The UEFA Champions League returns this week with plenty of mouthwatering match-ups in store. After the thrills and spills of match day one, how will this second installment compare? TheHardTackle previews all of Tuesday night’s action from Group E and Group F.
Juventus vs. Shakhtar Donetsk
Juventus Stadium, Turin
This Group E encounter pits two perfect records against each other, as the undefeated Italian champions take on a Ukrainian outfit who have won all 13 of their matches this season. Juventus stretched their unbeaten run to 45 league games this weekend with a 4-1 demolition of Roma, and confidence is running high as they look to overtake Shakhtar Donetsk who currently lead Group E.
While Juventus came back from a two-goal deficit to draw with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, Shakhtar defeated Nordsjaelland 2-0 in their Champions League opener. The team from Donetsk are in fine form, and forward Henrik Mkhitaryan has already found the back of the net 13 times in 10 league games, in addition to his brace against Nordsjaelland.
But against Juventus, ex-Serie A coach Mircea Lucescu has a tough test ahead of him. Shakhtar had not defeated an Italian side away in seven tries, before the Miners finally recorded a 3-2 aggregate win over Roma last year.
The last time Juventus and Shakhtar met was in 1976, a match that ended 3-1 in the Italians’ favor. A slightly more even match-up is on the books now, but with Juventus holding the upper hand as Shakhtar try to overcome history as well as home advantage.
Prediction: Juventus 1-0 Shakhtar Donetsk
Nordsjaelland vs. Chelsea
Parken Stadium, Copenhagen
Tuesday night in Denmark sees Chelsea take on a club that is the same age as Eden Hazard. Formed in 1991, Nordsjaelland shocked the Superligaen last season when they wrested the title from three-time defending champions Copenhagen, and were duly rewarded with their first-ever Champions League appearance.
Though Nordsjaelland have featured before in the Uefa Cup and Europa League, this will be the biggest stage they have yet taken. Chelsea are out to defend their Champions League title, and their summer investments have paid off in the Premier League, where they remain undefeated in six matches and sit atop the table ahead of both Manchester clubs. A disappointing start in the Champions League, however, saw Chelsea surrender a two-goal lead to draw Juventus at home, leaving Shakhtar Donetsk on top of Group E. But with the Ukrainians taking on Juventus this week, Chelsea have a chance to leapfrog both.
Daniel Sturridge has been left out of the Chelsea squad, due to lingering concerns over a hamstring injury. Di Matteo will instead stick with Fernando Torres who showed good form last weekend in a 2-1 win at The Emirates. Nordsjaelland also have a prolific goalscorer at their disposal, in the form of loanee Joshua John, who has already netted eight goals in seven games for the Farum-based club.
This match has been seen as a chance for Di Matteo to test out some new names against relatively low-level competition. However, having already dropped two points in their opener, Chelsea need to make sure of three points on Tuesday lest their calculations for a title defense be lost in the mathematical tumble of the group stages.
Prediction: Nordsjaelland 0-2 Chelsea
BATE vs. Bayern Munich
Haradski Stadium, Borisov
In their first-ever visit to Belarus on Tuesday, Bayern Munich are looking to shatter records. After the triple runners-up horror of last season, the Bavarians have rebounded like the perennial title-favorites that they are, and their blistering start to the season has been the talk of the town. Jupp Heynckes’ men won their last nine competitive matches at a trot, scoring 27 goals in the process. Not since 1984/85 have Bayern enjoyed such a start to the season. And with a win over BATE, they would set a new all-time record.
Bayern will be without Arjen Robben, who is still recovering from a muscle injury. Mario Gomez, Diego Contento, and David Alaba remain sidelined as well. But Heynckes, who prefers to take a more cautious approach in Champions League anyway, will have more than enough firepower with Mario Mandzukic, Thomas Müller, and Franck Ribery leading the front line.
Viktor Goncharenko meanwhile should have a full squad to select from, bar any last-minute injury. Alexander Hleb has been cleared to play, and the ex-Bundesliga man’s experience will be useful for BATE side as they take on an unfamiliar European superpower.
The Belarusian side recorded a shock 3-1 victory over Lille on the last match day, marking their first-ever Champions League win in 13 attempts. Though Heynckes is wary of overconfidence, and BATE will be eager to build on their victory, it is difficult to envisage Bayern taking anything less than the full three points from this Tuesday evening encounter.
Prediction: BATE 1-3 Bayern Munich
Valencia vs. Lille
Mestalla Stadium, Valencia
The last time Valencia and Lille met was in Europa League in 2009, an encounter which Los Che won 3-1. Three years later, the two teams meet again as bottom dwellers of Group F.
Neither side has enjoyed a particularly bright start to their campaigns. While Valencia suffered a 2-1 defeat to Bayern on match day one, Lille were shocked by BATE at home, losing 3-1 to a Belarusian side that had never before won a Champions League match. Domestically, both teams have also proven inconsistent, with Valencia currently 10th in La Liga, while Lille have only won one Ligue 1 match this season.
Injuries will be on the minds of both coaches. Lille’s troubles are compounded by the fitness of Salomon Kalou, Ronny Rodelin, and Marvin Martin, who all missed the weekend’s trip to Rennes. Meanwhile, Valencia are in a defensive pickle, with Ricardo Costa, Jeremy Mathieu, and Adil Rami all unavailable. These along with a host of other long- and short-term injuries have contributed to Valencia’s mediocre start to the season.
With everything to play for but no form to speak of, this has all the makings of an anti-classic. Having won at Zaragoza over the weekend, Valencia may have the psychological edge with their home fans behind them. But do not be surprised if this match produces another shock result, as inconsistency seems to be the only consistent product of these two sides at the moment.
Prediction: Valencia 1-1 Lille