It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and I’m not referring to — or at least I’m not only referring to — pumpkin-spice season, which I have to admit I kinda don’t hate.
There’s nothing like the six Champions League group matchdays: with eight games apiece every Tuesday and Wednesday, it’s a ton to keep up with, but somebody’s got to do it.
With this year’s compressed schedule, we’re going to be drowning in UCL matches for the rest of October. Matchday 1 is scheduled for October 20-21, followed by matchday 2 on October 27-28 and matchday 3 on Nov. 3-4. Here’s to hoping these watchability guides help you make sense of it all!
Notes: the tiers are self-explanatory, I hope. All kickoff times listed are U.S. eastern and the home team is listed first.
TIER 1 – MUST-SEE
1. Bayern Munich (-200) vs. Atlético Madrid (+525) Wednesday, 3 p.m.
Does this really require an explanation? You have to watch Bayern Munich, regardless of the opposition, after the clinic they put on throughout the UCL a year ago. This will be our first indication of whether the Bavarians are the same, a little better or worse than the juggernaut they were a year ago. It says a lot about Bayern that a team as proven in the UCL as Atleti is +550. This will be more interesting and compelling than that would indicate, even if I agree that an upset is a long shot.
2. PSG (-177) vs. Manchester United (+430) Tuesday, 3 p.m.
We’ll stick with another ’19-20 Champions League finalist, as runner-up PSG meets a Manchester United team off to an awful start through three EPL games. It’s hard to say what was more embarrassing between the season-opening 3-1 loss to Crystal Palace and the 6-1 meltdown vs. Tottenham on October 4.
Roster-wise, it’s clear who’s superior here, but this one is at the top of the list because of what’s at stake for OGS and ManU.
3. Chelsea (+104) vs. Sevilla (+270) Tuesday, 3 p.m.
Listeners to the High Press Pod will probably be surprised I didn’t have this at No. 1 considering how high I am on Sevilla. But even I can admit that Bayern-Atleti is the marquee fixture of this matchday. That doesn’t mean Chelsea-Sevilla should be slept on, as Frank Lampard’s squad full of headline summer signings has a tough test at home vs. the reigning Europa League champs. Expect Sevilla’s Lucas Ocampos to wreak havoc in an entertaining upset by the La Liga club.
TIER 2 – WORTH A LOOK (AND A SHORTER BREAKDOWN)
4. Lazio (+225) vs. Borussia Dortmund (+108) Tuesday, 3 p.m.
I nearly put this one in Tier 1, but it didn’t quite make the cut.
Is Lazio the team that looked so good before the pandemic last year, or the one that struggled after play resumed? So far this season (they’ve beaten Cagliari, been blown out by Atalanta and earned a draw vs. Inter Milan), the jury’s still out, as far as I can tell. The clash with Borussia Dortmund will be informative, and it will also almost certainly be high-scoring thanks to Jadon Sancho, Erling Braut Haaland and American (!) – that never gets old – Gio Reyna.
Maybe this belongs in Tier 1, after all …
5. Inter Milan (-152) vs. Borussia Monchengladbach (+425) Wednesday, 3 p.m.
I’m convinced Inter has a real shot to end Juventus’ long reign atop Serie A. I’m still upset these guys failed to advance to knockout play a year ago, where they probably could have made some noise, but their chance to rectify this starts Wednesday.
I won’t pretend to have a ton of Monchengladbach insight, but a quick glance at their results shows that they’re struggling domestically, with one win through their first three Bundesliga games this year. Their 3-0 loss to BVB in the opener is not a good sign for their Champions League hopes, either.
This might be another one that’s in the wrong tier, but we’ll leave it here out of respect for Antonio Conte’s coaching acumen, and mane.
6. Ajax (+500) vs. Liverpool (-175) Wednesday, 3 p.m.
Let me be the 138,010,413,098th person to lament this match-up not being the Champions League final back in May ’19. I won’t list off all the Ajax stars who have left over the last two offseasons, but there’s been a slew of them. Liverpool, on the other hand, is among the favorites to win this thing.
I don’t expect this game to be close, but it is nevertheless in Tier 2 because A) you really can’t put a game involving a Jurgen Klopp-coached squad any lower and B) maybe this will be our first look at the Ajax stars of tomorrow?
7. Olympiakos (+143) vs. Marseille (+210) Wednesday, 3 p.m.
This is one of the tightest lines on the board. It’s also very possible that one of these teams reaches the knockout rounds, as no one in Group C other than Manchester City appears terribly imposing. A high-stakes coin flip is worth a look, no matter how low-profile the squads are.
TIER 3 – THERE’S ALWAYS WORSE THINGS TO BE DOING THAN WATCHING SOCCER
8. Rennes (-125) vs. Krasnodar (+340) Tuesday, 3 p.m.
If you haven’t heard about 17-year-old Rennes star Eduardo Camavinga, you will soon. The French central midfielder is on the verge of being the ’20-21 version of Joao Felix before his move to Atleti, Erling Haaland before he joined Borussia Dortmund, etc. The rising star is worth a look on his own, and his team is tied for first in Ligue 1 on 15 points through seven games.
9. RB Salzburg (-180) vs. Lokomotiv Moscow (+480) Wednesday, 12:55 p.m.
Without Haaland or Takumi Minamino, this is not the same RB Salzburg club that was so entertaining in group play a year ago, but these guys would still be worth watching, regardless of their coach. Because they have an American manager in Jesse Marsch and a new USMNT signing in Brenden Aaronson, there’s no way I could put this one in Tier 4.
10. Manchester City (-400) vs. Porto (+1,050) Wednesday, 3 p.m.
Most teams facing an opponent priced at +1,000 or more would be pretty trustworthy – and you could count on the game being a romp – but we saw what happened the last time Manchester City met an “overmatched” opponent in European play. I’m referring to their stunning loss to Lyon in last year’s UCL quarterfinal, which wasn’t their first slip-up in this tournament.
11. Midtjylland (+540) vs. Atalanta (-205) Wednesday, 3 p.m.
I can’t overstate my respect for Midtjylland and what they’ve accomplished in … who am I kidding, I have no idea what Atalanta is up against here. But after seeing what Atalanta did both domestically and in Europe a year ago – and how they did it – none of their games will be in Tier 4, even when they’re a massive favorite.