Alex Keble picks out four key battles ahead of the fourth round of Champions League group games, including why playing at Stamford Bridge could prove to be a disadvantage for Chelsea...
"Chelsea have won eight points from five home games in the Premier League this season and 15 from six on their travels, scoring a meagre seven at Stamford Bridge."
Chelsea v Ajax
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Chelsea have won eight points from five home games in the Premier League this season and 15 from six on their travels, scoring a meagre seven at Stamford Bridge. This is because they play a more expansive game in front of their own fans, making them far more vulnerable on the counter-attack, and because the opposition sit much deeper at Stamford Bridge, limiting space for the likes of Mason Mount and Willian.
Ajax should benefit like many before them. The Dutch side were impressive when breaking a fortnight ago, piercing through Chelsea's soft centre with rapid short-passing football (without N'Golo Kante, Frank Lampard's side remain too decompressed, leaving huge open patches of grass unmanned). Donny van de Beek, Hakim Ziyech, and Quincy Promes and cause havoc around Jorginho.
Christian Pulisic's superb form suggests Chelsea can still score at least once against Ajax, but don't let their impressive 1-0 win in Amsterdam fool you; this is the more difficult of the two games.
Dortmund v Inter Milan
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Level on points after three games and trailing runaway leaders Barcelona, this match is more or less a playoff for second place in Group F. The hosts have drawn four of their last five Bundesliga matches, reflecting a growing unease in attack as the goals dry up for Paco Alcacer and Jadon Sancho; this is a terrible time, then, to play an Antonio Conte defence.
Inter's 3-5-2 is rock solid, a deep-lying defensive structure that offers no space whatsoever in the final third. Dortmund managed just five shots on goal a fortnight ago in the San Siro, deservedly losing 2-0. Lucien Favre was partially to blame for picking a flat 3-4-3 formation that meant the German outfit only had three on three in attack, and yet Dortmund were unlikely to get anything no matter the system.
Dortmund should return to a 4-2-3-1 for this one, and yet even with the extra width Sancho and Thorgan Hazard will likely be slowed right down by Inter's aggressive wing-backs. Expect a low-tempo, tense encounter with very few goals.
Red Star v Tottenham
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Red Star folded pretty woefully at the Tottenham Hotspur stadium in the last round of fixtures, but Spurs would be naive to assume this match will be as easy. The Serbian side are a completely different proposition on home soil, not only beating Olympiacos 3-1 earlier this season but also losing just once in last year's group stage, drawing 0-0 with Napoli and beating Liverpool 2-0.
They averaged 27% possession in those two games, reflecting a dogged defensive performance that, coupled with a hostile atmosphere, will emotionally affect a Spurs team struggling for confidence. Consequently this should be a wearying contest, defined by one or two moments of quality.
Fortunately for Mauricio Pochettino, Heung-Min Son - if deemed in a fit state to play following what happened at Goodison Park on Sunday - can be the provider from the left wing up against right-back Marko Gobeljic. Son terrorised him a fortnight ago, but Gobeljic was also completely out of his depth in the 3-0 loss at Bayern, in which Lucas Hernandez and Ivan Perisic were dominant. It is a pivotal mismatch that favours the English side.
Atalanta v Man City
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It's a similar story for Man City, who despite winning 5-1 at the Etihad will ready themselves for a much sterner test in Italy. Gian Piero Gasperini plays wonderful flowing football in a complex 3-4-1-2, and after a shaky start to the campaign they got back on track with a 7-1 over Udinese recently. However, they have also conceded two or more goals on eight separate occasions this season, highlighting the downside to such bold attacking tactics.
With Atalanta keen to dominate possession and instruct the wing-backs to bomb forward, it is easy to imagine Man City simply gliding through the defence once again. Raheem Sterling was sensational, scoring a hat-trick, precisely because he operates at speed in the half-space between the centre-back and too-high wing-back. But Atalanta's attack does mean that the ropey City defence will come under some pressure; this game ought to provide lots of goals.