Last season's Champions League surprise package have had an up-and-down start to the season but are dangerous, writes Andy Brassell, with Chelsea facing an improved Rennes and Rangers going to Benfica with something to prove.
"If we know Atalanta’s philosophy well, we’re not sure what to expect when Liverpool arrive as they’ve been most erratic – not least in the last Champions League game against Ajax, in which they dug themselves out of a two-goal hole to take a point."
Which Atalanta shows up against Liverpool?
Atalanta had a decent warm-up for meeting the Premier League champions, by winning 2-1 at relegation favourites Crotone on Saturday. To use any superlatives about it would be misleading, with the victory more of a relief than a joy after an afternoon that was harder than it should have been.
Victory, in fact, was imperative for Gian Piero Gasperini's side after successive Serie A defeats and emphatic ones at that, firstly at Napoli and then at home to Sampdoria, a pair of games that emphasised the defensive shortcomings which might undermine La Dea's grasp for greatness this season. With 13 goals conceded in six games, they are in the division's bottom six in terms of defending so far.
One element that will have pleased Gasperini was the fettle of his attacking options. Luis Muriel came in to score the brace which won the game, while Duvan Zapata and Josip Ilicic had a rest. If we know Atalanta's philosophy well, we're not sure what to expect when Liverpool arrive as they've been most erratic - not least in the last Champions League game against Ajax, in which they dug themselves out of a two-goal hole to take a point. We can be sure, however, that Jürgen Klopp and company face a unique challenge.
Back Atalanta and Liverpool to draw at 4.1
Rennes want to show their progress
On Rennes' last visit to London, nearly 20 months ago, they arrived full of hope, defending a 3-1 lead as they visited Arsenal in the Europa League round of 16. The callow nature of Julien Stéphan's side was evident, sadly for them, as they went two down in the first 15 minutes before being finished off late on.
Yet just as Stéphan had led his team a long way to get to that point, they are even further along now. Rennes take the field at Stamford Bridge as a Champions League team that has every intention of being one on a consistent basis. The club has spent heavily in recent times to move on to the next level - the nominal replacement for Raphinha, who joined Leeds, was 18-year-old Jeremy Doku, who cost €26 million.
Moreover there's some experience there, led by Steven N'Zonzi, but Rennes still looked a long way behind Sevilla last week, and were flattered by their 1-0 defeat. There is grit to Stéphan's men, however, and they stayed in touch in Ligue 1 by coming from behind to grind out a 2-1 win over Brest this weekend. Their prowess from set pieces - which saw both centre-backs, Damien Da Silva and Nayef Aguerd, on the scoresheet on Saturday - should test Chelsea. With a trip to Paris Saint-Germain up next, this road trip is Rennes' chance to prove they belong with the big boys.
Back under 2.5 goals between Chelsea and Rennes at 2.3611/8
Rangers test their European mettle in Lisbon
Steven Gerrard's side continue to delight and confound in equal measure in Europa. Last season's run to the last 16 of the Europa League, which took in victories over Porto, Feyenoord and Braga, began in the first qualifying round and was a huge achievement.
This time, Rangers dumped Turkish giants Galatasaray out in qualifying and have shown their ambition now stretches to getting results on the road too, with a win at Standard Liège kicking off their group stage. Gerrard and company are a serious proposition in this group. The biggest test is to come this week, though.
Rangers visit Benfica, who lost their 100% record on Monday night's game with Boavista and the scorers of seven goals in their opening two group stage fixtures. The Portuguese giants' squad was built for the Champions League, from which they were unexpectedly evicted by PAOK in qualifying, but they have recovered well and have attacking talent to burn in Darwin Nuñez, Luca Waldschmidt and Haris Seferović - and that's just the front part of the team. If Rangers can go to Lisbon and get a result, or perhaps even just push Jorge Jesus' side to the limit, we'll know they are really serious this year.
Back over 3.5 goals between Benfica and Rangers at 3.39/4