The UEFA Champions League returns this week with plenty of mouth-watering match-ups in store. After the thrills and spills of match day one, how will this second installment compare? TheHardTackle previews all of Wednesday night’s action from Group A and Group B.
FC Porto v Paris Saint Germain
Estádio da Dragao, Porto
Wins for both the teams on Matchday 1, makes this game a delicious one for most neutrals. PSG despite starting off slowly in Ligue 1, began their European campaign with a 4-1 win over Dynamo Kiev in Paris. New signings Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva were on the scoresheet for the French side in their Champions League opener, and the former Milan stars would be looking to repeat the same in Portugal. Thiago Motta, though wouldn’t be travelling as he looks to overcome a back pain. The Italian international’s absence will be nullified by the growing stature of Marco Verratti who has taken to the first team like a duck to water. Other than that Carlo Ancelloti’s men are fairly as they were for their game against Sochaux.
FC Porto, who have been regulars in the competition, would be hoping to take full advantage of playing at home. A win for the 2004 champions will see them go top by 3 points and that is exactly what Vitor Pereira would be hoping from his team on Wednesday night. Joao Moutinho would be the mainstay in Porto’s midfield and would be a key figure in the game. James Rodriguez would be another important player for the Portuguese club as they hope to avoid the repeat of their group stage exit of last year. The Porto defence though will have the toughest job in hand, as they look to contain an Ibrahimovic-led attack. Ibra has scored nine goals in eight games since his arrival and stopping him would be one of the biggest challenges for the home team.
Some interesting pointers to the game. PSG have only won once against Portuguese opposition in five attempts, drawing and losing two games each. Porto however have just lost once against French opposition, a defeat at the hands of PSG in 2004. PSG have also kept three consecutive clean sheets in the Champions League. PSG have recorded just a solo away win in the past 14 Champions League matches.
Prediction: Porto 1-1 PSG
Dynamo Kiev v Dinamo Zagreb
Olimpysk’y NSK, Kiev
The battle of the Dy(i)namo’s already feels like the fight for 3rd spot and thus qualification for the Europa League. Neither of the teams are expected to qualify for the knockout stages, but a win in this one will make matters interesting. Kiev will be favourites considering they play at home against a relatively weak Croatian side. Three points followed by a couple of good results in the upcoming Matchdays, will put them right in the mix.
Dynamo Kiev lie second in the Ukrainian league, six points behind leaders Shakhtar. Their recent form has been good, and they would be looking to exploit the leaky Zagreb defence. The attacking potential in this Kiev side is excellent, yet the lack of exposure means they remain raw. Oleg Blokhin would be hoping to tap the undoubted talents of players like Yarmolenko and Ideye. The importance of Miguel Veloso cannot be overstated as he would be looking to pull the strings and dominate the middle of the park.
Dinamo Zagreb on their part would be hoping to be tighter at the back and play on the counter. No injury concerns means we would be able to witness a full strength Zagreb side, boasting of Mateo Kovacic, one of the hottest and sought after properties in Europe. Cacic seems fairly confident and his confidence could further be channelized by Sammir, who has been the vital cog in the Croatian club’s recent successes.
Some pointers for the game. Dinamo Zagreb have lost nine of their last 10 Champions League games, drawing the other one, letting in 19 goals. Dynamo Kiev meanwhile have just kept one clean sheet in their past 12 Champions League home games. The two sides previously met in 2003-04 Champions League qualification, in which Kiev ran out 5-1 winners on aggregate.
Prediction: Dynamo Kiev 3-1 Dinamo Zagreb
Arsenal v Olympiakos
Emirates Stadium, London
A rematch of last season’s group stage encounter sees Greek champion Olympiakos visit Ashburton Grove on Wednesday night. Narrowly beaten in their first group game, Olympiakos would be hoping to register their first points against Arsenal. The London side had a setback of their own at the weekend after being beaten at home by Chelsea, for their first defeat of the season. Home form in the league has been patchy, but the Emirates has been a happy hunting ground for the Gunners in the cup competitions. Olympiakos know a win would be unlikely but surely not impossible. The last meeting between the two sides saw Arsenal get beaten away in Greece after goalkeeping howlers from Fabianski and Mannone. The clock has turned a year and so have Mannone’s fortunes. The Italian custodian will be starting in goal for the injured Szczesny. In other injury news, Mikel Arteta will undergo a late fitness test while Abou Diaby is unlikely to feature for upto three weeks. Serge Gnabry could be in the squad depending on Arteta’s fitness.
Olympiakos have had a good run of form back home, sitting on top comfortably by three points. With minimal fitness issues for the visitors, the Greek club would be fielding a near full strength team in London, which would mean former Man United keeper Roy Carroll in goal.
With a more organized defence at their disposal the home side should not be troubled much, and should see this through. Olympiakos on the other hand will be looking to play positive football as a defeat here could make further progress extremely difficult.
Prediction: Arsenal 2-0 Olympiakos
Schalke 04 v Montpellier
Veltins Arena, Gelsenkirchen
German side Schalke host Ligue 1 champions Montpellier at the Veltins Arena. The German side have started their Bundesliga campaign decently, ending Dusseldorf’s run of games without conceding a goal on Friday night in a thrilling 2-2 draw. Their win against Olympiakos in Greece, was hardly comfortable but they were professional enough to return with 3 points. Montpellier despite their defeat against Arsenal will be no pushovers and would be hoping to put aside their terrible start in France with a positive result.
Ibrahim Affelay, on loan from Barcelona, hasn’t hit the ground running at Schalke as many would have hoped. Despite this he might just get the nod for a start as Juanfran recovers from his injury. The major selection headache would be at centre back with Uchida fit and Matip performing brilliantly on Friday. Papadoupoulos will have to wait till Wednesday night to find out who he partners in defence. Other than that, the rest of the team picks itself.
For Montpellier, Juenechamp and Bedima are major doubts for the game. Marco Estrada would be the most likely candidate to fill in, with Yanga-Mbiwa playing as a fullback. Just like Olympiakos, Montpellier are desperate for a result and a defeat could ring elimination bells, despite being just 2 matches into the competition.
Prediction: Schalke 1-1 Montpellier