Manchester United start life without Ole Gunnar Solskjaer with a huge Champions League showdown at Villarreal, while Chelsea and Juventus face a blockbuster battle.

A 4-1 Premier League hammering at Watford was the final straw for the United board as Solskjaer was sacked on Sunday.

Michael Carrick has stepped in to take charge on an interim basis and must rally the troops for the clash between the top two in Group F at Estadio de la Ceramica.

Juventus are already assured of a place in the round of 16 and Chelsea will join them in qualifying from Group H if they avoid defeat at Stamford Bridge.

Barcelona take on Benfica in their first Champions League match with Xavi as boss knowing a win will see them through. 

Here, Stats Perform takes a look at the key Opta data for the fixtures on Tuesday.

 

Villarreal v Manchester United: Red Devils in troubled waters ahead of Yellow Submarine showdown

Villarreal have failed to beat United in five Champions League matches, drawing four and losing one.

The LaLiga side did get the better of the Red Devils in the Europa League final last season on penalties, though, and may never have a better opportunity to consign them to a defeat in Europe's premier club competition.

Carrick takes charge for the first time following Solskjaer's departure and will need United to tighten up at the back as they look to end a four-match winless away run in the Champions League. The wounded Premier League side have not kept a clean sheet in the competition this season.

Chelsea v Juventus: Bianconeri plotting another Italian job on holders

Juventus could win the group if they halt Chelsea's nine-match unbeaten run, as they lead the holders by three points.

The Premier League leaders have not lost since they went down 1-0 to Juve in September and they are overdue a victory against Italian opponents.

Chelsea have not come out on top in their past four meetings against Italian teams and Juve could become the first side to record three consecutive wins over the London club in the Champions League.

 

Barcelona v Benfica: Pressure on for Xavi's Champions League bow 

Xavi celebrated a derby victory over Espanyol in his first game as Barcelona boss on Saturday and another win over Benfica will secure qualification from Group E.

Third-placed Benfica beat Barca 3-0 in September and will attempt to become only the third side to do the double over the Catalan club in the group stage, Dynamo Kiev in 1997-98 and Bayern Munich in 1998-99 being the others to achieve that feat.

Barca are two points ahead of Benfica following back-to-back 1-0 wins over Dynamo and are looking to keep clean sheets for three consecutive Champions League games for the first time since May 2019.

 

Sevilla v Wolfsburg: Los Nervionenses nearing last chance saloon

Sevilla dropped points when they were held to a 2-2 draw by Deportivo Alaves in LaLiga on Saturday, and they can ill afford to slip up when they face Wolfsburg.

Bottom of Group G and without a win from four matches, they have not been victorious in their past seven meetings with German sides, losing four and drawing three.

Third-placed Wolfsburg have not been a Spanish team away from home in Europe, losing to Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid either side of a draw with Villarreal.

 

Other fixtures:

Dynamo Kiev v Bayern Munich

17 – Bayern have scored 17 goals in their four Champions League matches this season, the joint most by any team after four matches in a season alongside Paris Saint Germain's tally in 2017-18. Already through to the round of 16, the Group E leaders have also had the most shots (84) and shots on target (34) of any side this campaign. 

9 – Dynamo have failed to score in any Champions League matches this season, attempting just nine shots on target – three fewer than Bayern striker Robert Lewandowski has managed in 2021-22 (12).

Lille v Salzburg

43 – Following their 2-1 victory away at Sevilla, Lille will be aiming to record back-to-back wins in the Champions League for the very first time. This will be their 43rd game in the competition.

2 –  Salzburg have only won two of their previous 12 away games in major European competition (excluding qualifiers), drawing twice and losing eight times. These 12 games have seen a total of 46 goals scored (19 for, 27 against), at an average of 3.8 per game.

Malmo v Zenit

– Zenit have only won one of their past 11 games in the Champions League (D1 L9). That solitary victory and clean sheet in this run of games came in their last meeting with Malmo (4-0 in September). 

8 – If Malmo fail to score in this game, they will equal the record for most consecutive games without finding the back of the net in the European Cup/Champions League (currently on 7). The previous instances of a team going eight games in a row without scoring are Dinamo Zagreb (2016), Deportivo La Coruna (2004) and Avenir Beggen (1986).

Young Boys v Atalanta

3 – Since winning three consecutive away Champions League games without conceding a goal between October and December 2020, Atalanta have failed to win each of their past three away games in the competition (D1 L2), conceding eight goals in the process.

4 – Young Boys won their opening group game against United but have since suffered three consecutive defeats in the competition. Bottom of Group F, If they lose this game, they will have suffered four defeats in a row in major European tournaments for the first time.

Massimiliano Allegri hailed Juventus' response after they beat Zenit 4-2 to qualify for the Champions League round of 16 following defeats to Sassuolo and Hellas Verona.

Paulo Dybala opened the scoring at Allianz Stadium on Tuesday and restored Juve's lead with a retaken second-half penalty after Leonardo Bonucci's own goal had brought Zenit level.

Federico Chiesa added a third for the Bianconeri – becoming the first Juve player since David Trezeguet in 2001 to score in four consecutive home games in the competition – and Alvaro Morata netted as Allegri's men cruised to victory.

Sardar Azmoun scored a late second for Zenit, but that could not stop Juve from sealing their fourth win from their opening four games for just the third time in the Champions League after doing so in 1995-96 and 2004-05.

After their ninth win in 10 home games in the competition, the Group H leaders secured qualification and Allegri saluted his side's desire following back-to-back Serie A losses.

"It's a question of wanting things, nothing else," Allegri told Mediaset post-match.

"The team has technique, everyone is growing. In the meantime, we have reached the first goal of the season."

Allegri sensed Juve were ready to put two poor results behind them.

He added: "We went to a retreat yesterday morning, we met and we had a good workout. Tomorrow morning as a reward I gave a day off, on Thursday we meet again for training."

Dybala moved past Bianconeri legend Michel Platini with a brace and imitated the Frenchman's famous celebration as he posed on the floor after his first goal.

Asked after the game about his celebration, Dybala – who has six goals and four assists in ten appearances this campaign - spoke of his adoration for Platini.

"Platini is an idol for me and for football, I hope he will watch it," Dybala said.

"I wanted to celebrate like this when I equalled his goal tally against Inter, but it was not the case in that game.

"We played as a great team and we achieved the result. We’ve reached the first target, now we want to go to London [to play Chelsea] and get the first place [in Group H]."

Paulo Dybala scored twice as Juventus confirmed their place in the Champions League round of 16 with a 4-2 victory over Zenit.

The Bianconeri had suffered consecutive domestic defeats but Dybala's first-half finish edged them ahead before Leonardo Bonucci's own goal.

Dybala restored the hosts' lead in contentious fashion after the break. The Argentina international dragged a first penalty wide but converted after a retake was ordered, with goalkeeper Stanislav Kritsyuk adjudged to be off his line.

Federico Chiesa then scored for a fourth consecutive home game in the competition and Alvaro Morata got in on the act as Massimiliano Allegri's men maintained their perfect record in Group H and claimed their spot in the knockout stages.

Sardar Azmoun's late strike was too little, too late for third-placed Zenit at Allianz Stadium.

Dybala drilled against the post from outside the area in the opening stages but the forward was on target after 11 minutes, capitalising on a loose clearance to steer a left-footed strike into the top-right corner.

The lively Dybala then set up a chance for Morata, who blasted over, and that miss proved costly when Bonucci looped a header into his own net following Vyacheslav Karavaev's cross.

Juve had a goal from Morata ruled out for offside on the stroke of half-time and the lively Dybala whipped narrowly wide after the interval, but Juve did not have to wait much longer to regain the lead.

Claudinho's foul on Chiesa gave them a penalty, which Dybala skewed wide before rolling into the bottom-right corner with a retake after Kristyuk had moved too early.

Wojciech Szczesny pushed away from Malcom as Zenit attempted to respond, while Weston McKennie fired against the crossbar at the other end.

Chiesa added a third when he latched onto Federico Bernardeschi's throughball and drilled into the right-hand corner before Morata sealed the victory with a low finish following Dybala's pass.

Azmoun poked home a late second for Zenit, but that could not stop Allegri's side from coasting through.

Juventus relied too heavily on Cristiano Ronaldo over the past three seasons, Leonardo Bonucci suggested after Wednesday's Champions League win over Zenit.

Ronaldo joined Juve in 2018 and helped the Bianconeri win Serie A twice, though they fell short of winning a 10th straight Scudetto last season.

The 36-year-old left Juve in August, heading back to Manchester United in a shock transfer. He hit the ground running at Old Trafford and, after going two games without a goal, scored the winner in the Red Devils' 3-2 comeback victory over Juve's fellow Serie A side Atalanta midweek.

While Ronaldo spearheaded United's attack in Manchester, Juve moved onto nine points in Champions League Group H as Dejan Kulusevski's 86th-minute header sealed a 1-0 win over Zenit.

It is the first time Juve have won all three of their opening Champions League group-stage matches since Massimiliano Allegri's last season in charge, back in 2018-19.

Though they have made an impressive start in Europe, Juve have laboured in the league and sit seventh heading into Sunday's derby d'Italia clash with Inter, though a win would take them onto level points with the defending champions.

Ronaldo scored 36 goals in all competitions last season, with only four players across Europe's top-five leagues managing more, but Bonucci believes Juve lost a will to "suffer and sacrifice".

"It's absolutely true, it is what we all said," Bonucci told Sky Sport Italia after the win in St Petersburg. "In the recent past, we had lost that characteristic of Juve.

"We were all playing with a great champion and wanted him to do well, so perhaps we lost that desire to all suffer and sacrifice ourselves together, because we assumed he would sort it out.

"The coach has done really well to get that spirit and humility back and we all work together now to get the result."

While Juve may have their spirit back, they did lack cutting edge for a significant portion of Wednesday's match.

Weston McKennie had passed up two previous opportunities, including what was the best chance of the game, as per Opta's expected goals (xG) value, when he saw a close-range effort saved by Stanislav Kritsyuk in the 51st minute.

Kulusevski eventually broke the deadlock when he glanced Mattia De Sciglio's cross in off the post to become Juve's second-youngest Champions League goalscorer, after the great Alessandro Del Piero.

"I will never forget this goal for as long as I live," Kulusevski told Juventus TV. "It was my debut Champions League goal, the first I have scored this season and it was even a header!"

Juve's cause in attack might have been helped by Paulo Dybala, but the Argentine forward, whose next Champions League appearance will be his 50th in the competition, was unavailable due to an injury he sustained last month.

Before the match, vice-president Pavel Nedved revealed talks over a new deal are almost resolved.

Nedved told Sky Sport Italia: "We all hope he can be on the pitch and sign the new contract. I believe we are very close to the signature, we're very happy. Paulo is very important for this team."

Juventus made it three wins from their opening three Champions League matches as Dejan Kulusevski's late header downed Zenit 1-0.

A match of few clear-cut opportunities appeared to be petering out to a draw, with Weston McKennie having previously squandered Juve's best chances.

Massimiliano Allegri's team were far from their best in St Petersburg, though Zenit offered little threat going the other way.

The decisive moment came four minutes from time, Kulusevski glancing Mattia De Sciglio's cross in off the post to bring up his maiden Champions League goal and keep Juve three points clear at the top of Group H.

Massimiliano Allegri insisted Juventus should not get carried away with their upturn in form as they have not yet achieved any success this season.

The Bianconeri struggled at the start of Allegri's second tenure, losing consecutive league matches after drawing their Serie A opener against Udinese.

However, after defeating Roma 1-0 on Sunday, Juve have now won four top-flight games in a row and six consecutive fixtures across all competitions as they prepare to face Zenit in Wednesday's Champions League clash.

But despite the positive change in results, Allegri dismissed suggestions that his side's upturn in form could be seen as a breakthrough – warning that Juve have not achieved anything yet.

"It is not the turning point of the season, we needed results," Allegri responded to reporters at Tuesday's pre-match news conference.

"The performances have improved as an approach; we have also improved in the final third where we needed a bit of clarity.

"At the beginning, we made good performances, but the results went against us with our mistakes.

"It takes calm; we don't have to be enthusiastic now because we have not done anything."

Juve have never lost against Russian opposition in Europe across eight previous encounters, while they are also looking to win their opening three matches of a Champions League campaign for the first time since 2018-19 – again under Allegri.

The Bianconeri have managed to keep four clean sheets in their last four games in the competition as well, and Allegri pinpointed their willingness to defend as a decisive factor for the improvement in results.

"I feel like smiling when they tell me 'your Juve'," the head coach said of his team's identity.

"I have good players, it's normal that at the beginning I didn't know everyone well. Right now, the team also likes to defend and this is a good thing.

"We need to improve – both the offensive and the defensive parts – then, the results increase self-esteem and you work with more serenity."

Newcastle United look set to enter the transfer market in January following their change of ownership.

The Magpies are 19th in the Premier League, with no wins and three draws from seven games this term.

The Saudi-led ownership takeover at St James' Park was officially completed on Thursday.

 

TOP STORY – NEWCASTLE ENTER CHASE FOR ICARDI

Following their big-money buyout, Newcastle have entered the race to sign Argentine forward Mauro Icardi from Paris Saint-Germain, reports Calciomercato.

Tottenham and Juventus are reportedly already interested in the 28-year-old former Inter player, who joined PSG permanently in 2020 on a four-year deal after a loan spell.

The Telegraph claims Newcastle could spend up to £190m in January without breaking Financial Fair Play rules.

ROUND-UP

- Spanish newspaper Sport claims former Liverpool winger Philippe Coutinho could join Newcastle as Barcelona seek to offload the Brazilian in January.

- Chelsea defender Antonio Rudiger is Real Madrid's number one transfer target next year, claims Spanish newspaper ABC. Rudiger's contract is due to expire at the end of this season.

- Calciomercato reports Juventus are open to a swap deal with Everton which would see Aaron Ramsey and Brazilian midfielder Allan exchange places.

Liverpool are ahead of Arsenal and Everton in the race to sign Olympiacos' Senegalese centre-back Pape Abou Cisse according to the Daily Mail.

Arsenal are considering a move for Zenit's Iranian forward Sardar Azmoun as they seek a replacement for Alexandre Lacazette, according to Onze Mondial.

- Cristiano Ronaldo wants former Juventus team-mate Federico Chiesa to join him at Manchester United, claims Calciomercato.

- The Sun reports that ex-Chelsea manager Antonio Conte would decline the chance to replace Steve Bruce as Newcastle boss.

Chelsea head coach Thomas Tuchel lauded "world class" Romelu Lukaku and praised the star's off-field impact after leading the Champions League holders past Zenit 1-0.

Lukaku was the difference on Tuesday, scoring his first Champions League goal for Chelsea, who opened their title defence with a hard-fought victory at Stamford Bridge.

After scoring a brace against Aston Villa in the Premier League on Saturday, club-record signing Lukaku backed that up with a towering 69th-minute header against the Russian champions in Group H.

Lukaku has scored four goals since arriving from Serie A champions Inter and Tuchel hailed the in-form Belgium international.

"The performance of Romelu was not easy. We didn't create many chances for him, we did not create many deliveries. But he's the type of guy who doesn't lose confidence and belief. And that is why he is here and makes him a world-class striker," Tuchel said during his post-match news conference.

"You don't find many strikers of that quality and the guys who are there to score regularly for their teams are so, so important. There are not many goals in football and goals change the momentum of the match. It gives the whole team a lot of belief that maybe one half chance, one chance is enough for him to score.

"It's not the only talent he brings, he brings belief, he himself has the belief and he takes the pressure off the shoulders of other guys around him. He has the personality not to be impatient or lose confidence. He does what he does at a very high level and we are very happy he’s with us. There are a lot of reasons we are maybe not at our top level at the moment. But right now with pre-season, new guys coming in, international breaks, and so on, I am happy with how we play and find us very competitive. We know how to handle difficulties during matches and today I liked what I have seen on the sideline because I felt the energy and the effort.

" They are a strong opponent and we have accepted and respect that. It was a tough [Aston] Villa team at the weekend and a tough Zenit team today. They changed their line-ups, their mentality when they arrived when they played us, we need to adapt and find solutions. This is what we do at the moment."

Only Bayern Munich's Robert Lewandowski (22), Borussia Dortmund sensation Erling Haaland (20) and Manchester United attacker Bruno Fernandes (17) have scored more goals than Lukaku (14) in major European competition since the start of 2019-20.

Lukaku's 14 Champions League goals have come in his last 14 appearances.

Tuchel added: "He was the type of guy we were missing in our team, the profile, but not only for the talent but also for his personality. The guy is a super humble guy, loves football, loves to train, is such a good communicator in the dressing room, and is open to everybody. That creates a certain atmosphere and energy around him within the team that we are proud of and what we want to have because we believe in it.

"The atmosphere and the spirit last year took us very far and it's important we have it again. We have it with Romelu because he loves Chelsea, he knows Chelsea, he knows what this club is all about. As I said, he is not shy to speak out loud that he’s here and to help with his goals. If we miss him for one game, or hopefully not more games, we will try to find different solutions, maybe the style will be different in how we create chances.

"But now we have him and we are very pleased that he can show these things because he gives us belief and everybody around him a lot of confidence. It is the best start for strikers to score, to be decisive. There is no talk, no video of any coach in the world that can have the same impact."

"It feels really good," Lukaku told BT Sport. "I'm really happy with the win. We kept the game under control. We have to keep growing. I think today was a better performance than on the weekend. I'm really happy with the win and really happy with the goal."

Romelu Lukaku's winner showed why Chelsea signed him, according to Thomas Tuchel after his side defeated Zenit 1-0 in their Champions League opener.

Lukaku's first European goal for the Blues proved the difference as they made it 12 group-stage games without defeat on Tuesday.

The Belgium forward now has four goals in three games against Russian opponents and only Robert Lewandowski, Erling Haaland and Bruno Fernandes have scored more than Lukaku's 14 European goals since the start of 2019-20 when he signed for Inter.

Tuchel splashed a club-record fee on the former Manchester United striker but he insisted that performances like this outing justify the transfer.

"It was an excellent header [from Lukaku for the goal], a well-timed cross by [Cesar] Azpilicueta," Tuchel told BT Sport post-match.

"He was brave enough to step up and we had bodies in the box. That's why he [Lukaku] is here. He likes to score and he's decisive for us."

In the history of the competition, only on two out of 28 occasions have the reigning champions lost the opener and no title defender has ever been beaten at home in their first group-stage tie.

Only Manchester City (11) have won more Champions League matches than Chelsea (10) since the start of last season and Tuchel was happy with his side's start to Group H.

"We had to be at our top level," the head coach continued. "I am happy because we had to work a lot. It was not easy. It's tough to perform consistently at that level.

"We expected a tough game because it's the highest competition in Europe and it's the Russian champions. It took us a while to make them tired but I liked what I saw.

"Winning is good for our belief. We are not finished but we are in a good place to improve.

"The first step is done. But there are five more matches to go [in the group stage]."

Romelu Lukaku scored his first Champions League goal for Chelsea as the holders started their title defence with a hard-fought 1-0 win over Zenit.

In Champions League history, the trophy holders have only lost their first game of the subsequent campaign on two of 27 previous occasions. Although Chelsea limited Zenit to little going the other way in this tussle, it looked as though Thomas Tuchel's side would be frustrated at Stamford Bridge.

Yet club-record signing Lukaku followed up his double against Aston Villa with a towering 69th-minute header to get the Blues up and running in Group H.

It proved decisive, but Zenit should have levelled – substitute Artem Dzyuba unable to convert from five yards out as Chelsea's profligacy went unpunished.

Despite a dominant start, Chelsea were caught cold defensively in the 12th minute, with Reece James just managing to block Claudinho's path to goal.

The trend continued, Chelsea prodding and probing without any sign of a breakthrough, Yaroslav Rakitskiy's tame 38th-minute effort marking the only attempt on target in the first half, before Lukaku headed James' cross over.

It took defender Antonio Rudiger to spark the crowd into life with a charging 50-yard run, the Germany international sending his shot just wide from the edge of the area.

Rudiger made a vital intervention at the other end, timing a challenge on Sardar Azmoun – who was heading through on goal – to perfection.

Chelsea made Rudiger's work count, Cesar Azpilicueta floating in a cross that Lukaku directed powerfully into the left corner.

Marcos Alonso drilled wide as Chelsea looked for a second, though parity should have been restored moments later.

Azmoun squared to his strike partner Dzyuba, only for the Russia forward to slice wide on the slide and let Chelsea off the hook.

Ben Chilwell was left "mentally tired" by the personal disappointment of playing no part for England at Euro 2020 and must be patient in his pursuit of minutes with Chelsea, says boss Thomas Tuchel.

Chilwell played a starring role in the Blues' Champions League final win over Manchester City just four months ago and was a mainstay in Chelsea's XI when Tuchel was appointed Frank Lampard's successor in January.

However, that triumph in Lisbon was surprisingly the full-back's last competitive match, with Gareth Southgate not using Chilwell at all during England's run to the final of Euro 2020, and Marcos Alonso playing in Chelsea's four Premier League games and European Super Cup win.

Blues boss Tuchel says the early season form of Alonso has made Chilwell's situation even more difficult but is confident he will come back fighting.

"It has been difficult for him. It's pretty normal, he came from the Champions League win and 90 minutes and a strong performance and had a strong end to the season with many important games on a high level," Tuchel said ahead of the start of Chelsea's Champions League defence against Zenit.

"Then it was personally a tough Euros, there were chances when he thought he could have played. Personally, I know it was a tough one, you feel he did everything to push the team, you don't feel it if you don't sweat it out and put on the shirt. 

"Then to keep also training for four-five weeks continuously, then he had a break, it's hard to totally relax and get this personal disappointment off the shoulders. 

"When he arrived back here, I felt him a bit mentally tired, a bit still worrying about the situation. At the same time he had to accept he was very unlucky I think during the start of the season because Marcos was here all pre-season, did every session, and took the opportunity so, so great with a great attitude, he was crucial to us and delivered in Chilly's situation. 

"I had some talks with Chilly and in the same situation he knows I would have done the same thing if the situation was the other way around. They push each other, I have no further worries with Chilly.

"He has to be patient, keep training, I had to give him a little time to be patient with himself to find joy again and find things a little easier on the pitch, not force it too hard. This is where we are now. 

"Unfortunately, we only had three subs in the last three games otherwise he would have had some minutes."

With Chelsea able to name 12 substitutes against Zenit, the likes of Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Ross Barkley and Malang Sarr may have the opportunity to press home a case for minutes.

Tuchel says anyone in the squad must be ready to play at any moment.

"It's very easy. If you get registered, it's your duty to be ready. When you get dressed at Chelsea every day, it's your duty to be ready," he added.

"When you step in the building and training pitch, you have to be ready. It's the baseline for everything. No one gets a gift here. 

"Malang is here, Ruben is here, Ross was in the squad against Aston Villa. We have a tight group, a high-quality group, they did now a first step and for whatever reason they did not find other clubs, or accept other clubs, now they deserve the next steps and to be part of this group. Once you're in this group, you have to match high expectations we have on ourselves. 

"You have to be ready, when in the group you have to be match ready, I have the feeling they are. 

"They are showing good mentality and put personal situations aside. From here no promises are made but anything could happen."

Barcelona host Bayern Munich as two Champions League heavyweights headline the first round of matchday one fixtures on Tuesday.

Barca will be without Lionel Messi for a European campaign for the first time since 2003-04 as they seek revenge against the Bundesliga outfit.

Manchester United – armed with the competition's all-time leading scorer Cristiano Ronaldo – travel to Young Boys while reigning champions Chelsea begin at home to Zenit.

Italian giants Juventus make the trip to Sweden's most successful team Malmo, who are making their first appearance in the group stage since 2015-16 following their title win in 2020.

Here, Stats Perform takes a look at the key Opta data ahead of Tuesday's fixtures.

Barcelona v Bayern Munich: Blaugrana out to make amends

Barcelona and Bayern Munich have not met in the group stages since 1998-99, but the Bundesliga side did inflict Barca's heaviest defeat since April 1951 with an 8-2 crushing in 2019-20's quarter-finals.

There are remarkable records at stake for both sides as well, Bayern boasting the longest unbeaten away run in the history of the competition (18), while Barca are unbeaten in their last 22 group-stage openers – stretching back to 1997-98.

However, Julian Nagelsmann's side have won 17 opening games in a row and they also have Robert Lewandowski to call upon, the forward scoring 28 times since the start of 2018-19 – eight more than any other Champions League player.

 

Young Boys v Manchester United: Ronaldo returns for another record

Young Boys have won only one of 13 games against English opponents in European competition as they prepare for Manchester United, who have lost just one of their last 21 openers.

However, United have been beaten in six of their 10 Champions League matches under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer – as many as they did in their last 20 under Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho.

Having not appeared for the Red Devils in 12 years and 110 days – the fourth longest gap between appearances for the same club – Cristiano Ronaldo could equal the all-time appearance record in the Champions League, moving level with Iker Casillas on 177.

Chelsea v Zenit: History favours the champions

The reigning Champions League champions have only lost two of 27 games when starting their title defence, with no side ever losing a home game immediately following continental success.

Zenit face an uphill battle, given they are winless in their last seven fixtures, while Chelsea are unbeaten in 11 games in the group stage.

Indeed, the Blues are unbeaten in six matches against Russian teams and, since the start of last season, no team have lost fewer matches (1) or kept more clean sheets (9).

 

Malmo v Juventus: Allegri's away-day specialists

Tuesday will be Malmo head coach Jon Dahl Tomasson's managerial debut in the competition after last appearing as a player for Milan in the 2005 final.

The hosts, though, have scored just three goals across 10 previous appearances, while Juventus have won their last five group stage away games.

The visitors will also have Alvaro Morata available, the forward one of only three Spaniards to score more than 20 Champions League goals after netting six times in eight matches last term.

 

Other fixtures:

Dynamo Kyiv v Benfica

143 – Dynamo Kyiv manager Mircea Lucescu (76) and Benfica's Jorge Jesus' (67) combined age of 143 is the oldest of two managers to face off in the Champions League.

25 – The hosts are one of 25 teams to play 100 or more fixtures in the competition, but they have the third worst loss percentage (49) behind Olympiacos (52) and Galatasaray (51).

Lille v Wolfsburg

1 – Lille have only managed one win against German opposition in nine attempts in European competition, last prevailing in 2002.

5 – Wolfsburg have won five of their last six Champions League games and have scored twice in four of those victories.

Sevilla v Red Bull Salzburg

64 – Sevilla's Youssef En-Nesyri is averaging a Champions League goal every 64 minutes, recording three braces for his six goals in eight games last campaign.

2 – Red Bull Salzburg have only won two of their last 15 matches in the competition, but both of them have come away from home against Genk and Lokomotiv Moscow.

Villarreal v Atalanta

15 – Villarreal forward Gerard Moreno has 15 Europa League goals but has never played in Europe's premier competition – since 1992-93 only three players have scored more and not played in the Champions League.

5 – Atalanta have won five of their last six away games, only losing against Real Madrid, while they have also progressed from their two previous group stage campaigns.

Jon Dahl Tomasson almost won it all as a player.

A Champions League under iconic Italian boss Carlo Ancelotti at Milan, to go with Serie A, Coppa Italia and Coppa Italia honours. Add the UEFA Cup, Eredivisie and Johan Cruijff Shield during his time with Feyenoord.

Now, Tomasson finds himself at the helm of Swedish giants Malmo, who are embarking on their first Champions League group-stage campaign since 2015-16, after snapping the club's title drought in 2020.

Malmo – the most successful team in Sweden – had not won the Allsvenskan since 2017, however Tomasson delivered the trophy in his first season at Eleda Stadion, an achievement culminating in him being named Manager of the Year.

After ending Malmo's domestic wait last term, Malmo will face holders Chelsea, Italian powerhouses Juventus and Russian giants Zenit in Group H after Tomasson guided the 1978-79 European Cup runners-up through the qualifying rounds as the 45-year-old's coaching career continues to gather momentum.

Tomasson is set to take charge of his first Champions League match as a coach, having appeared as a player 42 times in the competition between 1997 and 2005 for Newcastle, Feyenoord and Milan. His last game came in the 2005 final against Liverpool, scoring one of Milan's two successful penalties in the shoot-out defeat.

"Before we qualified for the Champions League, we're allowed to dream big. Now we're there," Tomasson told Stats Perform, ahead of Malmo's matchday-one showdown at home to Juve on Tuesday.

"In a way, it's a dream which we should live. At the end of the day, we have ambitions as well. We know we play against very good clubs. We're the biggest club in Scandinavia, but it is a lot to do with money. We can't compare to each other. But we beat Rangers and Ludogorets. The other clubs are also very big.

"Hopefully we can upset a few people. We are ambitious and will do our best, being well prepared. We have a great team spirit. In that way, we can achieve some upsets. We have to be realistic also. We will live that fairytale."

"I won the Champions League and UEFA Cup, also lost a Champions League final," said Tomasson, whose Malmo saw off Riga FC and HJK before upstaging Scottish champions Rangers and Bulgarian titleholders Ludogorets en route to the group phase. "But seeing the boys working together, coping with difficult moments in the game. It makes you proud as a coach. I'm really satisfied so far. It gives me satisfaction for sure.

Tomasson's career as a striker was a successful one – the 45-year-old remains Denmark's all-time leading goalscorer (52) alongside Poul Nielsen. Twice named Danish Player of the Year, the former Heerenveen, Newcastle, Feyenoord, Milan, Stuttgart and Villarreal frontman called time on his career 2011.

Tomasson's coaching career officially started at Excelsior as an assistant before a brief stint in charge of the Dutch side, followed by a short spell at Roda JC in the Netherlands.

"Each experience gives you something, whether it is successful or unsuccessful," he said. "As a person and a coach you'll learn from that. It's a part of getting an education down the road and it's an education that will never stop."

However, Tomasson's journey started long before he stopped playing.

"It came quite natural [coaching]," he said. "I had been captain of the Denmark national team for many years. Then you get a bit of responsibility, you start thinking in a different way. You think about the team, it's not just 'me, me, me'. In a way it started quite early, thinking about tactical things.

"I was also a very young boy when I went to Holland and Holland is of course a country which likes to develop young people and football players. I can remember my manager Foppe de Haan, he brought me to games, to analyse games, to develop as a person and football head should develop. I was going with him to games. I was analysing them.

"In a way, I also tried to do a bit of that at Malmo, I was a bit inspired.  All of our youngsters, they are analysing and making presentations for the technical staff so they start to think about football in a different way. Also, to come out of their comfort zone. Make it a bit tough of them to deal with new things."

"I love football, I eat football if it's possible. I had a lot of great coaches during my football career. I had some big coaching names, like Ancelotti, [Manuel] Pellegrini, Bert van Marwijk, Leo Beenhakker. All of those coaches, they give you inspiration," Tomasson continued.

Tomasson, who left boyhood club Koge for Heerenveen in 1994, has been inspired by his journey across Europe.

"I started as a young boy in Holland, so I have a lot of inspiration for the Dutch school," he said. "But I've been in Italy, Spain, Germany and England, so I'm more inspired through an international way of thinking. Football is of course a game, you win it with the head. It's chess on grass.

"Malmo, we want to be dominant with and without the ball. Very flexible with our tactical approach, with different formations and be able to change during games."

Tomasson's Malmo have been dominant under the Dane, who made the short trip across the Oresund Strait after leaving his position as assistant coach of Denmark.

Malmo clinched the league crown by nine points last term and scored a league-high 64 goals in 30 matches – their best return since netting the same amount in 1965.

"When I was working with Denmark for three-and-a-half years, in a way, it was tough to just leave," Tomasson added. "Working with the best players. We were unbeaten for three years also and had great team spirit. It was tough. But the project at Malmo was so ambitious. It was a tough but very easy decision to make because it's a very interesting project. It suits me well.

"It's been very successful but also say surprising but not at all, we tried to plan it. I was appointed to change things, to change the age of the group, to play a more attractive way, dominant with the ball. Get more youngsters into the team and develop those boys and still win something because at Malmo, it's a club with big ambition – one of the biggest in Scandinavia. The biggest at the moment because we're playing in the Champions League. Historically, it's a very big club but didn't win anything for three years, so it was very important to win the league last season. You need to win, qualify for Europe, develop players. Quite ambitious but I like those ambitious.

"We managed to change a lot in a positive way. Develop those youngers, who we need to sell as well. Play a more modern way of football. It's been a perfect journey so far, winning the silverware last season and now qualifying for the Champions League.

"It's a terrific achievement for the club – being among those 32 teams. It's like football heaven, a dream come true. Try to deal with those things coming up. Winning four qualifying rounds before actually going into the Champions League isn't easy. Winning away to Rangers with 10 men and playing against Ludogorets, a team with a totally different budget to us. At the end of the day, money decides a lot of things in football."

As Tomasson's coaching reputation grows in Europe, what does the future hold for the 112-time former international?

"It's okay to dream big, but it's also difficult to plan anything as a manager. I work hard every day to become better. At the moment, I'm looking forward to play this Champions League with Malmo. We also want to win the title like we did last season."

"Every manager has their own path to walk. It's difficult to plan. You can't plan it, so you jump on the train when you need to," he continued.

As a club, previous form is against Malmo – they have lost 83 per cent of their Champions League matches (P12 W2 D0 L10). It is the joint-highest losing percentage of sides to have played at least 10 matches in the competition, alongside Maccabi Tel Aviv and Rapid Vienna.

Malmo have only scored three goals in their last 10 Champions League games, failing to score in eight of the fixtures in this run. Meanwhile, the Swedish side have conceded a total of 34 goals across those 10 matches at an average of 3.4 per game.

But Tomasson's new-look Malmo – who boast 15 players aged 25 or younger in the squad – continue to impress in 2021. Di Blae have only lost one of their past 28 home fixtures in the league, dating back to August 2019, while the Champions League – albeit in the qualifying rounds – they are eight matches unbeaten on home soil.

Antonio Colak has flourished since arriving on loan from PAOK – the Croatian forward scored five of Malmo's 13 goals in qualifying, making him the highest scoring player for any team during the qualification rounds.

The likes of younger pair Veljko Birmancevic (23) and Anel Ahmedhodzic (22) have also starred, developing further under Tomasson's watchful eye.

"He's done well," Tomasson said of new signing Birmancevic, who arrived from Serbian side Cukaricki in the offseason and has scored 11 goals this term, including four in the Champions League qualifying rounds. "The whole team have done an excellent job. He's a young boy. He is coping with a new country and way of playing, with different mentality and manager. But slowly, you can see the progress he has made. A very talented player with special skills and skills we love - goals, one against one, speed. Each team are searching for that quality."

On Bosnia-Herzegovina international centre-back Ahmedhodzic, Tomasson added: "When I arrived here, the first thing I did was put him into the team. He had been on loan in Denmark. Now he is playing for his national team. A great player, a good central defender with a great foot. A player I like. You need to defend as well but also quality on the ball if you want to dominate like I want to."

Could a Premier League return be on the cards for Leroy Sane?

Sane swapped Manchester City for Bayern Munich in 2020, however, it has not gone according to plan in his native Germany.

Chelsea are reportedly trying to lure Sane back to England.

 

TOP STORY – SANE TO MAKE ENGLAND RETURN?

Chelsea are keen to sign Leroy Sane from Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich, according to the Express.

Sane left Manchester City for Bayern in 2020 but the Germany international has struggled for form in Munich.

Champions League holders Chelsea – led by German boss Thomas Tuchel – are reportedly targeting Sane and are willing to include Callum Hudson-Odoi, Hakim Ziyech or Christian Pulisic in any deal.

 

ROUND-UP

Manchester United could target Inter midfielder Marcelo Brozovic in January, per Manchester Evening News. Brozovic is nearing the end of his Inter contract, with Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona also among the Croatia international's admirers. The report has also linked United with Barca's Pedri and Borussia Monchengladbach forward Dennis Zakaria, who has been previously linked to City and Inter.

Liverpool are continuing contract talks with star Mohamed Salah, says the Liverpool Echo, which claims Salah is not asking for £500,000 per week, despite previous reports. Salah has been linked with Real Madrid and Barcelona previously.

Franck Ribery is set to join Serie A newcomers Salernitana on a free transfer, according to Fabrizio Romano. The former Bayern and France star has been without a club since leaving Fiorentina at the end of 2020-21.

- Corriere dello Sport claims Roma are hoping to sign Zenit star Sardar Azmoun on a free transfer at the end of the season.

- The front page of Monday's Tuttosport claims Inter are eyeing soon-to-be free agents Lorenzo Insigne of Napoli and Bayern midfielder Corentin Tolisso. Insigne has previously been linked with Milan and Liverpool, while the likes of United, Arsenal, Tottenham and Roma have been credited with interest in Tolisso.

- Calciomercato reports Inter are considering Ajax goalkeeper Andre Onana as a long-term replacement for Samir Handanovic.

Tammy Abraham appears close to leaving Stamford Bridge.

With Romelu Lukaku arriving at Chelsea from Serie A, Roma are calling for Abraham.

Or will he remain in the Premier League? 

 

TOP STORY – ROMA PUSHING FOR ABRAHAM

The dominoes appear to be falling into place for Tammy Abraham's move to Roma, and the Italian club are pushing for a decision from the player, reports Fabrizio Romano. 

With Edin Dzeko expected to complete his move to Inter in the coming days and Romelu Lukaku now officially a Chelsea player, Abraham could complete the triangle with a jump to Serie A. 

Multiple outlets have said the two clubs already have agreed a £34million (€40m) fee. 

Arsenal remain a possibility to land Abraham should the Roma move not work out. 

If that happens, Jose Mourinho's side have lined up Kelechi Iheanacho as their next option, according to Sky Sports. 

 

ROUND-UP

- Villarreal want €65m (£55m) for Spain international Pau Torres, and the Times says Tottenham are ready to pounce with Manchester City, Manchester United and Liverpool also interested. 

- Paris Saint-Germain could make a move for Napoli's Kalidou Koulibaly to fill the hole left by Sergio Ramos' injury, says La Gazzetta dello Sport. The Serie A club will want €50m (£43m) for the veteran centre-back.

- Liverpool are interested in adding Adama Traore, but Wolves want £40m for the forward, according to 90min. 

- West Ham have long been the favourites to land Nikola Milenkovic from Fiorentina but Sky Sports says Tottenham have entered the frame for the Serbia defender. 

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was not in attendance for Arsenal's season-opening defeat at Brentford due to illness and The Times reports he could be on his way out at Emirates Stadium. 

- Manchester United are poised to loan out Amad Diallo, reports Romano, with Crystal Palace and Basel among those interested in the young Ivory Coast winger.

- Everton have approached United about another potential loan, for Andreas Pereira, though Romano says United prefer a permanent move. 

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