As the football fans around the globe brace themselves for an exciting round of matches in the first installment of Matchday 1, the Champions League will also continue its mesmeric run for the second segment of Matchday 1. TheHardTackle presents to you the match previews of the exciting sets of matches in the second installment of Day 1.
Chelsea vs Juventus
Stamford Bridge, London
Defending champions Chelsea face Juventus, the defending Serie A champions, in this high-voltage Group E game. Chelsea had a frustrating weekend, when they were held to a goalless draw against their West London rivals – QPR. This will be Chelsea’s tenth consecutive Champions League appearance. Good news for them is that on each of the past nine occasions, they have made it to the next round.
In fact, the team has remained unbeaten in the Champions League group stage for 26 games now. The Blues won all their games at home in last season’s Champions League and have remained undefeated against Juventus ever since their meeting in the last 16 in 2008-09 season. Mata, who had been rested in the Blues’ last League game against QPR, is expected to return to the side, replacing Ryan Bertrand on the left side of the pitch.
Juventus will start more confidently riding on the back of a successful away trip to Genoa in the Serie A. The Turin-based outfit has won four out of its last five competitive games, now unbeaten in 42 games in Serie A, since May, 2011. It will be interesting to see how the Italian giants react against the defending champions in their Champions League comeback following a hiatus of two seasons.
In other news, Juve legend Alessandro Del Piero has left the club after spending 19 seasons with the Bianconeri. Juventus do not boast of a good record in England, having lost all their six previous clashes on English soil. But their solid defense and current form may just give them a flicker of hope to improve their record in England.
Prediction: Chelsea 1-1 Juventus
Players To Watch Out For: Eden Hazard (Chelsea), Kwadwo Asamoah (Juventus)
Shakhtar vs Nordsjælland
Donbass Arena, Donetsk
The double winners from Ukraine are expected to leave the ghost of last season’s debacle behind and start afresh against the apparent whipping boys of the group, newbies Nordsjælland. Shakhtar had earlier trounced their less touted opponents 3-1 in the last eight of a friendly tournament, Copa Del Sol, in Spain.
The Miners have won only once in their last eight games (5 defeats, 2 draws) in the continental trophy. In fact, they have not won a single game in their last four home games in Europe. Hopefully they’ll be able to turn the tide with a victory in the first game to keep their hopes alive to qualify to the next round.
The maiden Danish Superliga winners are one of the three debutants of this year’s Champions League. Qualifiers and group stages in UEFA Cup and UEFA Europa League combined, the Danish newbies have won eight games in 32 appearances.
And if qualifiers are excluded, the apparent minnows have lost all four games, scoring only once and conceding ten goals in the process. In a group consisting of Chelsea and Juventus, other than Shakhtar, Nordsjælland can only hope to play for their pride and any finish other than the bottom of the table will be a huge boost to the side’s morale.
Prediction: Shakhtar 2-0 Nordsjælland
Players To Watch Out For: Fernandinho (Shakhtar), Willian (Shakhtar)
Bayern vs Valencia
Allianz Arena, Munich
Last year’s runners-up, Bayern Munich, looked determined to shrug off the alliance of failure and went on a spending spree in the summer to bolster an already star-studded team. A smashing 3-1 victory over Mainz over the weekend has kept Bayern at the top of the table of Bundesliga with 100% record.
The Roten had posted seven straight home wins last season; overall they have won 14 of their last 15 European home games. Record of the German side against its Spanish counterparts has been good at home, winning 13 times in 19 meetings and having lost only once, against Deportivo La Coruna in 2002-03. On current form, Bayern are the overwhelming favorites against a much depleted Valencia.
Valencia are going through testing times, on and off the pitch. The team has only won once in the last five competitive games. The solitary victory came against Celta Vigo over the weekend. Coach Mauricio Pellegrino has a task cutout as his side is likely to miss important first team members Albelda, Piatti, Canales and Banega in this match.
Pellegrino is also sweating for the match fitness of Fernando Gago who was injured during the international break. All in all, Valencia looks set for a tough game on their first European night in this season’s Champions League campaign.
Prediction: Bayern Munich 3-0 Valencia CF
Players To Watch Out For: Mario Mandžukić (Bayern), Soldado (Valencia)
Lille vs BATE
Grand Stade Lille Métropole, Lille
Lille, who finished third in last season’s Ligue 1, had to endure the rigors of the qualifying round against FC Copenhagen to qualify for their fifth appearance in the continental competition. Last year, the then defending Ligue 1 champions were expected to surprise European contingency with their brand of football.
But unfortunately they finished at the bottom of their group. Nevertheless, the French side has a good record at home in Europe, having lost only once in 12 appearances. The solitary loss came against Inter in last year. The Mastiffs look likely to clinch this tie based on their superior legacy at home.
Their opponents, Borisov, did not do well in their last Champions League campaign either. The Belarusian side, that recorded their sixth straight title in 2011-12, finished at the bottom of their group, last term. In the qualifying round, the minnows had to go through two grueling home and away games, followed by another double-legged play-off round.
BATE remained unbeaten in each of the three away qualifying games just like they did in their last three qualifying campaigns as well. BATE’s overall away record unveils only two victories and five defeats in 12 matches.
Prediction: LOSC Lille 2-0 BATE Borisov
Players To Watch Out For: Túlio De Melo (Lille), Vitali Rodionov (BATE)
Celtic vs Benfica
Celtic Park, Glasgow
If history of the clubs is considered, there’s not much to choose between the two sides. Celtic have won three out of their last five games, losing a bit of steam in their defeat against St.Johnstone over the weekend. It was at Benfica’s stadium that Celtic reached its European pinnacle in 1967.
The club is cash-strapped at the moment with reportedly around £300m of debt. Notwithstanding the financial struggle, The Celts have always qualified to the next round if they were pitted against Benfica in the group stage, that too at the expense of the Portuguese side.
The Bhoys’ Portuguese counterparts, another former Champion, will look to turn the tables this time around. Portuguese sides have never been good at Celtic Park. Record informs that Celtic have never lost to a Portuguese side in ten home games, winning nine of them. The selling of Javi Garcia and Axel Witsel has arguably weakened the Encarnados to some extent.
Benfica’s only victory on Scottish soil came in 1960-61, against Heart of Midlothian. Despite these discouraging facts, the Eagles can take heart from the fact that they went through a five-away-match unbeaten streak last term, a feat they can still achieve; Oscar Cardozo is still a part of this team and oppositions will be missing Giorgos Samaras. This could be Benfica’s best opportunity to turn the tables against their Scottish counterparts.
Prediction: Celtic 1-1 Benfica
Players To Watch Out For: James Forrest (Celtic), Oscar Cardozo (Benfica)
Barcelona vs Spartak Moscow
Camp Nou, Barcelona
Champions of 2010-2011 and semi-finalists of last season, the Catalans are the sempiternal favorites to win this title, let alone this group. Under Guardiola the Spanish side reached at least the semifinal stage in each of their last four attempts, winning the trophy twice.
Vilanova will have his task cut out to match his predecessor’s achievements. But surely the group stage will not pose much threat to the new coach. He’ll however miss the services of Puyol and Iniesta through injury. Alexis Sanchez and Jordi Alaba are also doubtful for the tie.
Spartak have a really tough task at hand. They will be up against Barcelona, at Camp Nou, where the hosts have not lost in 16 games. However, it was another Russian club only (Rubin Kazan) that snapped Barcelona’s undefeated record at home. Spartak has a poor record against Spanish sides in away games. In 12 games, they’ve won four times and lost on eight occasions, most recently in 2006-07 against Celta Vigo.
The Red-Whites have failed to reach the next stage in each of their last three attempts. Their Spanish coach, Unai Emery, is yet to win against Barcelona in 12 attempts, having lost in all the last five encounters. This one could just be another riot keeping mind the sublime form of the little Argentine genius.
THT Prediction: Barcelona 4-0 Spartak
THT Players To Watch Out For: Lionel Messi (Barcelona), David Villa (Barcelona)
Manchester United vs Galatasaray
Old Trafford, Manchester
Manchester United will be eager to get back to winning ways this Wednesday, earmarking their 17th consecutive Champions League campaign in style. Last season, Sir Alex’s side could only manage a solitary home win, that too against a lowly Otelul Galati, resulting in the club’s ouster from the group stage for the first time since 2005. They were also eliminated from UEFA Europa League last-16 stage.
United does not have a good record against Turkish sides at home, winning thrice and losing twice in six games. The good thing is that United have never lost their first group stage match since 1997. Moreover, a 4-0 victory against Wigan over the weekend has definitely boosted their confidence. Red Devils legend Paul Scholes marked his 700th club game with a goal and even new signing, Buttner scored and provided an assist.
Fatih Terim’s Galatasaray are finally back in the Champions League after a hiatus of five years. The Turkish outfit does not really have a good record in England. In seven previous games, Galatasaray have lost four times and are yet to break the duck in winning a game.
Their last visit in the island turned out a 2-3 defeat at the hands of Liverpool, in 2006-07. A lot of Terim’s men’s fate will depend on how prodigy Burak Yilmaz fares against a well-oiled backline of Man.United.
Prediction: Manchester United 1-0 Galatasaray
Players To Watch Out For: Shinji Kagawa (United), Burak Yilmaz (Galatasaray)
Braga vs Cluj
Estádio Municipal de Braga, Braga
This will be Braga’s first ever encounter against a Romanian club and vice versa for Cluj. Jose Peseiro’s Portuguese outfit are ready for their second Champions League excursion. Last term they started off their disastrous campaign losing their first two games without even scoring once.
However, Braga won their last two home games to finish third and went on to reach the UEFA Europa League final in 2010-2011. The Minhotos had earned a place in the finals following a tough qualifying round triumph over Udinese on shootout.
This will be Cluj’s third Champions League campaign in five seasons. The Romanian outfit has finished bottom of the group in each occasion in the past. However, this time around they can draw in confidence from their away performances in the qualifiers.
The Railwaymen defeated Slovan Liberec and FC Basel away from home. In fact, Cluj’s victory over Basel marked the first ever victory of a Romanian club on Swiss turf. Moreover, the White-Burgundies have six Portuguese players in their ranks of which three are ex-Braga players. This game could be very interesting considering the fact that there’s not much to choose between these two sides, at least on pen and paper.
Prediction: Braga 2-2 Cluj
Players To Watch Out For: Alan (Braga), Pantelis Kapetanos (Cluj)