The Matchday 4 of the UEFA Champions League sees a number of teams looking to clinch promotion to the next stage whereas some others are seeking to stay alive in the competition. TheHardTackle previews all the action from what promises to be a fascinating Tuesday night of action in Groups A-D.
Dynamo Kyiv vs FC Porto
NSK Olimpiyskyi, Kyiv
A fortnight after the pulsating 5 goal thriller at Estadio Dragao, the two teams lock horns again, this team in Ukraine. Last time after the resilient visitors had struck back twice in the game, it took a Jackson Martinez strike, 12 minutes from time, to maintain Porto’s 100% record in the competition. A similar result on Tuesday would seal the Portuguese team’s qualification from the group stages with two games left to play. For their opponents though, a win would merely help in maintaining the pressure on PSG for the race to finish second in the group.
On the domestic front, Dynamo have been wretched this season with the team languishing at fourteen points from the top of the table. In stark contrast, the Portuguese side are in red hot form this season and the 5-0 route of CS Maritimo in the weekend extended their unbeaten streak to 13 games in all competition.
One of the key factors behind Porto’s blistering form has been striker Jackson Martinez who has bagged 12 goals in 13 appearances for the club and country this season, including a brace on Matchday 3. Stopping him may prove to be too big a task for the Dynamo defense which has conceded seven goals in the competition, a joint highest along with Spartak Moscow, Nordsjælland & Manchester City.
THT Prediction: Dynamo 2-2 Porto
PSG vs Dinamo Zagreb
Parc des Princes, Paris
The Croatian champions Dinamo Zagreb are without a win, a point and a goal this season in the competition. Do not expect any of those three stats to change at the conclusion of Matchday 4 as they face an unenviable task of tackling the French powerhouse PSG in Paris.
On Matchday 3, goals from Zlatan Ibrahimović and Jérémy Ménez condemned Dinamo to their ninth consecutive defeat in the Champions League group stages. This time in their own backyard, the French side will surely look to inflict a heavy defeat on the Croatian minnows and crank up the pressure on group leaders Porto.
If Dinamo needed some ray of hope, it came in form of PSG’s first defeat of the season at home to St. Etienne in the weekend in a fixture in which Ibrahimović was sent off. It remains to be seen whether defeat disrupts the French side’s momentum or Dinamo are made to suffer the backlash.
THT Prediction: PSG 4-0 Dinamo
Olympiacos FC vs Montpellier Hérault SC
Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium, Piraeus
In the battle of the bottom dwellers in the group, French champions Montpellier will be out to avenge the 1-2 defeat to their Greek counterparts at home in Matchday 3. However, victory for the hosts coupled with a similar outcome in the group’s other fixture in Germany, will see Olympiacos in contention of a qualification berth for the knockout rounds.
With a solitary point from three games, Montpellier will know a defeat in this fixture would extinguish any realistic chance for them to continue their European sojourn, even in Europa League. They should take heart from the hosts’ recent record against Ligue 1 side with Olympiacos suffering defeats in their last four home encounters against French opposition.
To make it five out of five, the French team would need to shore up the defense which has conceded two goals in each of their three group games. If the game stays tight, supporters will be well advised not to leave the stadium early with both of Montpellier’s last two games in the competition having been decided by injury time goals.
THT Prediction: Olympiacos 2-1 Montpellier
FC Schalke 04 vs Arsenal FC
Stadion Gelsenkirchen, Gelsenkirchen
After claiming a well-deserved victory away to Arsenal on Matchday 3, Schalke will be looking to consolidate their position at the top of the group. A victory on Tuesday will clinch qualification for the German side while even a draw will see them maintain pole position. Arsenal, on the other hand, will know anything other than a victory will leave them sweating on qualification especially if Olympiacos prevail at home in the group’s other fixture.
Both the teams come into the fixture on the back of disappointing domestic reversals with Schalke succumbing to Hoffeinheim in a high scoring encounter while Arsenal lost away to rivals Manchester United. With the latter fixture being characterized by the limp display of the Arsenal forwards Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski, manager Arsene Wenger may look to recall contract rebel Theo Walcott to the starting lineup for this pivotal encounter.
The Schalke frontmen Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Ibrahima Afellay had a field day against Arsenal on Matchday 3 and the home crowd will be hoping for a repeat performance on Tuesday. Arsenal on the other hand will look to emulate the last two English sides who visited Gelsenkirchen – Manchester United and Manchester City – both of whom went back home with a 2-0 away victory.
THT Prediction: Schalke 2-1 Arsenal
RSC Anderlecht vs FC Zenit St Petersburgh
Constant Vanden Stock Stadium, Brussels
The Belgian champions Anderlecht will look to keep their chances of progress in the competition alive when they lock horns with Russian heavyweight Zenit. A win for the hosts, which would be their first in home in the competition since 2003, will see them overtake Zenit whose only points came from the scrappy victory achieved in the reverse fixture.
The Belgian side has been plagued by disciplinary problems on pitch in this season’s competition with their total of ten yellow cards being the joint highest along with LOSC Lille. Defender Marcin Wasilewski, who has collected three of those ten, is suspended for this fixture. Big spending Zenit have not quite made the impact they would have hoped to have made in this season’s competition but a victory here would put them in a position to make a decent fist of qualification.
The weekend victory against FC Rostov came at a cost to Zenit with Brazilian forward Hulk being ruled out for two weeks with a hamstring injury. However, the game did see the return of Portuguese striker Danny, who had been out of action since February.
THT Prediction: Anderlecht 1-1 Zenit
AC Milan vs Málaga CF
Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, Milan
Málaga have been one of the surprise packages in the competition this season with three wins out of three till now. On Tuesday night, they face their most daunting assignment yet, when they travel to Italy to take on the seven times champion AC Milan. While it may reasonably be argued that this Milan side has somewhat lost their old aura, it still will be fascinating to see whether the old powerhouse is able to withstand the force of the young upstart.
In the reverse fixture, a solitary strike from Joaquín proved to be enough for the Spanish team to bag all three points and cement their position on top of the group. Such is their stranglehold in the group that even a draw at San Siro will virtually guarantee them the top spot barring an extremely unlikely set of results. Their domestic form though has tapered off slightly in recent weeks with only one win in the last four league encounters which culminated in a shock home loss against Rayo Vallaceno in the weekend.
Milan will be buoyed by their convincing 5-1 victory against Chievo last weekend and will be banking on in-form striker Stephan El Shaarawy to do something no other player has done in this competition till now – score against Málaga.
THT Prediction: Milan 2-1 Málaga
Manchester City FC vs AFC Ajax
Etihad Stadium, Manchester
After three matchdays, chances of Manchester City making it through to the knockout stages of the competition have been whittled down to two – slim and none. Anything other than a victory against their Dutch opponents on Tuesday will see ‘slim’ pack his bags on the way out of Manchester.
While no one expected City to enjoy a smooth ride in what was predicted to be the Group of Death, the extent of their travails in the competition has beggared belief. It seems ages ago that they were leading Real Madrid at Santiago Bernabéu with five minutes left to play. Since then very little has gone right for them and with a single point in three matches City are in real danger of finishing bottom of their group, a fate which has befallen no other English champions in this competition. A drab draw against West Ham in the weekend would have further dented City’s confidence heading into this fixture.
Ajax, who were well worth their win over City on the last matchday, will be looking to make it two wins out of two from visits to Manchester this year after their scalp of Manchester United in Europa League in February.
THT Prediction: Man City 2-0 Ajax
Real Madrid CF vs Borussia Dortmund
Santiago Bernabéu, Madrid
If the abject performance of City in the group had paved way for Dortmund to qualify from the group stages for the first time since 1997/98 season, their surprise victory over Real has presented them an outside chance of topping the group. However, in order to achieve that, they must stop Real from winning their ninth consecutive home game in the competition. Given the wealth of attacking talent at Real’s disposal and the general style of play adopted by Jurgen Klopp’s men, plenty of goals may well be in order for the day.
Real, in their true fashion, warmed up for the encounter with a 4-0 drubbing of Real Zaragoza. Dortmund, in contrast, struggled to a goalless draw at home to Stuttgart last Saturday. More than result, the facial injury suffered by skipper Sebastian Kehl would be of greater concern to Dortmund, even though there is a strong possibility that Kehl may play on Tuesday with a protective headwear.
THT Prediction: Real Madrid 3-1 Dortmund