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 C and Group D.
Anderlecht vs. Malaga
Constant Vanden Stock Stadium, Brussels
This fixture sees two unbeaten sides face off in what could prove to be a mouth watering game for the neutrals. Anderlecht have gotten off to a solid start in their league campaign with five wins and four draws, putting them in second place. The high flying Spaniards have also come out with all guns blazing and sit in third place in the La Liga.
Anderlecht currently have the best defensive record in Belgium, having conceded just eight goals in nine games. If you think this is a good defensive record, Malaga will leave you awe struck. They have let in just two goals in their six games, which includes a game at the San Mames and one against overachieving Mallorca, this season. Both sides also had commendable starts to their Champions League campaigns, as Anderlecht held Italian giants to a 0-0 draw while Malaga walloped heavy spending Zenit by three goals to zero.
Anderlecht haven’t done too well at home in the Champions League, having failed to win a game in their last nine games. The good news for the Belgian side is that their only Champions League win in their last twenty games has come against Spanish opposition. Malaga have very little European history and this is their very first season in the Champions League. The good news for them is that they have lost only once in a European tie.
Prediction : Anderlecht 1-2 Malaga
Milan vs. Zenit
Stadion Petrovski, St Petersburg
Unlike the other fixture in Group C, this one pits two sides that have been greatly underachieving this season. With the mass exodus at Milan in the summer, Max Allegri’s side has struggled to find any form this season. There has been a massive lack of creativity up front and Milan have scored just seven goals in their six league games. Zenit’s story has been very different. They spent heavily in the summer but the players have failed to gel together. The Russian giants kicked off their campaign in style but their recent form, especially defensively, has left a lot to be desired.
Luciano Spalletti’s men have now failed to keep a cleansheet in their last three league games and were on the wrong side of a humiliating 3-0 result against Malaga in the Champions League. Zenit also have their fair share of off-field problems with Igor Denisov refusing to play and demanding a new contract. Milan have been a ghost of their early 21st century selves in the Champions League over recent years. Right now, the injury woes of last season are past them but they are struggling to score goals barring Stephan El Shaarawy. A lot will depend on the young Italian on Wednesday night.
Playing in Russia is always a hard task and Zenit’s home record in Europe is testimony to that. The Zenitchiki are unbeaten in their last thirteen home games and Spalletti will be looking to keep that run going. One bit of bad news is that their record against Italian opposition isn’t as flashy, as they have won just one out six games against the Italians. Milan have always done well while travelling to Russia, picking up two wins out of three. The Rossoneri will be looking to these past glories with the hope of pulling off something special against a determined Luciano Spalletti.
Prediction : Zenit 1-2 Milan
Ajax vs. Real Madrid
Amsterdam ArenA, Amsterdam
For the past two seasons, Ajax and Real Madrid have been drawn into the same group and on both occasions Ajax have failed to qualify while Madrid have gone on to top the group. Both teams have been unable to build on last season’s league triumphs and languish outside the top three. Ajax’s league position might not be the most impressive but the fact that they are just three points behind the leaders adds some credibility. Madrid haven’t been at their goalscoring best in the league so far, but their remarkable win against Manchester City on matchday 1 was a promising sign.
Madrid’s off-field troubles keep growing, from Ronaldo’s sadness to the Ramos –Mourinho spat. Thankfully for Los Merengues, Michael Essien is back from injury while Xabi Alonso should also be inducted back into the starting XI. Ajax’s sole worry is the long term injury to Miralem Sulejmani. A lot will depend on their starlet, Christian Eriksen, who is yet to prove himself on a big day. As usual, Ronaldo will be the chief destroyer in this David versus Goliath match.
The last two meetings between these two teams have been worse than forgettable for Ajax. Ajax have conceded seven goals in these two games and failed to score even once. To make things worse for Ajax, they have failed to score in their last four home games in the Champions League. Keeping Madrid at bay seems an almost impossible option for Ajax and they will have to pull off something special if they are to upset the Spanish champions. Mourinho’s men will be looking to keep their Champions League campaign in full flow and hopefully repeat something similar to either of their last two games against Ajax.
Prediction : Ajax 0-4 Real Madrid
Manchester City vs. Borussia Dortmund
City of Manchester Stadium, Manchester
The champions of England against the champions of Germany. Like the other two teams in this group, these two giants have failed to replicate their domestic form from last season. Manchester City may still be unbeaten in the league but their performances have left a lot to be desired. Their defensive unit has been extremely lackluster over the first few months of the season, having failed to maintain a single cleansheet so far. Dortmund have also been below par when it comes to defending but have also shown some post-Kagawa trauma, with their attacking being a shadow of what it was last season.
City could welcome Jack Rodwell back into the starting lineup but it seems most likely that Roberto Mancini will stick to the lineup from their previous game against Real Madrid. Dortmund have no injury problems at the moment and Robert Lewandowski should return to the starting lineup after having been rested over the weekend. A lot will be expected of Marco Reus after his demolishing of Borussia Mönchengladbach.
Dortmund’s form against English teams has been woeful and their showings against Arsenal last year are proof of that. They have also struggled on the road having failed to pick up a single win in their last five trips in Europe. Manchester City’s home record in European competitions is nothing short of spectacular. The Blues have lost only one of thirty four European games. If history is to go by, this game is already done and dusted.
Prediction : Manchester City 2-2 Borussia Dortmund