The Champions League gets underway shortly after the current international break and there should be plenty of excitement in store with some of the high-profile clubs facing each other. However, one particular group in H should gather the most attention with Europa League holders Chelsea pitted against Lille, Valencia and last season’s Champions League semi-finalists Ajax.
Here is a preview on each of the teams..
Chelsea – Premier League: Chelsea have gone through a period of transition following the departure of their talisman in Eden Hazard. Their year-long transfer ban has meant that new manager Frank Lampard has introduced a number of young graduates to the first-team squad and the likes of Mason Mount and Tammy Abraham have already caught the attention with standout displays. Still, the defence remains a weak point with them having conceded more goals than any Premier League side after the opening four games and that needs to be worked out for them to progress to the knockout stage of the Champions League. Abraham has recently been the man of the moment for the Blues with back-to-back braces against Norwich City and Sheffield United but it remains to be seen whether he can perform against the big boys.
Lille – Ligue 1: Comparing to the other teams in the group, Lille are probably considered as the weak link. The French outfit did tremendously to finish second behind Paris Saint-Germain in the league standings last term and that has contributed to their return to the Champions League after a seven-year absence. Similar to Chelsea, they parted ways with their main contributor in the form of Nicolas Pepe to Arsenal and their prospects of progressing to the knockout stage of the elite competition will depend on whether the young front duo of Victor Osimhen and Timothy Weah can hit the heights in Europe following their summer moves. The former has not wasted any time in making an impression in Ligue 1 with four goals from as many games.
Valencia – La Liga: Los Che made the shock decision to sack manager Marcelino after just three games into the new season following his fallout with owner Peter Lim. With the change in head coach, the Spanish outfit remain tough to predict but they have the players to beat the best on their day. The La Liga outfit were ousted at the semi-final stage of the Europa League last term but they ended the season on a high with a fourth-place finish while sealing a shock Copa de Rey final triumph over Barcelona. Unlike the above teams, Los Che were not largely hampered during the summer transfer window and with Maxi Gomez, they have another potent goalscoring option upfront. The Uruguayan has yet to command a starting spot, but he has already impressed after finding the net in a 5-2 defeat to Barcelona before the international break.
Ajax – Eredivisie: The Dutch champions saw an exodus of players during the summer with Frenkie de Jong, Matthijs de Ligt, Lasse Schone and Kasper Dolberg among the high-profile departures. Ajax missed out on the Champions League final last season after the dramatic late defeat to Tottenham Hotspur but a repeat of a similar performance seems unlikely after the summer overhaul. Still, there have a relatively good squad with a number of key attacking players including Donny van de Beek, David Neres, Hakim Ziyech and Dusan Tadic and their progress may depend on the defensive displays. Edson Alvarez has impressed in the holding midfield role following his summer arrival but the key focus should be on Joel Veltman. The Dutchman has been a rotational player in recent seasons but he has now been offered with the opportunity to cement the central defensive partnership alongside Daley Blind.