Five under-the-radar teams to watch in Champions League

Danny Dichio and James Sharman discuss the upcoming match between Manchester City and Napoli as Champions League heats up this week.

The hectic international break is over, and the UEFA Champions League resumes, which promises a few salivating ties this week.

Manchester City and Napoli should be the match of the round, while Real Madrid hosts Tottenham in an equally intriguing game. However, with so many clubs involved, there are always a few surprises sprung in the group stage. A few teams outside of Europe’s top-five leagues have been particularly impressive and deserve more attention on Matchday 3 and beyond.

With that in mind, here are five under-the-radar clubs to watch.


Basel has always been a tricky side to face. Just ask a few Premier League teams. Basel has beaten Chelsea and Manchester United in recent years, and with Benfica and CSKA Moscow slipping up this term, the Swiss champions could find themselves progressing into the round of 16.

Why you should watch Basel: They have some promising young players. Manuel Akanji made his debut for Switzerland earlier this year, and he’s been a key starter at centre-back. One of Akanji’s partners, Eder Balanta, is a fast and strong defender who, at just 24, has plenty of promise. Nineteen-year-old Paraguayan Blas Riveros is exciting going forward at left wingback, as well. He combines with 23-year-old Mohamed Elyounoussi, who is the latest Egyptian standout at the club after Mohamed Salah and Mohamed Elneny.

Basel’s 3-4-3 system stresses pace and flair on the wings. Therefore, expect lots of end-to-end action against CSKA Moscow in Russia on Wednesday


Celtic has won every domestic trophy available since Brendan Rodgers was hired as coach last summer. He’s also guided the Scottish League winners to the Champions League in back-to-back seasons. Last year’s first-round exit was a disappointment, though the Bhoys were drawn in a group with Barcelona, Manchester City and Borussia Monchengladbach.

However, with a full campaign under their belts with Rogers at the helm, the players look more composed, and Celtic are incredibly entertaining to watch on Europe’s biggest stage.

Why you should watch Celtic: Not only does Celtic lean on youth, Rodgers has also emphasized a more proactive style (within reason, depending on the opposition) which makes the side fun watch. Younger players such as Patrick Roberts, Olivier Ntcham and Kieran Tierney are all in impeccable form. Even with Moussa Dembele suffering an injury earlier in the campaign, Leigh Griffiths has filled in admirably. It’s very likely that Dembele, Tierney, Roberts and Ntcham will end up in one of the top-five leagues very soon, so if anything, Wednesday’s game against Bayern Munich in Germany is a chance to watch some of the brightest talents in the European game.


Even though Shakhtar no longer plays in the Donbass region due to the war, the club continues to chug along. The Ukrainians were based out of Lviv – more than 1,200 kilometres away from their normal home – until this year when they relocated to Kharkiv, about five hours north of Donetsk.

Shakhtar won the Ukrainian Premier League last season and currently top the table, and its performances in the Champions League have been mighty impressive. Napoli, one of Europe’s most potent attacking teams, lost 2-1 in Kharkiv on Matchday 1. Manchester City won 2-0 at the Etihad Stadium on Matchday 2, but the Ukrainians were able to fend off City’s fluid attacks and should have probably converted a chance or two as well.

Why you should watch Shakhtar Donetsk: Shakhtar is known for its astute acquisitions of Brazilian players. Willian was among those who cut his teeth in Ukraine. Most of the current contingent is older, but Fred – a 24-year-old deep-lying midfielder – made the recent Brazil squad and might earn a recall for the World Cup. He is a very tidy passer and defender, which helps the team click. Elsewhere, Ismaily loves to bomb forward at left-back. He, along with Taison and Bernard, caused all sorts of problems for Man City’s defence. Shakhtar has always preached attack-minded soccer, and coach Paulo Fonseca has been linked to Everton in recent days. This could be an early audition.


Sergio Conceicao left French outfit Nantes for the Porto coaching job this summer, which has completely reinvigorated the club. Os Dragoes currently lead the Primeira Liga, and while they lost 3-1 at home to Besiktas in their Champions League opener, the Portuguese recovered with a massive 3-0 win in Monaco on Matchday 2.

Group G promises to be a bloodbath, especially if Conceicao’s side can replicate their performance against Monaco on Tuesday when they visit German side RB Leipzig.

Why you should watch Porto: Conceicao has brought harmony back to a squad that looked unmotivated under previous manager Nuno Espirito Santo. Porto is now a fluid and vertical attack-minded team, led by Yacine Brahimi and Vincent Aboubakar, who at one point appeared to be on his way out of the club. However, this impressive start is all down to the coach. It’s a confident team and surely capable of progressing to the round of 16.


Having won back-to-back Turkish Super Lig titles, Besiktas is thinking big in 2017-18. The Istanbul-based club underachieved in the Champions League last season, so the team was aggressive with its summer business. Pepe, Gary Medel, Alvaro Negredo and Jermain Lens were all signed to provide valuable experience for a side that seemingly collapsed after the first half of the group stage in 2016-17.

Pepe and Medel, who have won some of the sport’s highest honours, have been crucial in the early stages. Besiktas won its opening two matches over Porto and RB Leipzig, showing the world that this is a superior side to last season.

Why you should watch Besiktas: Canadian fans know about Atiba Hutchinson’s importance to Besiktas’ midfield, but the side is loaded. Ricardo Quaresma and Ryan Babel have been key figures on the flanks. Quaresma has two assists and Babel has picked up two goals in as many matches in the Champions League. Anderson Talisca, who was linked to Manchester United in the summer, is the most exciting player in the squad. The 23-year-old Brazilian has a pair of goals, and his playmaking, long-range shooting and composure on the ball are marvellous to watch.

In general, Besiktas is a very exciting, fast-paced side that can play with possession or in a more direct system at a high tempo. Since Group G is arguably the most balanced group in the competition, every match involving the Black Eagles should be fascinating, including Tuesday’s away fixture vs. Monaco.


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