THE much-anticipated reunion of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo is in danger of becoming something of a damp squib. If it even happens at all.

A frisson of excitement rippled around world football when the Champions League draw sent Messi’s Barcelona into Champions League Group G alongside Ronaldo’s Juventus.

The notion of the best two players in the world for the past decade-and-a-half duking it out on the same pitch for the first time in three years was undoubtedly something to look forward to.

Since then, however, things have gone somewhat awry for the duo. Ronaldo, in fact, hasn’t played since contracting coronavirus while on international duty with Portugal and is in danger of missing Wednesday’s rematch with Messi in Turin.

Italian health authorities are investigating whether he broke protocol by flying home in a private air ambulance to continue his period of self-isolation at home.

The 35 year-old has also tested positive for a second time which, ordinarily, would rule him out of this week’s match, although Juventus have argued the test showed a “very low viral load” and have made their case to UEFA that he ought to be allowed to play if his next test comes back negative.

Without their star man, Juventus again struggled domestically at home to Hellas Verona at the weekend, recording their third draw in five Serie A matches to leave the defending champions languishing in fifth place.

That was still better than Messi and Barcelona fared as they lost the first Clasico of the season at home to Real Madrid.

Any prospect of an extended Ronald Koeman honeymoon period has well and truly expired after goals from Federico Valverde, Sergio Ramos and Luka Modric saw the Spanish champions ease their way to a 3-1 victory.

Ansu Fati’s equaliser saw him become the youngest ever scorer in this fixture but would prove to be scant consolation come the end for him and Barcelona.

Those who favour Ronaldo in the perennial “who’s the best player in the world?” debate were quick to point out that Messi still hasn’t scored or claimed an assist in the six derbies since Ronaldo left for Italy three year ago.

The actual answer to that question – based on form at least – is, of course, Robert Lewandowski who continues to score goals for Bayern Munich at an astonishing rate.

There were fears – or hopes among their rivals – that the European champions might struggle physically this season after such a short summer break but there has been no sign of it so far.

Lewandowksi’s hat-trick in the 5-0 thrashing of Eintracht Frankfurt took the Pole into double figures for goals after just five league games.

With RB Leipzig and Borussia Dortmund also winning, the big three are already forming something of a Bundesliga breakaway at the top of the table, four points clear of fourth-placed VfB Stuttgart.

In Italy, there was another start but also another defeat for Aaron Hickey as struggling Bologna went down 2-1 away to Lazio. The former Hearts defender played the majority of the contest before being subbed in the final minute.
There was some much-needed positive news from France for Neil Lennon as Celtic’s Europa League opponents Lille were knocked off top spot in Ligue 1.
Christophe Galtier’s side are still unbeaten but could only draw 1-1 away to Nice on Sunday ahead of Thursday’s visit of the Scottish champions.

That allowed PSG to move above them courtesy of their 4-0 thrashing of Dijon thanks to doubles from Moise Kean  - on loan from Everton – and Kylian Mbappe. The match between Lens and Nantes was postponed after 11 members of the home team contracted coronavirus.

Rangers’ European opponents this week – Lech Poznan – fared similarly as they claimed a 1-1 draw after scoring late on against Cracovia at the weekend.

The Poles travel to Ibrox sitting a lowly tenth in the Ekstraklasa with just two wins from their opening seven league games.

The result of the weekend went to Ajax who got their Champions League defeat to Liverpool out of their system in a big way by scoring 13 times past hapless VVV-Venlo.

Only four up at half-time, Erik ten Hag’s men rattled in nine more after the break to set a new Dutch record, Lassina Traore claiming five of them. Not a bad day’s work.