A lot of matches and player fatigue.

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With the upcoming World Cup this fall many changes have occurred to regular seasonal changes in the fixtures. This has resulted in most of the schedules and matches being more cramped. In this article, we will look at some of the more interesting games that you can follow before the start of the World Cup.

Last Saturday’s 2-1 victory against Crystal Palace by Chelsea was the first of the Blues’ 13 games that they will ultimately play between October 1 and November 12. The majority of their most important English competitors will play 12 matches within that time.

Borussia Dortmund will have squeezed in a DFB-Pokal match, four crucial Champions League encounters, and meetings against Bayern Munich, the league’s top team, Union Berlin, as well as local rivals Bochum and Borussia Monchengladbach.

Including the El Clasico on October 16 and three crucial Champions League games (two against Inter Milan and one against Bayern Munich), the first of which they lost on Tuesday, Barcelona will have played a total of 12 games.

Welcome to the season’s most challenging period. This could be the most significant and demanding month (or so) of club play the sport has ever seen, with two-thirds of Champions League, Europa League, and Conference League group-stage matches, nearly every major European derby — starting with Manchester City and Manchester United last weekend and rolling from there — and a countless number of huge league battles all crammed into an abbreviated timeline.

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The Champions League’s Matchday 3 has passed, and we already witnessed some telling league matches over the past weekend, but with so many crucial games still to come, my own brain was starting to spin. Yours might be as well, I believe. So let’s take a step back and assess the situation. What major matches are taking place and when? By the time the soccer world turns its attention to Qatar in the middle of November, what will be decided? Which queries will be addressed? And which teams will we discover the most as these weeks go on? Here are a few of the most captivating plotlines:

Many could argue that Barcelona’s home game against Inter Milan next Wednesday is the team’s biggest contest in a long time.

When Barca sold assets (€500 million in future television revenue, plus 49% stakes in its own Barca Studios) to sign players like attackers Robert Lewandowski and Raphinha, midfielder Franck Kessie, and defenders Jules Kounde, Andreas Christensen, Marcos Alonso, and Hector Bellerin, it was an open bet that was thrilling and, if we’re being honest, unwise.

The midfielders Pedri (19) and Gavi (18), the winger Ansu Fati (19), and the fullback Alex Balde (18) had the components to put together one of the finest long-term youth movements the sport had ever seen, but they opted for win-now mode. You see, if you succeed right away, the money cannon will start up again, and the sale of future funds will be stifled by the influx of current funds.

Only Lewandowski among the new recruits has played more than 500 minutes in all competitions thus far; many have already fallen victim to injury; nonetheless, Barca is currently winning the majority of games. They are in first place in La Liga after defeating six opponents by a total score of 19-1 since their season opener against Rayo Vallecano, and in each of their first three Champions League games, their shots have resulted in more goals than their opponents.

Lewandowski, however, failed to take advantage of several opportunities in a 2-0 loss to Bayern Munich in September (seven shots, 1.1 xG, no goals). Additionally, on Tuesday at the San Siro, Barca appeared to lose a penalty shootout late on but had already left too much to chance, managing only seven total shots (two of which came in the final 55 minutes), and losing to a screamer of a goal from Hakan Calhanoglu late in the first half. Midway through the group stage, their loss by a score of 1-0 moved them to third place in Group C.

If they defeat Inter in the rematch next week in Barcelona, the odds will start to go back in their favor a little. The teams would then be tied for second place with six points each, Barca would have the upper hand in goal differential, and the teams’ chances of moving on to the knockout stages of the Champions League would depend on (a) who defeated Viktoria Plzen by the greatest margin (in the unlikely event that goal differential turned out to be important) and (b) whether either team could steal a point from Bayern. Given that Barca outplayed Bayern in their opening match and will host the rematch, you might assume that (b) is also in Barca’s favor.

So, not everything is lost. But the defeat in Milan raised the distinct potential that Barcelona would give up some of its future in exchange for another trip to the Europa League. Even if they won LaLiga, it would be fair to say that the club’s incredibly risky strategy failed if it didn’t immediately reap rewards in the Champions League.

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What about the Champions League scene?

The majority of the berths in the Round of 16 of the 2021–22 Champions League group stage have already been largely determined after three games. According to FiveThirtyEight’s SPI ratings, eight of the 32 teams already had a chance of winning less than 10%, and nine of the 32 teams already had a chance of moving on that was greater than 90%.

At this point in the group stage of this season, the picture is much hazier. Of fact, there are still eight teams with a score of 90% or above, but only six have effectively been eliminated. We have a few weak groups: PSG and Benfica from Group H, Manchester City and Borussia Dortmund from Group G, and Napoli and Liverpool (with Juventus clinging to an 8% chance) from Group A. However, very little has been decided in the other five.

Club Brugge has a great chance of winning Group B, while the other three teams (Atletico Madrid, Porto, and Bayer Leverkusen) are all between 29 and 42%. Real Madrid is pretending to be Club Brugge in Group F, but Celtic (18%), Shakhtar Donetsk (34%), and RB Leipzig (49%) are still in danger.

Sporting CP and Tottenham Hotspur are the group’s favorites to advance (75% and 69%, respectively), but Eintracht Frankfurt (30%) and Marseille (26%), who are just one upset away from increasing the odds, are also in the mix. Dinamo Zagreb (13%), the bottom-place team in Group E, is practically out, but Chelsea, Salzburg, and AC Milan all have 4-5 points and are in the 57-65% range.

There are many high-leverage matches coming up in the near future if we just consider those with at least a 25% chance.

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Below is the Champions League Schedule:

October 11: Chelsea at AC Milan (Group E), Real Madrid at Shakhtar Donetsk (F)
October 12: Club Brugge at Atletico Madrid (B), Porto at Bayer Leverkusen (B), Inter Milan at Barcelona (C), Eintracht Frankfurt at Tottenham Hotspur (D), Marseille at Sporting CP (D)
October 25: Chelsea at RB Salzburg (E), Real Madrid at RB Leipzig (F)
October 26: Bayer Leverkusen at Atletico Madrid (B), Porto at Club Brugge (B), Bayern Munich at Barcelona (C), Sporting CP at Tottenham Hotspur (D), Marseille at Eintracht Frankfurt (D)
November 1: Atletico Madrid at Porto (B), Club Brugge at Bayer Leverkusen (B), Inter Milan at Bayern Munich (C), Eintracht Frankfurt at Sporting CP (D), Tottenham Hotspur at Marseille (D)
November 2: RB Salzburg at AC Milan (E), RB Leipzig at Shakhtar Donetsk (F)

Author: Bobby Parker