Sporting CP v Tottenham Hotspur
After losing back-to-back matches to Porto (0-3) and Chaves (0-2), Rúben Amorim’s Sporting have bounced back with a strong start to September, beating Estoril Praia 2-0, beating Eintracht Frankfurt 3-0 in Germany, and trouncing Portimonense 4-0, and they’ll be looking to continue that form as they welcome Antonio Conte’s Tottenham at the Estádio José Alvalade in the Champions League. Apart from a 2-2 draw at Chelsea and a 1-1 draw at West Ham, Spurs have won each of their five fixtures this season, and unlike Sporting, they have enjoyed a week of rest in the build-up after beating Marseille 2-0 on Wednesday and not playing any Premier League fixture this weekend. This match will see two reunions from either side; Eric Dier, who played at Sporting from 2003 to 2014, will return to his former stomping grounds, whilst Marcus Edwards, who played at Tottenham from 2006 to 2019, will face off against his former club.
Whilst Tottenham will be missing Lucas Moura for the clash, Sporting are without two center backs in Jeremiah St. Juste and Luís Neto, meaning that Gonçalo Inácio – who was subbed out vs. Portimonense as a precaution – will start in the back three alongside Sebastián Coates and Matheus Reis, whilst Pedro Porro and Nuno Santos will operate as wingbacks. Whilst Sporting have strung together three straight wins and three straight clean sheets, their defensive record has been an issue this season as seen in the 3-3 draw to Braga or the recent defeats to Chaves and Porto. This is a team, after all, that is still reeling from the departures of starting midfield duo Matheus Nunes and João Palhinha, and between Inácio, whose youthful mistakes have become increasingly common in recent months, and Reis and Coates, whose form has also taken a downturn, I’m not confident that Sporting will have enough in the tank to prevent a Tottenham side featuring Richarlison, Harry Kane, Dejan Kulusevski and Heung-min Son from getting on the score sheet. Tottenham are fully rested and have fewer major absences than Sporting, and I’m expecting the hosts’ run of clean sheets to come to an end – despite a wealth of attacking talent in Francisco Trincão, Pote and Marcus Edwards, Spurs are an organized outfit who should be able to cope against a Sporting side that does not have a recognized striker with Paulinho gradually making his way back to full fitness and unlikely to start. I’m expecting Tottenham to come out with a victory in Lisbon and go three points clear atop Group D.
Liverpool v Ajax
Much has been made of Liverpool’s indifferent start to the season, with the midfield being the main issue so far. The 4-1 defeat to Napoli capped off a miserable start, which will make fans feel nervous before playing an in-form Ajax.
As usual, the Dutch side underwent a summer of change, with head coach Erik Ten Hag and several key players moving on to even bigger things over the last few months. Replacement Alfred Schreuder has made a promising start though, winning six out of six in the Eredivisie, and leading his side to a scintillating 4-0 win over Rangers in their opening Champions League game.
Whilst centre-back Calvin Bassey looks set to be fit for Ajax, and with the Amsterdam club having the best defensive record in the Eredivisie thus far, defence remains an issue at the highest level. The full-back areas could be exposed if Ajax continue their trend of taking on tough opposition rather than sitting back.
Dangerous for the visitors will be in-form forwards Steven Bergwijn (once of Spurs) and Mohammed Kudus (an attacking midfielder likely to play as a false nine) – both players still have a point to prove, and they’re playing very well, with winger Bergwijn up against Liverpool’s out-of-form right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold.
Even though the odds are growing shorter, my pick remains ‘both teams to score’ given the way Liverpool and Ajax will take each other on; the home side need a win to pick up their season, and Ajax seemingly fearless in their approach.
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