to games on English soil.

Here is some of the key Opta data from day two of matchday one.

Ajax v Liverpool: Can Firmino stop the rot?

This will be Liverpool's first meeting with Ajax since the 1966-67 European Cup, when the Dutch side prevailed 7-3 on aggregate in the last 16.

Liverpool's campaign last season ended at the same stage with back-to-back losses to Atletico Madrid. Should they lose in Amsterdam, it will be the first time since Brendan Rodgers was in charge in October to November 2014 that they have suffered three consecutive Champions League defeats.

Perhaps Roberto Firmino is the man to help them. He has been directly involved in 26 goals (15 scored, 11 assisted) in 33 Champions League matches; since his debut in 2017-18, the only other player with 10 or more goals and assists in that time is Kylian Mbappe (13 goals, 13 assists).

 

Bayern Munich v Atletico Madrid: Lewandowski has history in his sights

Bayern were the first team in history to win every game en route to lifting the trophy last season, and their 11-game winning run is already the longest ever in the competition.

Should Robert Lewandowski score, he will become the first player to do so in 10 Champions League group games in a row. He currently shares the record of nine with Cristiano Ronaldo, who did so from 2012 to 2014.

Atletico have only won twice in their previous 10 group games away from home, but Luis Suarez could give them the boost they need – he has scored five goals in his last five starts in the competition, as many as he managed in his previous 31 starts combined.

 

Real Madrid v Shakhtar Donetsk: Zidane puts 100 per cent record on the line

Real Madrid have been in the Champions League group stage 28 times and have never failed to reach the next round. Leeds United, who did so twice, are the only other team to feature in more than one group stage and boast a 100 per cent record.

That said, Madrid lost their final two games last season – both legs of the last-16 tie with Manchester City – and losing to Shakhtar Donetsk would put them on a three-match losing streak in the Champions League or European Cup for the first time since September 1986.

With captain Sergio Ramos injured, Zinedine Zidane will have concerns about his defence. At least the forward line is in capable hands: Karim Benzema has managed four goals and two assists across six consecutive home games in the competition, and Shakhtar have failed to keep a clean sheet in 22 Champions League matches in a row.

Manchester City v Porto: More English misery?

Porto have played 20 away games against English sides in Europe and have failed to win any. In fact, they have lost 17 of those games and have not scored in the previous seven. They do at least go into this contest off a run of just two defeats in 16 Champions League group-stage matches.

City have a pretty strong recent record in the group stage, having gone unbeaten in 11 games since a surprise 2-1 loss to Lyon in September 2018. They also have Raheem Sterling in sharp form: the forward has scored 20 goals in the competition since his debut for City in September 2015, a tally only Harry Kane can match among English players in that time.

 

Other fixtures:

Inter v Borussia Monchengladbach:

9 – Romelu Lukaku has scored nine goals in 11 appearances in European competition for Inter. Since the start of last season, only Robert Lewandowski (15) and Erling Haaland (10) have netted more across the Champions League and Europa League.

8 – Strike partner Lautaro Martinez has scored five in six Champions League starts and eight in 14 in Europe overall for the Nerazzurri.

 

Salzburg v Lokomotiv Moscow:

10 – Since September 2018, Lokomotiv Moscow have lost 10 Champions League games, more than any other club in that time.

16 – Salzburg scored 16 group-stage goals last season but finished third in their group. The only other team to score that many and get knocked out were Chelsea in 2012-13.

 

Midtjylland v Atalanta:

16 – Atalanta have scored at least once in 16 of their previous 17 European games, including nine in three matches in last season's knockouts. Josip Ilicic has nine goals in 13 European appearances for the club.

18 – Midtjylland conceded 18 goals in eight matches in the 2015-16 Europa League, their previous involvement in Europe. No team conceded more that season.

 

Olympiacos v Marseille:

3 – This will be Andre Villas-Boas' first Champions League game since March 2016. He has lost his most recent three matches in the competition.

41 – Steve Mandanda has made 41 appearances in the competition, the most for any Marseille player in history. The goalkeeper accounts for 37 per cent of the total games played by current Marseille players in this tournament.

Vinicius Junior has paid tribute to Karim Benzema for selflessly taking the young Brazilian under his wing when he first made the move to Real Madrid.

Los Blancos paid a reported €45million for Vinicius in May 2017, the winger joining from Flamengo the following year when he turned 18.

Vinicius has already played 72 times for the club but struggled for consistency despite often catching the eye with his skilful style of play.

He has started 2020-21 in encouraging fashion, however, scoring the winning goal in the 1-0 victory over Real Valladolid, before getting the opener in a 2-0 win at Levante last weekend.

That was the first time he had scored in consecutive LaLiga matches, hinting the 20-year-old is beginning to find some continuity alongside Benzema in attack.

And Benzema is regarded particularly fondly by Vinicius for the role he played in his Madrid career.

"Karim is an idol, it is an honour to play with him," Vinicius told RMTV. "We always talk about what I can improve, also how he can help me.

"When I arrived, he did not know me but he still started to help me. He helped, and now he continues to do so, he tells me to be calm and helps me make the best decisions.

"It is a dream to play with Karim and with all the players who are here. I take advantage of all the moments with everyone and I listen a lot because they help.

"They know that I listen a lot and I learn with them."

When Vinicius first joined Madrid, comparisons with former Blanco Robinho were understandable – flashy tricks were a common theme and he often lacked decisiveness in the final third.

But he feels he has matured already and that he is a completely different player.

"I arrived at the age of 18 and having played only in Brazil, so everything was new for me," he added.

"I was learning and I continue to do so to help Madrid. Now I am another player. The people at Madrid help me so that I can help now and in the future.

"I'm very good, very happy with my moment, but also with the team. We have to continue like this, improving the things that we are not doing in this different season because we only had a friendly and it is difficult to start."

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