UEFA Champions League: 16 players to watch this week

Atiba Hutchinson (left), Paulo Dybala (centre) and Davinson Sanchez. (AP Photo)

Matchday 2 of the UEFA Champions League begins on Tuesday with a tremendous slate of matches, including Borussia Dortmund hosting the holders Real Madrid at Signal Iduna Park.

This will be the final round of matches before the international break, so these results could determine the complexion of the groups. With high stakes comes great responsibility for a handful of stars who will be focal points for their respective teams.

With that in mind, here are 16 players – one from each matchup – to watch on Matchday 2 in the Champions League.

Besiktas vs. RB Leizpig

Player to watch: Atiba Hutchinson

The Canadian international was sent off against Fenerbahce in the Istanbul derby on the weekend, which Besiktas lost 2-1. Hutchinson was one of five players to receive a red card in that match.

Besiktas has to shake off that defeat to its rival and prepare for a crucial match against RB Leipzig. Group G is one of the most-balanced groups in the competition, so the Turkish champions have to build on their opening victory over Porto on Matchday 1 in order to progress to the Round of 16.

Hutchinson will be integral on Tuesday, as he was on Sept. 13 in the 3-1 win against Porto. The 34-year-old was constantly shutting down the opposing forwards and springing his side’s attacks throughout the 90 minutes. He produced one of the top defensive performances on that day.

Leipzig’s counter-attacks are among the most dangerous in the Bundesliga. Timo Werner has scored five goals in his last six games in all competitions, plus teammates Emil Forsberg and Naby Keita are always threats in the final third. Therefore, Hutchinson will be tasked with closing them down whenever they are on the ball.

Monaco vs. Porto

Player to watch: Radamel Falcao

No striker in Europe’s top-five leagues has enjoyed a more sensational start to the season than Falcao – the Colombian has bagged 11 goals in seven league matches for Monaco. As a result, the 31-year-old will be danger man against his former side.

Falcao may not be as fast as he was compared to his Porto and Atletico Madrid days, but following a brutal knee injury that kept him out of the 2014 World Cup, he’s seemingly regained some of his old explosiveness. He is also incredibly smart with his timing and runs, which makes him difficult to contain.

Napoli vs. Feyenoord

Player to watch: Dries Mertens

Surprise: One of Europe’s most prolific scorers last season will play a key role in this game. Mertens began Napoli’s game against Shakhtar Donetsk on Matchday 1 on the bench and the attack was nowhere near as lethal compared to when he was on the pitch. Once the Belgian entered the match, the Neapolitans were tearing apart Shakhtar’s defence with their quick passing and never-ending runs.

Mertens started for Napoli against SPAL on Saturday in Serie A, although he was taken off after 75 minutes, whereas he played the full 90 versus Bologna before the Shakhtar match. Even though the Scudetto race in Italy is wide open, Maurizio Sarri’s side will surely want to qualify for the knockout stage of the Champions League.

That is why the Belgian will be tipped to start in this game. If Sarri names him among the substitutes again, Napoli may find itself behind in another match.

Manchester City vs. Shakhtar Donetsk

Player to watch: Kevin De Bruyne

Another Belgian is going to be essential on Matchday 2 for Manchester City. De Bruyne has drawn rave reviews in England and from Pep Guardiola for his magnificent displays in the early portion of the season.

Whether he is deployed in a deeper role or playing off the striker, De Bruyne has excelled. His composure, smooth touches, vision, precise crossing and set-piece deliveries make him a tremendous all-around player.

De Bruyne has contributed three assists in the Premier League and another in the 5-0 win against Feyenoord on Sept. 13. Sergio Aguero, Gabriel Jesus – and most recently Leroy Sane – may receive the majority of the attention from Shakhtar, but they better keep tabs on the Belgian playmaker.

Borussia Dortmund vs. Real Madrid

Player to watch: Casemiro

This match will be one of the most enticing games on the fixture list in this round, mainly for the attacking quality on display and the previous meetings between these sides. These teams drew 2-2 in a pair of matches last year, so there should be a guarantee of goals in this game.

Despite the hundreds of millions (potentially billions) of dollars worth of attackers, it will be Casemiro, a defensive midfielder, who will be worth monitoring.

Dortmund’s attack is loaded with pace and creativity. The hosts can counter on the opposition in the blink of an eye, so the Brazilian midfielder will have to shut down any potential threats around him.

APOEL Nicosia vs. Tottenham Hotspur

Player to watch: Davinson Sanchez

Sanchez was Tottenham’s marquee signing over the summer after a promising 2016-17 season with Ajax, which was his first campaign in Europe. The Colombian is already a regular starter for his national team and won the Copa Libertadores with Atletico Nacional before his 21st birthday, so he knows all about high-pressure matches.

Sanchez still experiences shaky moments, especially when he plays with the ball at his feet, but that was expected before his arrival. He is a young player and managed to produce a decent performance against Borussia Dortmund in his Champions League debut.

If the 21-year-old centre-back is capable of shutting down Dortmund, then he can replicate this versus APOEL.

Sevilla vs. Maribor

Player to watch: Steven N’Zonzi

Sevilla lost 2-0 to Atletico Madrid on Saturday and N’Zonzi was partially at fault for the defeat. Atletico pressed the midfielder and forced him to make mistakes, which led to a few of the best chances in the game.

N’Zonzi is the engine of Sevilla’s midfield. When he is experiencing an off day, the whole team suffers. That is why the Spaniards have to get the ball to the Frenchman quickly so he can move the play forward as soon as possible.

Spartak Moscow vs. Liverpool

Player to watch: Mohamed Salah

The Egyptian winger is an enigma. He can miss the easiest of sitters, but then score a wonderful individual goal just minutes later. That trend has not cost Liverpool and it certainly didn’t hurt Roma and Edin Dzeko, who admitted that he misses having Salah on the wing.

That is no surprise because Salah is fast, tricky and dangerous on the break. Spartak Moscow has won once in its last seven games in all competitions, a span that includes a 1-1 draw at Maribor on Matchday 1.

Spartak has struggled to defend counter-attacks this season, so Salah and Liverpool should be salivating ahead of this game.

Basel vs. Benfica

Player to watch: Ljubomir Fejsa

Benfica’s slow start has hindered its chances of winning the Primeira Liga for a fifth straight title. They already trail Porto by five points and lost their opening match in the Champions League.

However, Rui Vitoria and his team received a massive boost as Ljubomir Fejsa returned from injury. The midfielder is arguably the team’s most important player and he missed the first few weeks of the season due to injury.

Fejsa provides defensive solidity in midfield and some sharp passing, but due to his injury problems, he is seldom fit for more than a few games in a row. For now, the Serbian should be available on Wednesday and that significantly boosts Benfica’s odds of winning.

CSKA Moscow vs. Manchester United

Player to watch: Vitinho

One of the bright spots in CSKA Moscow’s 2-1 win over Benfica was Brazilian attacker Vitinho, who has already enjoyed a breakthrough campaign this year.

The 23-year-old returned from an impressive loan spell at Internacional, though he was used sparingly for CSKA last year. This season has been the opposite.

Vitinho converted a penalty for CSKA in that victory over Benfica, but it was his eye-catching dribbling abilities and creativity that was impressive. Manchester United should be wary.

Paris Saint-Germain vs. Bayern Munich

Player to watch: Joshua Kimmich

Barring a late omission, Neymar should return from his injury and start against Bayern Munich on Wednesday. That means Joshua Kimmich will be responsible for marking the most expensive player in the world.

Even though Kimmich is primarily a central midfielder, he has carved out a spot at right-back for both Bayern Munich and Germany. He is considered to be the heir to Philipp Lahm, and for good reason. The 22-year-old is incredibly intelligent on the ball and is always in the right position. Not bad for a player who was converted into a full-back.

However, this will be Kimmich’s toughest test to date. If he manages to minimize Neymar’s impact, then that is successful in its own right.

Anderlecht vs. Celtic

Player to watch: Patrick Roberts

Roberts may not be in the lineup against Anderlecht after he logged 90 minutes for Celtic in the Old Firm derby against Rangers on Saturday. However, Brendan Rodgers would be smart to hand him another start.

The winger, on loan from Manchester City, was arguably Celtic’s most lively attacker against Rangers on the weekend. His overall flair on the ball was incredible and Roberts even showed off his playmaking abilities with a lovely assist for Leigh Griffiths’s goal.

Even as a substitute, Roberts should have some sort of influence in this game.

Sporting CP vs. Barcelona

Player to watch: Nelson Semedo

The full-back was signed from Benfica to fill the void left by Dani Alves. Early signs indicate that Semedo is Barcelona’s right-back of the future.

Not only is Semedo incredibly quick and a smart player in possession, he is defensively responsible as well. These aforementioned qualities were all on display against Juventus on Matchday 1. The always-tricky Douglas Costa had little effect due to the Portuguese’s performance.

Barcelona’s transfer dealings may be hit-and-miss these days, but they clearly have a future stalwart in Semedo.

Juventus vs. Olympiacos

Player to watch: Paulo Dybala

Dybala was relatively invisible at the Camp Nou on Matchday 1, but he can’t stop scoring in Serie A. The Juventus star has scored an eye-popping 10 goals in six league matches, and is coming off a brace against Torino in the Derby della Mole on Saturday.

The Argentine attacker has not slowed down, even with his countryman Gonzalo Higuain struggling up front. He may have been silenced by Barcelona, but Dybala usually responds with aplomb.

Atletico Madrid vs. Chelsea

Player to watch: Saul Niguez

Death, taxes and clutch goals by Saul in the Champions League.

Those are three of life’s certainties. Last season, the Spaniard scored in the Round of 16, quarterfinals and semifinals against Bayer Leverkusen, Leicester City and Real Madrid, respectively. Niguez also struck versus Bayern Munich in the 2015-16 semis en route to the final that year.

This match against Chelsea could determine the winner of the group. Therefore, it’s reasonable to expect Saul to pop up and score a screamer from distance. Even if he is kept off the scoresheet, the midfielder should still influence the game with his creativity.

Qarabag vs. Roma

Player to watch: Radja Nainggolan

Nainggolan exited the game against Atletico on Matchday 1 with a minor injury, which is no wonder why Roma dropped points at home. When the Belgian is held in check or off the field, the Giallorossi are stagnant.

The 29-year-old is one of the most complete midfielders in Europe. He never stops running and makes some runs that would make forwards jealous. That is why he scored 11 goals in Serie A last season.

If Nainggolan is given space to make runs and passes, then it could be another long day for Qarabag.

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.