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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

Chelsea bump in to exes and FC Hollywood grips Paris: Uefa Champions League talking points

Elsewhere in Europe's elite club competition this week, trouble could play out in Moscow when Manchester United and Liverpool both visit.

The fall-out between Edinson Cavani, left, Neymar over penalty duties shows the egos on display at Paris Saint-Germain. Franck Fife / AFP
The fall-out between Edinson Cavani, left, Neymar over penalty duties shows the egos on display at Paris Saint-Germain. Franck Fife / AFP

Paris, Munich and FC Hollywood syndrome

It’s a while since Bayern Munich shrugged off the nickname "FC Hollywood", a tag their executives disliked because it referred to clashes among the oversized egos that seemed to pepper the life of the club. When men like Lothar Matthaus and Jurgen Klinsmann were rubbing each other up the wrong way, the phrase was in common use.

It came up again when Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben came to blows at half-time in a Uefa Champions League semi-final. The world knew why. The two wingers had indiscreetly fought over who was going to take a direct free-kick. They took the bust-up into the dressing-room.

Ribery and Robben are still colleagues, five years on, still match-winners well into their 30s, in a Bayern attack which never has enough space for all the talents on the staff to get as much action as they want. That’s life at a superclub, as Paris Saint-Germain are learning.

PSG is football’s new Hollywood. Eight days ago, they put on display the unedifying spectacle of an on-the-pitch dispute between Neymar and Edinson Cavani over who was going to take a penalty. Peace has been declared. It remains to be seen how enduring it is, and if PSG’s individual brilliance can ally with team spirit enough to conquer Bayern.

Chelsea’s Wanda wander through their past

Diego Costa is likely to be in the stands when Chelsea visit Atletico Madrid, just days after sealing his return from the Premier League champions. Ballasteros / EPA
Diego Costa is likely to be in the stands when Chelsea visit Atletico Madrid, just days after sealing his return from the Premier League champions. Ballasteros / EPA

The English champions are the guests for the first Champions League fixture at Atletico Madrid’s new Wanda-Metropolitano stadium. Diego Costa, who has just rejoined Atletico from Chelsea, is expected in the audience, eagerly awaiting his third spell at Atletico, which can only begin in the new year because of Atletico’s Fifa-imposed registration ban.

On the pitch, other Chelsea Exes will be hoping to show Atletico have a happy knack of getting more out of players than Chelsea can.

Witness Filipe Luis, the admired left-back, a totemic figure for an Atletico who have reached two of the last four Champions League finals. Filipe spent a frustrating year feeling undervalued at Chelsea before being welcomed back.

And what price a telling cameo from Fernando Torres, who put behind him a wretched four seasons at Chelsea to enjoy a late-career renaissance at the Atletico he grew up supporting?

Bale vs Bartra, the sequel

Gareth Bale’s most memorable moment as Real Madrid’s costliest footballer remains the startling, 60-yard sprint and finish to win the 2104 Copa del Rey final against Barcelona. Outrun and humbled for most of those yards was a young defender, Marc Bartra.

Bartra recovered his poise enough to become part of a dynamic Borussia Dortmund, where admiration has grown for him since he bravely came back from the physical and psychological scars of last April’s bomb attack on the team bus. The blast broke his wrist.

Batra hopes to make his first start in the Champions League since then as Dortmund host Madrid. Bale hopes to quieten recent criticism of his input at Madrid, and for more with iconic moments like the gallop that left Bartra in his wake.

Neuer’s long shadow and jittery German keepers

Bayern Munich goalkeeper Sven Ulreich, left, produced a costly mistake from this free-kick on Saturday. Michael Dalder / Reuters
Bayern Munich goalkeeper Sven Ulreich, left, produced a costly mistake from this free-kick on Saturday. Michael Dalder / Reuters

Manuel Neuer has injured his foot. His metatarsal problem will keep him out of action until 2018 - a setback for Bayern Munich, his club, and a concern for Germany, in case complications extend his absence too far into a World Cup year.

But it’s an opportunity, if someone can just take it. Bayern have been talking up Sven Ulreich, who deputises for Neuer, and faces a huge test at PSG on Wednesday. Alas, Ulreich made a conspicuous mistake against Wolfsburg on Friday night. Not the best build-up.

He’s not the only German goalkeeper under scrutiny. PSG’s Kevin Trapp was supposed to a potential Neuer heir. But Trapp is losing an ongoing battle with Alphonse Areola to be his club’s number one.

An unpredictable rotation policy meanwhile governs the young German keeper at Liverpool. Loris Karius was preferred to Simon Mignolet, the Belgian, in the opening Champions League group game against Sevilla, but has been on the bench for all but one match so far in the Premier League.

Amid these uncertainties, Barcelona’s Marc-Andre ter Stegen alone advances his reputation as Germany’s New Neuer.

Red Alert in Red Square

Red Square in Moscow, the Russia capital where Liverpool and Manchester United fans are set to cross paths this week. Martin Moos / Lonely Planet Images
Red Square in Moscow, the Russia capital where Liverpool and Manchester United fans are set to cross paths this week. Martin Moos / Lonely Planet Images

Whenever fans of Liverpool and Manchester United are in the same city, police in the north-west of England take precautions. The prospect of their coinciding in the capital of Russia has authorities wary.

With Liverpool at Spartak Moscow on Tuesday and United at CSKA on Wednesday, the calendar has thrown up a 36 hours that will be watched with nervous interest, bearing in mind that last summer followers of Russia and England clashed violently at Euro 2016, and there are legitimate security concerns ahead of next summer’s World Cup in Russia.