Matchday Six in UEFA Champions League promises to be one of the most engaging, with a total of six teams in contention for remaining three slots for qualification to the knock-out stages. European Champions Chelsea, Italian Champions Juventus, Benfica and Celtic are among the teams who are yet to learn their fate in the competition while all four Spanish Clubs in the competition are through to the next round. Here, TheHardTackle previews the games from Group E and Group F.
Chelsea v Nordsjælland
Stamford Bridge, London
Chelsea take on Nordsjælland in a must win fixture for the Blues. Even that might not suffice as they must rely on Shakhtar Donetsk to defeat Juventus in the other Group E fixture on Matchday 6 of UEFA Champions League. Even though they have been massive underdogs throughout, and were not likely to qualify in any case, they will fancy their chances against Chelsea and go out with heads held high.
The wheels have fallen off the European Champions’ so spectacularly that even the most seasoned observers have been left with their mouths gaping. Munich feels like years ago as Chelsea seem like a team in disarray with no ambition, guile or determination, something that so famously won them their first Champions League and was so characteristic in the early stages of the season. Still, Chelsea prodded through strikingly similar waters last season and emerged victorious, only this time they are no longer masters of their own destiny. Yet, a positive result on Matchday 6 could see a turnaround.
Nordsjælland on the other hand are out of European competitions, certain to finish fourth in the group regardless of any result. Even so, they would like to have a go at Chelsea with absolutely nothing to lose. They will take heart from the fact the European Champions look blunt and out of form. On the domestic front, Nordsjælland are on an indifferent run of form, lagging nine points behind league leaders FC Copenhagen in second place. A positive result at Stamford Bridge would be ideal for a team taking its first steps on the biggest stages of all and for the remainder of their domestic season.
For all their problems, Chelsea are still likely to emerge victorious from this fixture. But it might not prove enough as a first Group Stage exit after qualifying 9 years in succession for the knock-out rounds beckons.
Prediction: Chelsea 2-0 Nordsjælland
Shakhtar Donetsk v Juventus
Donbass Arena, Donetsk
One of the most anticipated fixtures on Matchday 6 would be played out between Shakhtar Donetsk and Juventus, in the former’s home stadium. As it stands, a calm, composed draw would be sufficient for both, first placed Shakhtar and second placed Juventus, to waltz through to the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League. But it is not likely to be so simple.
Shakhtar would not want to relinquish the top spot which, by the virtue of seeding rules of UEFA, increases the likelihood of an ‘easier’ opponent in the Round of 16. And even though Juventus are likely to be a shade more defensive and organized than they usually are, Shakhtar will not want to sit back but instead would want to get the security that a first goal might offer them. Juventus would be weary of this, and even though they are more than capable of seeing out a 0-0 draw, the attacking prowess that Shakhtar have displayed throughout this UEFA Champions League campaign is commendable. The confusion of early stages, when both try to weigh out what their opponent is playing for, may set the tone for an interesting game. Chelsea would be peeking around somewhere as well, looking for Shakhtar to bang in a goal.
On the domestic front, both teams continue to dominate and are top of their respective leagues. Shakhtar are on an impressive run, while Juventus put behind the defeat to AC Milan with a comfortable home win against Torino.
For Juventus to get the result they desire, their midfield, sans the reliable Claudio Marchisio, would need to stifle Shakhtar’s impressive midfield, especially the duo of Fernandinho and Willian who have been the stars of the campaign so far. With Luiz Adriano suspended for the game, after his ‘unsporting’ goal against Nordsjælland, Henrikh Mkhitaryan would in all likelihood play up front. Likewise, Vidal has emerged as an attacking threat from midfield during this campaign and Shakhtar would need to keep him in check to keep their first position intact. Chiellini would be crucial at the back for Juventus.
The game will end up in a draw, although the attacking quality with both the teams would mean the game ends as a score-draw. The two would qualify for knock-out rounds of UEFA Champions League.
Prediction: Shakhtar 1-1 Juventus
Bayern Munich v BATE Borisov
Allianz Arena, Munich
Bayern Munich have already qualified for knock-out rounds of UEFA Champions League but the top spot in the group still remains in contention on Matchday Six. Bayern and Valencia both ensured qualification to the knock-out rounds after a 1-1 draw away at Valencia’s Mestalla Stadium.
On the domestic front, Bayern come into the game on the back of a draining home fixture against Borussia Dortmund, which ended in a 1-1 draw. They still remain top of the table though, with an 11 point lead over Dortmund and an 8 point lead over second placed Bayer Leverkusen. Jupp Heynckes would have preferred to rest his key players after such a game, but the lure of top spot would ensure that Heynckes puts out a judicious mixture of fringe players and regular starters.
Mario Gomez may start the game in a long time while the services of Holger Badstuber will be missed after his injury against Dortmund. There is also the sub-plot of revenge, after BATE Borisov defeated Bayern on Matchday 2 in one of the great upsets.
BATE Borisov are cruising on the domestic front, sitting top of their division. One aspect that makes it rather easier for Bayern, which eventually would hold true for the other fixture in this group as well, is that third and fourth positions are already decided with Borisov having already qualified for Europa League on Matchday Five. Playing away from home, Borisov will find it very hard to muster up a performance to take anything away from this game.
Prediction: Bayern Munich 3-1 BATE Borisov
LOSC Lille v Valencia
Grand Stade Lille Métropole, Villeneuve d’Ascq
After a nightmarish start to the Champions League campaign, which culminated in their elimination from Europe on Matchday Five, Lille have nothing but pride to play for. With a domestic season which has not lived upto the expectations, qualification for Champions League next season looks unlikely. Defeating BATE Borisov away from home on Matchday Five brought Lille their first win this season in UEFA Champions League and they will look to go out with a victory over a troubled Valencia side.
Valencia have had one of their most unconvincing domestic seasons in recent memory which ultimately culminated in the sacking of manager Mauricio Pellegrino after a 5-2 home defeat to Real Sociedad. They are languishing in the 12th spot and the only positive has been the securing of a knockout round berth, which looks unlikely on current form next season.
Ernesto Valverde has taken over at Valencia till the end of season and he would like to make a positive start to his tenure. However on the current run of form of both the teams, a draw is the most likely outcome.
Prediction: LOSC Lille 1-1 Valencia