Robert Lewandowski scored his first Barcelona hat-trick as the Blaugrana met expectations with a dominant 5-1 win over Viktoria Plzen to open their Champions League campaign.

Barca's three first-half goals were more than they managed over the whole group stage last season (two) when they were dumped into the Europa League, though sterner challenges await.

Plzen had moments against an unconvincing Barca defence, with Jan Sykora netting just before the break, but the hosts were already ahead thanks to Franck Kessie and Lewandowski, who made it 3-1 on the stroke of half-time.

Although the tempo slowed slightly, Barca remained dominant after the break and Lewandowski ensured he became the first player to net a Champions League hat-trick with three different teams before Ferran Torres got in on the act.

Barca deservedly went in front early when Jules Kounde's header from a corner set up Kessie to nod in on his first start for the club.

Plzen looked set to level when Andreas Christensen clumsily tripped Jhon Mosquera in the box, but a foul on the Dane was spotted following a VAR review.

That reprieve was added to soon after as Lewandowski ruthlessly found the bottom-right corner from 20 yards.

Plzen at least appeared to be going into the break within touching distance thanks to Sykora converting from close range, but the excellent Ousmane Dembele teed up a stooping Lewandowski header to swiftly restore the two-goal lead.

Ansu Fati surprisingly sliced well wide in the first minute of a second half that was significantly less intense, but his wastefulness mattered little.

Lewandowski increased the deficit and cap his hat-trick with another sumptuous 20-yard finish after a neat interchange with Torres.

The Spain winger then rounded things off with a thumping strike from Dembele's cross.

What does it mean? Barca starting to right wrongs

Barcelona's Champions League campaign last season was dreadful – while they were paired with Bayern Munich in the group, they also finished below Benfica. Dynamo Kiev were the only team they beat.

Granted, their group this season is even tougher given Bayern and Inter are the other two teams Barca will face, but this was clearly a much greater showing than they produced against anyone in 2021-22. This was not a season-defining showing by any stretch, but the fact Barca made it look so straightforward at least shows progress.

Dembele ouses class

Lewandowski will obviously hog most headlines with his exceptional treble, but Dembele was still the best player on the pitch.

His five key passes – and two assists – were match highs, but he was just an absolute terror in general. A tremendous display.

Fati finding his feet

Xavi has been patient with Fati this season following his injury woes. This was his first start of the campaign and there was certainly some rustiness on show, as one might expect.

None of his four shots were on target, though Barca will be happy to see him come through the game unscathed, and he was lively in the first half.

What's next?

Barca go to Bayern next Tuesday as Lewandowski returns to the Allianz Arena, while Plzen will host Inter the same day.

Piotr Zielinski struck twice and assisted another as Liverpool's poor start to the season continued with a humbling 4-1 defeat at Napoli in their Champions League opener.

Jurgen Klopp's side have underwhelmed in their first six Premier League games, winning just twice, and were behind after only five minutes in Naples following Zielinski's penalty.

Alisson denied Victor Osimhen's spot-kick just 13 minutes later, but Napoli were 3-0 up at half-time after strikes from Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa and Giovanni Simeone, the latter on his Champions League debut.

Zielinski finished past Alisson again after the interval before Luiz Diaz responded with a bending effort – a mere consolation goal for Liverpool in the Group A encounter.

Osimhen rounded Alisson before striking the post with just a minute played, but Napoli were soon ahead after James Milner handled Zielinski's effort inside the area.

Zielinski found the bottom-left corner from the resulting penalty and another spot-kick arrived soon after when VAR sent referee Carlos del Cerro Grande to check a Virgil van Dijk foul on Osimhen, who was then denied by Alisson diving to his right.

Van Dijk cleared off the line with the goal gaping for Khvicha Kvaratskhelia but Napoli doubled their lead when Zielinski teed up Anguissa, who fired under the onrushing Alisson.

Alex Meret tipped away a goal-bound Van Dijk header before Simeone, on for the injured Osimhen, turned Kvaratskhelia's driven cross into an empty net on the stroke of half-time.

Zielinski doubled his account just two minutes after the break, dinking over Alisson on the rebound following Simeone's pass, before Diaz curled into the bottom-right corner after Andy Robertson's offload.

Meret pushed a powerful Diaz header over from Trent Alexander-Arnold's cross but Liverpool were unable to recover after a toothless first-half showing.

What does it mean? Liverpool's group-stage run ends as Napoli struggles continue

Liverpool cruised to six wins from as many group-stage games in last year's competition but their attempts to become the first English side to win seven straight such matches ended abruptly.

The Reds have conceded the first goal in five games in all competitions this season, the joint-most of any Premier League side, and were never going to recover after finding themselves three down at half-time in the Champions League for just a fourth time.

Liverpool's third Champions League defeat at Napoli in the last five seasons leaves Group A wide open after the first matchday, in which Ajax smashed Rangers 4-0 in Wednesday's other game.

Kvaratskhelia leaves Trent spinning

Klopp heaped praise on Luciano Spalletti's "interesting project" before the clash and pinpointed Zielinski as the main threat – and the midfielder responded with two goals and an assist.

But Kvaratskhelia should also take the plaudits after regularly tormenting Alexander-Arnold, creating a team-high three chances – one of those the assist for Simeone's goal – before his 57th-minute removal.

Van Dijk dives in

Van Dijk epitomises Klopp's revolution at Liverpool, with his calmness and authority in defence characterising the dominant Reds, but his performances have left much to be desired in recent weeks.

The centre-back fouled Osimhen for the second spot-kick, the second penalty he has conceded in his last seven appearances for the Reds. He had previously not given one away in 150 games in all competitions.

What's next?

Liverpool will aim to recover when they return to Premier League action at home to Wolves on Saturday, while Napoli host Spezia in Serie A on the same day.

Rangers' players "let a lot of people down" with their performance in Wednesday's heavy Champions League defeat to Ajax, according to midfielder Ryan Jack.

Giovanni van Bronckhorst's side were on the end of a 4-0 loss in Amsterdam, four days on from going down to rivals Celtic by the same scoreline in the Scottish Premiership.

Ajax were three ahead inside 33 minutes thanks to goals from Edson Alvarez, Steven Berghuis and Mohammed Kudus, which Steven Bergwijn later added to.

That is the earliest Ajax have ever led by three goals in a Champions League game as they beat Rangers for a fifth time in five meetings in all competitions.

Jack was at fault for the fourth of the hosts' goals, with a terrible pass being intercepted, and accepts his side were simply not good enough at Johan Cruijff ArenA.

"We have let a lot of people down tonight," he told BT Sport. "We apologise to the fans who sacrificed to make this trip and support us. 

"We don't have time to feel sorry for ourselves. The games are coming thick and fast and we have to pick ourselves up, stick together and go again.

"Obviously everyone's disappointed. All we can do is pick ourselves up because we have a massive game away to Aberdeen. 

"We know how tough a venue that will be, so on the back of the two 4-0 defeats it's important we pick ourselves up."

Rangers had seven of their 11 starters from May's Europa League final loss to Eintracht Frankfurt, but Van Bronckhorst made a triple change at half-time.

That led to an improved second-half showing, albeit with Ajax taking their foot off the gas prior to Bergwijn's late fourth.

Reflecting on a third defeat in 12 matches this season, Van Bronckhorst said: "The performance wasn't good. The players are committed. They want to fight and work hard. 

"But against an opponent like Ajax when you're not as organised as you should be it's going to be tough.

"You don't want to give space away against Ajax. We gave less space away in the second half because we played a little bit more defensively. 

"We should have stayed more in our zones in the first half. We didn't do that so well and, as I said, every mistake is punished."

Ajax reached the last-16 stage last season and have now won each of their past four group matches in the competition, their best-such run since December 1995 (also four).

"This was a beautiful evening for us," Ajax playmaker Dusan Tadic told RTL7. "It was a great win in front of our fans. The team spirit was very good. 

"There was a lot of movement in the squad and we often put pressure on Rangers. We played very well and managed to show our own football. 

"I played in a new position for the third game in a row, and there is always room for improvement, but I have played for the team and I am very happy with this victory."

UEFA has launched an investigation into alleged "discriminatory behaviour" from Juventus supporters during their Champions League loss to Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday.

A Kylian Mbappe brace condemned Juventus to defeat in their Champions League opener at the Parc des Princes, with Weston McKennie scoring a second-half consolation for the Bianconeri.

After the match, video footage was circulated on social media which appeared to show visiting fans making offensive gestures, prompting an inquiry. 

A UEFA statement released on Wednesday read: "In accordance with Article 31(4) of the UEFA Disciplinary Regulations, a UEFA Ethics and Disciplinary Inspector has been appointed to conduct a disciplinary investigation regarding allegations of discriminatory behaviour by Juventus supporters at the 2022/23 UEFA Champions League group stage match between Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus played on 6 September in France.

"Information on this matter will be made available in due course."

Juventus are set to host the reverse fixture on November 2.

Ajax blew away Rangers with three first-half goals as the Dutch giants kicked off their Champions League campaign with a resounding 4-0 victory in Amsterdam on Wednesday.

Edson Alvarez, Steven Berghuis and Mohammed Kudus were all on target inside 33 minutes, with that Ajax's earliest three-goal lead in the competition's history.

Rangers, also beaten 4-0 by rivals Celtic at the weekend, made a triple substitution at the break but Ajax showed no remorse and added a late fourth through Steven Bergwijn.

Ajax were dominant from the first whistle and there was a sense of inevitably about their opener when an unmarked Alvarez headed in Dusan Tadic's in-swinging corner.

Berghuis added a somewhat fortunate second for Ajax, the Netherlands winger's strike taking a big deflection off James Sands on its way past Jon McLaughlin.

A quickfire third followed as Kudus was allowed to charge into the box and fire a stunning shot across McLaughlin and into the top-far corner.

Rangers had a Borna Barisic strike chalked off for offside, and Ajax only added to their opponents' pain thanks to Bergwijn's finish following a terrible pass from Ryan Jack.

Karim Benzema is a doubt for Real Madrid's upcoming showdown with Atletico Madrid as a result of the thigh injury sustained against Celtic.

The France international hobbled off midway through the first half in Madrid's 3-0 Champions League win in Glasgow on Tuesday.

Benzema, who was considered a doubt before the game, appeared to sustain the damage – originally thought to be to his knee – when playing a pass.

Speaking after the match, Carlo Ancelotti said the injury "does not seem like anything serious", but added Madrid would await the results of a second scan.

That second scan took place at Real's Valdebebas training base on Wednesday, and it was confirmed the 34-year-old has sustained a minor muscular problem.

A statement on Madrid's website read: "Benzema has been diagnosed with an injury to the semitendinosus muscle and an overload on the quadriceps, both in the right thigh."

While no official timeframe has been given for Benzema's lay-off, reports suggest he will miss between seven-to-10 days.

Madrid host Real Mallorca and RB Leipzig over the next week, in LaLiga and the Champions League respectively, before travelling to city rivals Atletico on September 18.

Losing Benzema for any period of time will be considered a blow for Ancelotti, with his star striker having scored four goals and assisted one more in six outings this season.

He has scored and assisted 68 goals in all competitions since the start of last season – a tally bettered only by Paris Saint-Germain's Kylian Mbappe across Europe's top five leagues.

Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag feels "sorry" for Thomas Tuchel following his dismissal as boss of rivals Chelsea.

Tuchel surprisingly parted company with the Blues on Wednesday, just a day on from starting their Champions League campaign with a shock 1-0 loss at Dinamo Zagreb.

An indifferent start to their Premier League campaign that has produced three wins, two defeats and a draw has left Chelsea sixth in the table.

The news came as a surprise to many, though, given Chelsea spent big in the transfer window to sign the likes of Raheem Sterling, Marc Cucurella, Wesley Fofana, Kalidou Koulibaly and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Having also won the Champions League four months after joining the club in January 2021, most would have expected Tuchel to be afforded more time by the club's new owners led by Todd Boehly.

Asked for his reaction to Tuchel's sacking, Ten Hag had told reporters: "I feel sorry, but there is nothing I can say. It's Chelsea, not Man United. It's early in the season, yes."

United are one place and two points ahead of Chelsea in the infant Premier League.

Any manager who Chelsea hire now will be a downgrade on Thomas Tuchel, according to Rio Ferdinand.

Former Manchester United and England star Ferdinand insists Chelsea’s decision to sack Tuchel, which was announced on Wednesday, does not make sense.

The German was appointed as the successor to club legend Frank Lampard in January 2021 and promptly led Chelsea to Champions League glory in his first season.

More success followed in the form of trophies in the UEFA Super Cup and Club World Cup, but Tuchel also lost two FA Cup finals and an EFL Cup showpiece during his tenure.

A slow start to this season continued on Tuesday with a shock 1-0 Champions League defeat away to Dinamo Zagreb.

But Ferdinand feels new Chelsea owner Todd Boehly – who was a big spender in the transfer window – has acted too soon in dismissing the former Paris Saint-Germain head coach.

Ferdinand told his FIVE YouTube channel: "Anybody who comes in now, you would think it is a downgrade on Tuchel and his resume. 

"He is a proper manager. All the players I speak to talk positively about him. He is honest and direct. He has clarity on how he wants to play. 

"I can't understand it. It doesn't make sense to me.

"Tuchel has a 60 per cent win rate. A lot of managers would be delighted to have that. 

"Chelsea have set their stall out now and said, 'This is us now'. It's a giant statement from Todd Boehly and his new regime. It leads you to the point, where will they go?"

Brighton and Hove Albion boss Graham Potter has emerged as an early frontrunner to replace Tuchel.

Whether or not he takes the Chelsea job now, Ferdinand believes Potter is destined to move to a top team at some stage.

The former United defender added: "Potter has done a fantastic job. I think he will be someone called by bigger clubs than Brighton with due respect. But would he take it? 

"When he went to Brighton their style of football changed immediately. He has a clear identity.

"I think on the grass he will be great in that sense. The questions are would he be able to handle the experienced players? 

"In terms of handling big players and egos, there are a nucleus of young players there who would warm to him immediately."

Zinedine Zidane and Mauricio Pochettino are also among the early mooted contenders to replace Tuchel.

Chelsea's dismissal of Thomas Tuchel has caught the footballing world by surprise, with his exit coming just a week after the close of the transfer window and a lavish spending spree.

The Blues are on the hunt for a new manager yet again, Todd Boehly swinging the axe in the same sort of fashion that predecessor Roman Abramovich would have – although Boehly's approach seems far more fierce.

Defeats to Leeds United, Southampton and Dinamo Zagreb were certainly disappointing for the Blues but, with just six games gone in the Premier League and one game down in the Champions League, there was plenty of time to turn things around.

The hunt for Tuchel's successor will be a difficult one, particularly given the strong record the German has boasted during his time at Stamford Bridge.

Here, Stats Perform dives into Opta's insight into Tuchel's spell in west London.

Delivering on all fronts

Tuchel leaves Chelsea with a 60 per cent win percentage across all competitions, with a 55.6 per cent percentage in the Premier League standing as the fourth highest in Blues' history among managers to have taken charge of at least 50 matches.

In the Champions League, where Tuchel led Chelsea to glory just months after taking the job in XXX, the German boasted an impressive 66.7 per cent win percentage in the competition.

It was in the FA Cup where Tuchel had the best return, with an 80 per cent win percentage having led the Blues to back-to-back finals, though they suffered defeat in both to Leicester City and Liverpool.

In 589 days in charge of Chelsea, Tuchel led the club to four major finals (2x FA Cup, League Cup, Champions League) and no manager has even taken charge of the Blues in more, with Jose Mourinho also boasting four.

Best of the rest

Unable to compete with Manchester City and Liverpool at the summit of English football, Chelsea firmly established themselves as the best of the rest under the guidance of Tuchel.

Under Tuchel's guidance, Chelsea picked up 122 points from 63 Premier League matches with only City (152) and Liverpool (136) picking up more.

Chelsea's return of 168 goals across all competitions under Tuchel was again beneath only the duo, with City netting 240 and Liverpool scoring 201.

With 49 clean sheets in 100 matches, Tuchel's side stand head and shoulders above all their rivals though, City ranking second with 44 and Liverpool in third with 43.

Had them in the first half

Quickly finding steam with Chelsea, leading them to Champions League glory and the FA Cup final just months after taking the reigns, Tuchel's return in the first half of his stint with the Blues is impressive.

In all competitions, Tuchel's first 50 games yielded 32 victories, 11 draws and seven defeats, with just 24 goals conceded.

A notable decline came in the final 50 matches of Tuchel's spell, however, with four fewer wins (28), two more draws (11) and nine losses – though the most alarming stat is conceding 53 goals, over double the amount from his first 50.

Even accounting for Chelsea's shoddy start to the Champions League, few would have expected Thomas Tuchel to be out of a job by Wednesday.

The Blues started their European campaign with a lacklustre 1-0 setback at Dinamo Zagreb, a result that follows an underwhelming trend to start the season.

With three wins, two losses and one draw from six games, the Blues sit sixth in the infant Premier League table.

Still, most would have expected Tuchel – who has won the Champions League and Club World Cup with Chelsea – to be afforded more time to bed in the likes of Raheem Sterling, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Wesley Fofana and Kalidou Koulibaly following a big-spending transfer window under the club's new owners led by Todd Boehly.

But, alas, he has not, and for the first time Chelsea are after a new boss under their new regime. We have taken a look at the most likely candidates to replace Tuchel at Stamford Bridge.

MAURICIO POCHETTINO

The last time Chelsea were looking for a successor for a sacked manager, they turned to a former Paris Saint-Germain boss in Tuchel to replace club legend Frank Lampard. Might history repeat itself here? Certainly Pochettino would be attainable after the Argentine departed the Parc des Princes in July despite winning the Ligue 1 title. Pochettino also brings extensive knowledge of the Premier League having managed Southampton before joining Tottenham in May 2014. Pochettino failed to deliver major silverware but did lead the club to the 2019 Champions League final and secured four straight top-four finishes.

GRAHAM POTTER

A name that has cropped up early in the bookmakers' odds is Brighton and Hove Albion boss Potter, a man who has earned plenty of admirers due to the attractive brand of football employed by his Seagulls side. Having coached Swedish side Ostersund for seven years, Potter joined Swansea City in 2018 and a year later made the move to the Amex Stadium. After finishing 15th and 16th in his first two top-flight seasons, Brighton placed ninth last term and Potter has long been tipped for bigger things, with his case boosted by a fantastic start to the 2022-23 season.

ZINEDINE ZIDANE

Another boss out of work, though reports suggest Zidane remains keen to take on the France job should Didier Deschamps leave after Qatar 2022. One of the greatest players of all time, Zidane has also enjoyed success in the dugout at Real Madrid. Over two spells as coach at the Santiago Bernabeu, Zidane won three Champions League titles (all in a row from 2016 to 2018), two LaLiga medals, and the Club World Cup twice among a plethora of honours. He also showed his ability to manage big egos at the Santiago Bernabeu, a trait that may appeal to Boehly.

BRENDAN RODGERS

A move that would probably represent an outside bet given Leicester City's shoddy start to the season that sees them winless after six matches and rooted to the bottom of the table, but there is context behind that – including the sale of Fofana to Chelsea. Rodgers previously managed Liverpool and went agonisingly close to winning the title in the 2013-14 season – eventually finishing runners-up to Manchester City. After an impressive spell with Celtic, Rodgers returned to English football with Leicester and defeated Chelsea in the 2020-21 FA Cup final. Moreover, Rodgers is a familiar face at Stamford Bridge having managed the club's reserve side from 2006-2008.

DIEGO SIMEONE

Simeone is an undoubted legend at Atletico Madrid, where he has managed to consistently compete against heavyweight rivals Real Madrid and Barcelona in LaLiga for over a decade. A two-time league winner, to go with medals in the Europa League, Copa del Rey and Supercopa a Espana, Simeone knows how to win trophies – even though two runs to the final of the Champions League both ended in defeat to Real Madrid. But having finished third and 15 points off the top last term, and started this season in patchy form (two wins, a draw and a defeat from four games), perhaps Simeone may finally be swayed by the prospect of pastures new.

Thomas Tuchel has sensationally been sacked by Chelsea following Tuesday's 1-0 defeat to Dinamo Zagreb in the Champions League, the Blues have confirmed.

The German was appointed as the successor to club legend Frank Lampard in January 2021 and led Chelsea to Champions League glory with a 1-0 over Manchester City in May of the same year.

More success followed in the form of trophies in the UEFA Super Cup and Club World Cup, but Tuchel also lost two FA Cup finals and an EFL Cup final – beaten in both domestic cup showpieces on penalties to Liverpool last term.

The UK government's sanctioning of former owner Roman Abramovich amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine eventually led to a change in ownership with a consortium led by LA Dodgers part-owner Todd Boehly completing a £4.25billion deal.

Chelsea were active in the transfer market, bringing in the likes of Raheem Sterling, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Wesley Fofana, Kalidou Koulibaly and Marc Cucurella.

The Blues have made an indifferent start to the season, though, winning three, losing two and drawing one of their opening six Premier League games to sit sixth in the table.

Tuesday's shock defeat to Dinamo persuaded the club's new owners the time is right to make a change.

A club statement read: "On behalf of everyone at Chelsea FC, the club would like to place on record its gratitude to Thomas and his staff for all their efforts during their time with the club.

"Thomas will rightly have a place in Chelsea's history after winning the Champions League, the Super Cup and Club World Cup in his time here.

"As the new ownership group reaches 100 days since taking over the club, and as it continues its hard work to take the club forward, the new owners believe it is the right time to make this transition.

"Chelsea's coaching staff will take charge of the team for training and the preparation of our upcoming matches as the club moves swiftly to appoint a new head coach."

Thomas Tuchel has sensationally been sacked by Chelsea following Tuesday's 1-0 defeat to Dinamo Zagreb in the Champions League, the Blues have confirmed.

The German was appointed as the successor to club legend Frank Lampard in January 2021 and led Chelsea to Champions League glory with a 1-0 over Manchester City in May of the same year.

More success followed in the form of trophies in the UEFA Super Cup and Club World Cup, but Tuchel also lost two FA Cup finals and an EFL Cup final – beaten in both domestic cup showpieces on penalties to Liverpool last term.

Tottenham are gearing up for their first Champions League campaign in three seasons with momentum on their side and expectation levels high.

A large part of that is down to head coach Antonio Conte, who guided Spurs back into Europe's elite club competition in his first half-season in charge of the north London club.

Conte boasts a CV that is the envy of many managers around the world, the Italian having won eight major trophies during his coaching career, including five top-level league titles in two countries.

But Conte's domestic success has not transferred onto the European stage, having exited the Champions League in the group stage more times than he has advanced, despite managing some of the continent's elite clubs.

Ahead of Tottenham's Group D opener against Marseille on Wednesday, in which Conte will become the fourth coach to take charge of more than one English club in the competition, Stats Perform looks at the 53-year-old's underwhelming record.

JUST ONE KNOCKOUT WIN

Tottenham will be the fourth side Conte has taken charge of in the Champions League after Juventus, Chelsea and Inter. He has managed 36 games with those three heavyweight sides but won just 12 for a 33 per cent win rate.

To put that into some context, that compares to a 65 per cent win rate in the Premier League (over a much larger sample of games) and 68 per cent win rate in Serie A.

Breaking down that European record further, Conte won six of his 16 matches as Juve boss in the competition and just three each with Chelsea and Inter across eight and 12 matches respectively.

Those victories with Juve, Inter and Chelsea, if you were wondering, came against Celtic (twice), Qarabag (twice), Atletico Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Borussia Monchengladbach, Chelsea, Copenhagen, Nordsjaelland, Shakhtar Donetsk and Slavia Prague.

Conte's best run in UEFA's elite club tournament remains his first campaign when taking Juve to the quarter-finals in the 2012-13 season, where his title winners were well beaten by Bayern Munich over two legs.

Remarkably, that season's 5-0 aggregate win over Celtic in the last 16 remains Conte's only knockout-stage success in the Champions League.

That was one of only two occasions in five attempts a Conte side has made it beyond the first round, in fact, the other instance being in the 2017-18 season when Chelsea finished second to Roma in the group and were then eliminated by Barcelona in the last 16.

Conte was unable to guide Juve out of the group stage in 2013-14, failing to finish ahead of Galatasaray for second place behind Real Madrid, and also fell at the first hurdle in successive seasons with Inter.

EXCUSES, EXCUSES

But exactly why has one of the best coaches of his generation struggled so badly when it comes to balancing domestic and European football?

One suggestion is that, like a lot of Italian coaches, Conte prioritises league titles over continental cups, but the Spurs boss laughed that idea off at a news conference on Tuesday and pointed to the success of compatriot Carlo Ancelotti, the winner of more European Cups than any other coach.

"Success in Europe with a trophy is important for every manager," Conte added when probed on his underwhelming Champions League record. "You know very well that it is not simple, not easy to lift a trophy in Europe and especially the Champions League. 

"It is important to be there and you have more probability if you are the coach of a team who expects to win. Two years ago, with Inter, we lost the final of the Europa League against Sevilla. For sure, in my heart, in my mind, in my ambition, there is the will to have success in Europe."

Conte did indeed reach the final of the Europa League with Inter in the 2019-20 season, but even that can be considered a disappointment as a much-fancied Nerazzurri lost to Sevilla in the final and were only in the competition by virtue of their early Champions League elimination.

Another theory, put forward by Conte himself, is that his squads simply have not had the depth to cope with demanding runs across multiple competitions. 

"Some important mistakes have been made at the planning stage; we can't play both the Champions League and Serie A with such a small squad," Conte said two years ago on the back of Inter's second successive group-stage exit.

"I'm tired of saying the same things over and over again. Perhaps the [club directors] could come over here and say something. I hope that this will help them understand a few things."

SIXTH TIME LUCKY WITH SPURS?

Passing the buck to those higher up is very much out of the Conte playbook, a classic ploy usually used to help get his way when the transfer window approaches.

But on the back of a busy few months of transfer activity at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, in which the Italian has been backed heavily, that excuse will surely not cut it with Daniel Levy and Co.

While Tottenham are not realistically expected to challenge for the Champions League trophy this term, failing to advance from a favourable group that contains Marseille, Eintracht Frankfurt and Sporting CP would be yet another blight on Conte's CV.

However, Conte may already be laying the foundations to cover his back should Spurs miss out on a place in the last 16, with the ex-Chelsea boss hitting out at the congested fixture list this side of the World Cup.

"Honestly, to see this schedule about Tottenham is incredible, it's crazy because we played three games in six days against Nottingham Forest, West Ham and Fulham," he added on Tuesday.

"Now we are playing after four days, but we are starting to play again three important games against Marseille in the Champions League, [Manchester] City away and Sporting Lisbon away in six days. I think maybe this is my first time in my career to see a schedule like this.

"I think in this situation we are unlucky, but I think in the future, and also I spoke with the club, we have to pay great attention to speak also to the Premier League. One day more, one day less can change totally your life and you can drop points. This is no good for a team like Tottenham."

These are the same issues the likes of Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel have also raised, the difference being each of those have lifted the Champions League trophy aloft during their careers.

Now, as he embarks on his sixth season in the greatest club competition of them all, Conte must put talk of fixture congestion, a lack of squad depth or simply being unlucky with the draw to one side and prove that lessons have been learned from the past.

Khvicha Kvaratskhelia played just 10 times for Lokomotiv Moscow, and only one of those appearances was as a starter.

Yet, his father claimed in 2020 that then-Lokomotiv coach Yury Syomin cried actual tears when Kvaratskhelia said he would not be staying beyond the end of his initial loan agreement. The youngster also apparently broke down.

Seemingly the teenaged Kvaratskhelia made quite the impression on his coach, though curiously not enough to play on a regular basis. It's fair to say Kvaratskhelia's decision to move on and ultimately join fellow Russian Premier League side Rubin Kazan was a smart one.

"After that, I was glad my son was in Rubin, where they let him play football," Kvaratskhelia Sr added, and it was in Kazan where the talented winger began to consistently show the talents that Napoli will hope can help them get the better of the mighty Liverpool on Wednesday.

Kvaratskhelia will make his Champions League bow when the Reds come to Stadio Diego Armando Maradona, a commendable achievement given his rollercoaster of a 2022.

Turbulent times

A couple of weeks on from Russia's invasion of Ukraine, FIFA made it possible for foreign players and coaches in both countries to suspend their contracts.

Kvaratskhelia was eligible for such action, and while he did suspend his agreement, it seemed his initial plan was to eventually return to Rubin.

However, he and the club later announced a mutual termination after it emerged his family were subject to threats due to the original decision of not permanently leaving Russia.

He saw out the remainder of the 2021-22 season back home in Georgia with Dinamo Batumi – it was clearly a level below his usual standard as he scored eight goals in 11 league games, but it helped keep Kvaratskhelia sharp for his national team, netting three times from four Nations League outings in June.

Nevertheless, few would have considered those early months of the year to be ideal for a young talent hoping to make the step up to one of Europe's major leagues – that was where he had previously looked destined to end up.

Arsenal had been known admirers for a long time, sending scouts to watch him as early as September 2019. Several other English and Italian clubs were linked with him, but it was Napoli who ultimately took the punt.

The early signs suggest it is going to pay off for them rather handsomely.

Blossoming at Napoli

Replacing a club great is never a simple task, but if Kvaratskhelia continues at his current rate, Lorenzo Insigne will become a distant memory very quickly.

Insigne's move to Toronto in Major League Soccer came as something of a surprise when initially announced, and filling that void with a player who had most recently been playing in Georgia will have raised some eyebrows.

Additionally, bringing in Kvaratskhelia for Insigne was hardly like-for-like. The latter was all about dropping deep and essentially playing as a playmaker, with his 74.1 touches and 45.2 successful passes per 90 minutes both highs among Opta-classified forwards (minimum 1,000 minutes played) in Serie A last term.

Kvaratskhelia is far more direct and intent on getting in behind the defence, while his ability on the ball makes him a threat both as a carrier and dribbler – his nine carries with a take-on is bettered by only Rafael Leao (12) among wingers this term.

A predominantly right-footed winger who prefers to operate from the left, one might expect him to be a little one-dimensional, but he has already shown in Serie A how effective he can be chopping back on to his left foot, bamboozling the Monza defence with a feint before slotting home left-footed in last month's 4-0 win.

That was one of four goals already this season, none of which were penalties – that is a haul no player can better without adding in spot-kicks, and that form helped him win the first Player of the Month award of the campaign.

Of course, it remains early days in his Napoli career, but he has taken to Serie A with promising ease and has a style of play that will endear him to a set of supporters always ready to fall in love with talented attackers.

Hopefully Syomin's tears of disappointment will turn to pride when 'Kvaradona' makes his Champions League introduction on Wednesday.

The most decorated club competition in the world is back underway, and Wednesday's Champions League action promises some fireworks.

Winners in 2019-20, Bayern Munich will travel to the San Siro to take on Inter, while last year's runners-up Liverpool head to Napoli for a game they are favoured in.

Reigning Europa League champions Eintracht Frankfurt will look to keep up Germany's strong record against Portuguese teams when they host Sporting CP, and Harry Kane will be aiming to build on his superb European record as Tottenham host Marseille.

For a closer look, Stats Perform have dove into some interesting facts and nuggets about each matchup on Wednesday to give a clearer picture about how these clashes of champions may play out.

Inter v Bayern Munich

After their last Champions League run ended in a quarter-final loss to Villarreal, Bayern Munich will be desperate for a much improved result as they seek their seventh title, beginning their campaign away from home against Inter.

The sides have evenly split their seven previous European meetings, with three wins each and one draw, although it has been over a decade since their last Champions League fixture back in 2011.

While they do not have much recent history against Bayern in this competition, Inter's games against German opponents have turned into goal-fests, with 39 total goals (19 for, 20 against) in their past 10 matches.

Bayern have had much more success against Italian sides, going unbeaten in their past 10 (8W, 2D) – with their last loss coming in that 2011 battle with Inter, and the Nerazzurri were also the last side to keep a clean sheet against them in the 2010 final.

Romelu Lukaku will be a hard man to replace for the Italians as he will be absent after suffering a thigh injury. In his 16 European contests for Inter, he has 17 goal involvements (13 goals and four assists).

Napoli v Liverpool

This will be the third time in the past five seasons that Napoli and Liverpool have landed in the same Champions League group after back-to-back years in 2018-19 and 2019-20, with the Italian side winning all three of their home games.

Napoli have not featured in the last two editions of Europe's top competition, but they were a force in the group stage before their drought, with only one loss from their previous 12 matches (5W, 6D).

Mohamed Salah's seven goals in last season's group stage was the second-most ever in a group stage from a player on an English team, trailing only Ruud van Nistelrooy's eight during Manchester United's 2004-05 campaign. Salah is also one assist away from tying James Milner and Steven Gerrard for Liverpool's record number of assists in the Champions League (12).

 

Tottenham v Marseille

In the first ever competitive meeting between these two sides, Tottenham will likely be confident in their ability to get the job done at home against a Marseille side long removed from any Champions League success.

From their past 15 Champions League games, Marseille have only one win, against Olympiakos in 2020. English sides have given them particular trouble as well, as they have 12 losses against Premier League sides in their history in the competition – twice as many as against any other nation (six losses against Italian teams).

Harry Kane will be looking to add to his stellar European record, with 23 goal involvements (20 goals, three assists) in 24 career fixtures. Of all players with at least 20 Champions League goals, only Erling Haaland (64), Mario Gomez (102) and Lionel Messi (103.7) have a better minutes-per-goal figure than Kane's 104.4

Eintracht Frankfurt v Sporting CP

The reigning Europa League champions, Eintracht Frankfurt are making history with their first-ever Champions League berth, becoming the 14th German side to ever qualify – breaking the tie with Spain (13) for the most by any nation.

German sides have given Sporting trouble over the years, with 13 losses and one draw from 14 tries in European competition, with that emerging as a theme between the two nations.

Against all Portuguese sides, German teams are undefeated in their past 15 Champions League matches (13W, 2L) dating back to 2006.

After netting five times in last season's Europa League triumph to take his tally up to 11, Eintracht's Daichi Kamada can enter the club's record books as one of their top-three goalscorers in European competition with one more.

Other fixtures: 

Ajax v Rangers

20 - Ajax scored 20 goals in their six matches in last year's Champions League group stage, winning all six. It is the most goals they have ever scored in a Champions League group stage, before being eliminated by Benfica in the first knockout round.

19 - This will be Rangers' first Champions League appearance since 2010-11, and in their history, only Anderlecht (17 per cent) have a worse winning percentage in the competition than Rangers' 19 per cent. They have lost all four of their previous European meetings against Ajax.

Atletico Madrid v Porto

13 - This will be Atletico Madrid's 13th Champions League campaign, moving them past Valencia into the third-most for a Spanish side, trailing only Barcelona and Real Madrid (both 27). This is Atletico's 10th berth in a row, all under Diego Simeone.

26 - This is Porto's 26th Champions League, trailing only Barcelona and Real Madrid. If they were to be eliminated in the group stage this season, it would be the first time they failed to make it through the group stage in back-to-back campaigns since 1998.

Club Brugge v Bayer Leverkusen

1 - There has been only one win from a Belgian side against a German team in 24 Champions League meetings (18L, 5D) – and it was Brugge just last season, defeating RB Leipzig 2-1.

9 - Leverkusen have failed to win the opening match of their Champions League run the past nine times they have qualified (8L, 1D), with their last opening win coming in 2001.

Barcelona v Viktoria Plzen

33 - Barcelona striker Robert Lewandwoski is the top overall Champions League goal-scorer from the past three seasons, with 33 goals in 26 games. Last season, he netted nine goals in five home games,

24 - In their only two previous Champions League fixtures against Barcelona, Viktoria Plzen have averaged 24 per cent of the possession, and have lost the shot-count by a combined margin of 36-4.

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