After an exciting first round of matches, the Champions League is back for matchday 2 this week. Matchday 2 will give us a clearer picture of who will advance to the knockout rounds. TheHardTackle presents the match previews of day 2.
Group A – Bayern Munich (Germany), Napoli (Italy), Manchester City (England), Villarreal (Spain)
Bayern Munich v Manchester City – Allianz Arena, 27 September 2011
This is the blockbuster of the week, a game between two of Europe’s strongest sides, in the venue where the final will be played in May. Both Bayern and City have started the season on a very high note, especially Bayern, who have been the most in-form team in Europe in the past month. Despite Robben’s prolonged absence, the Bavarians have been trashing every opponent in their path, with Mario Gomez scoring 10 goals in as many games. Robben returned and made a cameo this weekend against Bayer and he even managed to score a goal. With their star back, Bayern will be an even more fearsome outfit, definitely one of the best teams in Europe. On matchday 1, they easily beat Villarreal 2-0 at El Madrigal.
Manchester City have also been looking great in their league, where they’re still undefeated and are joint leaders along with Manchester United. If Mario Gomez has been great, Sergio Aguero hasn’t been any less impressive, with 8 goals in 7 matches thus far this season. Roberto Mancini’s side couldn’t do better than a home draw in the opening day against Napoli, and they’ll be looking to at least get a point in Munich, which won’t be easy at all. This promises to be a very exciting match, with two of the world’s strongest squads and some of the most talented players of the current football generation.
THT Prediction: Bayern Munich 2-1 Manchester City
THT Players To Watch Out For: Mario Gomez (Bayern), Sergio Aguero (Manchester City)
Napoli v Villarreal – Stadio San Paolo, 27 September 2011
This also promises to be a very exciting game, but Napoli are clear favorites. Not only are they playing at home, but they’re looking much better than Villarreal, who simply aren’t the same team they were last year. Last season, Napoli and Villarreal faced each other in the first knockout round of the Europa League, with Villarreal getting a 0-0 draw at San Paolo and advancing after a 2-1 home win. But Napoli have grown stronger while Villarreal have lost their main play-maker in Santi Cazorla. It is expected that Napoli will prevail this time, especially with Edinson Cavani in red-hot form.
Villarreal have had a bad start to the league, while Napoli have started very well, having already beaten last year’s champions AC Milan, with Cavani scoring a hat trick. Napoli also had a much better start in the Champions League than Villarreal and they’re simply the better side this term. Anything other than a Napoli win at home will be a surprise.
THT Prediction: Napoli 2-0 Villarreal
THT Players To Watch Out For: Edinson Cavani (Napoli), Giuseppe Rossi (Villarreal)
Group B – Inter (Italy), Lille (France), CSKA Moscow (Russia), Trabzonspor (Turkey)
CSKA Moscow v Inter Milan – Luzhniki Stadion, 27 September 2011
Inter are a team in crisis, in desperate need of wins. In his first game, Claudio Ranieri managed an important away win at Bologna, but that hasn’t shaken off the crisis yet. After an absolutely shocking home defeat to Trabzonspor in the first day, Inter can’t lose again or they’ll seriously risk elimination. To make matters worse, Diego Forlán can’t play for Inter in Europe this season.
CSKA have been in fine form lately and they’re fighting for the Russian title. Their away draw at Lille opens excellent perspectives of qualification. The Russians are always a very tough team to beat on their ground and they’ll do their best to rack up a win against a very depleted Inter side.
THT Prediction: CSKA 1-1 Inter
THT Players To Watch Out For: Vagner Love (CSKA), Wesley Sneijder (Inter)
Trabzonspor v Lille – Huseyin Avni Aker Stadium, 27 September 2011
For a team that was not even supposed to be in the Champions League, Trazbonspor couldn’t have got off to a better start, with a shocking away win at Inter Milan, the 2010 champions. They’re still not fancied to progress, but they’ll definitely try their best, they have nothing to lose. If they manage another upset here, the dream can suddenly become real.
Led by Eden Hazard, Lille are clear favorites for this one, but it’s never easy to play in Turkey, let alone against an extra-motivated Trazbonspor. Lille let a 2-0 lead slip in their first Champions League game at home against CSKA and they haven’t looked impressive in the Ligue 1 either. Now is the time for them to step up, or else qualification will be in serious jeopardy.
THT Prediction: Trazbonspor 0-2 Lille
THT Players To Watch Out For: Paulo Henrique (Trazbonspor), Eden Hazard (Lille)
Group C – Manchester United (England), Benfica (Portugal), FC Basel (Switzerland), Oţelul Galaţi (Romania)
Otelul Galati v Benfica – National Arena Bucharest, 27 September 2011
Champions League debutant Otelul Galati will play their first home game ever in the Champions League, against one of the most successful clubs in the competition’s history. Benfica have been in great form in their league and dominated Manchester United in the Champions League opening match, thus being obvious favorites for this match.
Otelul might be a difficult side to beat at their ground, but Benfica’s quality should prove too much for them. For the Romanians, participating in the Champions League is already a great reward and they’re well aware that they do not have what it takes to go far in this competition.
THT Prediction: Otelul Galati 1-3 Benfica
THT Players To Watch Out For: Marius Pena (Otelul Galati), Axel Witsel (Benfica)
Manchester United v Basel – Old Trafford, 27 September 2011
Like the other match of the group, this one promises to be very one-sided. Basel managed a home win against Otelul in the first game, but they won’t be able to replicate such result at Old Trafford. Manchester United have been looking great so far this season and they’re almost unbeatable in their ground.
Wayne Rooney’s absence (due to injury) is not enough to derail United, who will be looking to get their first win in this year’s edition. The difference between the two sides is very significant and anything other than a comfortable Manchester United win will be a huge surprise.
THT Prediction: Manchester United 3-0 Basel
THT Players To Watch Out For: Luis Nani (Manchester United), Alexander Frei (Basel)
Group D – Real Madrid (Spain), Ajax (The Netherlands), Lyon (France), Dinamo Zagreb (Croatia)
Real Madrid v Ajax – Santiago Bernabeu, 27 September 2011
A repeat of last season’s duel, where Real Madrid then won 2-0 after completely dominating. One year later, things haven’t changed, Real Madrid remain one of the world’s best teams and Ajax nowhere near their former glory days and they have also lost their talisman Luis Suarez. Real Madrid struggled to beat Dinamo Zagreb in matchday 1 and they’ve been having some trouble in La Liga, but they remain huge favorites for this match.
Ajax have been showing some signs of revival with Johan Cruyff’s now directing everything football-related, but they still have a long way to go. They drew with Lyon 0-0 and remain unbeaten in the Dutch League, but Real Madrid, even without Pepe, Carvalho, Marcelo and Sahin, is an entire different proposition. Ajax will be very happy if they get even a draw from this game.
THT Prediction: Real Madrid 3-0 Ajax
THT Players To Watch Out For: Mezut Ozil (Real Madrid), Christian Eriksen (Ajax)
Olympique Lyonnais v Dinamo Zagreb – Stade Gerland, 27 September 2011
This is a match between a regular feature in the competition, Lyon, and a team that has returned to the Champions League after one decade. The team’s pedigree and European experience aren’t even remotely comparable. That said, Dinamo Zagreb made life very difficult for Real Madrid on matchday 1, they showed that they won’t just roll over to their more seasoned opponents in this group. They are runaway leaders in the Croatian league and have had an admirable European campaign thus far.
Lyon might have a better squad and play at home, but they will have to work hard to get a win. They have had a very good start to the Ligue 1 and they’re joint leaders of the league, with Gomis having scored 6 league goals and Lisandro in great form as well. They will need to keep that level in order to get a win here, a scenario that would put them much closer to advancing to the knockout stages.
THT Prediction: Lyon 1-0 Dinamo Zagreb
THT Players To Watch: Gomis (Lyon), Sammir (Dinamo Zagreb)