Andy Brassell on European Football: Dortmund's wisdom, Lille minus Pépé and fearsome Benfica

Borussia Dortmund's Mats Hummels
Dortmund hope the return of Mats Hummels will add the experience to take Bayern to the wire

European football columnist Andy Brassell returns to discuss the major talking points across the continent, and he likes the look of Dortmund, Benfica and even Lille, despite star man Nicolas Pépé joining Arsenal...

"It seems trite to say that BVB will never have a better chance of wresting the Meisterschale from Bayern – they did let a nine-point lead slip last season, after all – but their odds to win it for the first time since 2012 are generous considering the uncertainty in Bavaria, not least over coach Niko Kovač’s long-term viability."

Dortmund show the sense in doing their business early

Drawing hard and fast conclusions from the first game of the season is a blind alley - particularly in Germany, where the Bundesliga kick-off is prefaced a week before by the opening round of the DfB Pokal, a task replete with danger for top-flight teams still in search of their optimal condition.

We have a little more on which to judge Borussia Dortmund, having seen them beat Bayern Munich in the Super Cup a further week before, and Saturday's hard-fought win at third-tier Uerdingen means that we have seen two different shades of Lucien Favre's team already.

While neither display was perfect, there's already a sheen of confidence to Dortmund, who were able to dig deep to fend off a potential giantkilling after looking near to their sleek best against the champions. They got their transfer business done early so Thorgan Hazard, Nico Schulz and Julian Brandt can settle into a stable environment, to which the returning Mats Hummels should add poise.

The contrast with their big rivals, still searching for reinforcements after potential deals for Callum Hudson-Odoi and Leroy Sané fell through and led them to signing Ivan Perisić, is notable. It seems trite to say that BVB will never have a better chance of wresting the Meisterschale from Bayern - they did let a nine-point lead slip last season, after all - but their odds of 5.24/1 to win it for the first time since 2012 are generous considering the uncertainty in Bavaria, not least over coach Niko Kovač's long-term viability.

Lille look like they'll be OK without Nicolas Pépé

This season was always going to be a case of after the Lord Mayor's show for Lille, who stunned France by finishing second to Paris Saint-Germain just a year after Marcelo Bielsa's shambolic reign almost saw them relegated. Given their success and their precarious financial situation, a part-clearout was always on the cards this summer, and the big-money exits of star turns Nicolas Pépé (Arsenal) and Rafael Leão (Milan) threatened to push them back towards the pack.

It was a huge boost then for them to see their new signing Victor Osimhen start the season with such a bang, scoring twice to guide them an opening day win over Nantes. The numbers only tell part of the story; the 20-year-old Nigerian's pace and finishing power suits Lille's fast-breaking gameplan perfectly, promising they can maintain the same style that wowed Ligue 1 last term.

Pépé will be missed as the season goes by. He set the tone for the whole team, was able to create as well as score and his speed and quick decision-making should thrive in the Premier League, where playing on the counter is so important (he is priced at 7069/1 to finish as top scorer in his first season in England).

Yet Lille and their excellent coach Christophe Galtier can be confident of their own prospects, with their other new big signing Yusuf Yazici also looking like a crowd-pleaser. With Monaco and Marseille starting poorly, maybe they will even dare to dream of repeating their Champions League place of last season.

Lille 2.47/5 to win at Amiens this weekend

Portugal's challengers have their work cut out against fearsome Benfica

Bruno Luge - Benfica, 1280.jpg

Our theory of not overreacting to early season results is going to be put to the test in Portugal. In a country where one of os três grandes - Benfica, Porto and Sporting Clube de Portugal - have failed to win the title just twice in the league's history, every dropped point feels like a potentially fatal blow.

It must be difficult for supporters of Porto and Sporting not to have that sinking feeling already, having dropped five between them on the opening weekend. Porto, midway through a vital Champions League qualifying tie against Krasnodar, slipped to defeat at Gil Vicente while Sporting looked stodgy and uncertain as they were held to a draw at Marítimo.

Meanwhile in Lisbon, the champions Benfica were making it all look so easy, cruising to a 5-0 win over Paços de Ferreira. They have kicked off the post-João Félix era in great style, having pummelled Sporting by the same score in the Supertaça the week before. The green half of Lisbon is still licking its wounds over that one.

Bruno Lage's side are deserved favourites to win the Liga for a sixth season out of seven 1.875/6, with former Real Madrid striker Raúl de Tomás adding to their formidable attacking arsenal. Confidence is key in the Portuguese title race and Benfica have it in spades.

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