Matchday Six in UEFA Champions League promises to be one of the most engaging, with a total of six teams in contention for the 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 G and H.
FC Barcelona v SL Benfica
Camp Nou, Barcelona
Barcelona are already through to the knock-out rounds of UEFA Champions League while their opponents Benfica are among the teams vying for a spot in the Last 16 on Matchday Six. Benfica have head-to-head superiority over Celtic, with the win over the Scottish Champions on Matchday five proving crucial; so as long as they pick up as many points as them, they will go through into the last 16.
With qualification and top spot secured, Tito Vilanova is certain to give chance to the reserve team players and will rest his key players. That is unlikely to make the task for Benfica any easier as Barcelona’s youth team players are likely to keep as much possession of the ball as the first team does on a regular basis and playing away at Camp Nou is always an intimidating task. It would be interesting to see if Tito Vilanova names Lionel Messi in the starting line-up who is only one short of Gerd Muller’s record of 85 goals in a calendar year.
On the domestic front, Barcelona have recorded the best start to a La Liga season. Benfica too have been hot on the heels of FC Porto, and are second only on account of goal difference.
Benfica will give it their all, but may just fall short of a win at Camp Nou. The likely presence of several youth team players means that Benfica could yet have a chance. On paper though, a draw looks the more likely outcome.
Prediction: Barcelona 2-2 Benfica
Celtic FC v FC Spartak Moskva
Celtic Park, Glasgow
Celtic are aiming for a berth in the knockout rounds of UEFA Champions League but find their way blocked by SL Benfica. With Benfica enjoying head-to-head superiority over Celtic, the Scottish Champions can only hope for Benfica to drop points at Camp Nou, which is not a very disheartening scenario for The Hoops. They will need more points than Benfica to qualify.
Regardless of how this goes down, Celtic can be proud of their run in the group stages, with the victory over Barcelona something that will live long in the memory.
Another positive for Celtic is that Spartak are out of European Competition. With nothing but the proverbial pride to play for, Celtic can look forward to a relatively easier task on hand. And yet Spartak caused many problems to Barcelona on Matchday One and almost pulled off an upset. Celtic would need to be on their guard, especially against the counter attacking prowess of the Russian side.
Celtic’s desire to go through to the next stage will see them emerge victorious in the fixture against a resolute Spartak.
Prediction: Celtic 2-1 Spartak
Manchester United v CFR 1907 Cluj
Old Trafford, Manchester
Manchester United secured qualification to the knockout rounds of UEFA Champions League as the group winners at the end of Matchday Four. After a surprise exit in the group stages last season, Sir Alex’s men made no mistake this time around and wrapped up things rather quickly. Although they lost to Galatasaray in the previous outing, it was down to several first team players being rested which is again likely to be the case on Wednesday at Old Trafford.
While Manchester United are top of the English Premier League, CFR have had an indifferent to start to their domestic campaign as the current Romanian Champions are sixth in the table, although they have picked up in the recent weeks. Qualification to knock-out rounds would provide the much needed boost.
The Romanian club, considered underdogs for this group at the beginning of campaign, must consider themselves lucky to be in this position. To qualify for the knock-out rounds, they must secure more points than Galatasaray, who play away at Braga, which would be a tricky task even as Manchester United are expected to field a weakened side. CFR Cluj have produced surprising results in the past and will give it their all, hoping that Braga nick points off Galatasaray.
Although playing a weakened side, CFR will find it difficult to get past Manchester United at Old Trafford and the game may end in a draw.
Prediction: Manchester United 1-1 CFR Cluj
SC Braga v Galatasaray AŞ
Estádio Municipal de Braga, Braga
After securing a 1-0 victory over Manchester United on Matchday Five of UEFA Champions League, Galatasaray would be getting ready for one final push. Owing to superior head-to-head record over CFR Cluj, The Turkish Champions will go through to the next round as long as they secure as many points as the Romanian club. With their fate in their own hands, Galatasaray are expected to give a strong performance.
Braga, even though out of Europe for this season, will hardly be easy customers. The Portuguese club caused countless problems to Manchester United during the group stages and was close to nicking off points both away and at home before United made one of their comebacks. If anything, they would be playing for a final bow in Europe before the home crowd and will undoubtedly give the Turkish Champions a tough time.
Both teams are on a good run of form domestically, Braga being third in the Portuguese Liga while Galatasaray are on top of Super Liga as well. Galatasaray’s desire to go through and Braga’s wastefulness in Europe will see the former nick through an important away victory.
Prediction: SC Braga 1-2 Galatasaray AŞ