Manchester United travel to face Shakhtar Donetsk in a tough test, while Bayer Leverkusen hope to right the wrongs of a disastrous opening day, at home to Real Sociedad. TheHardTackle previews Group A.
Shakhtar Donetsk v/s Manchester United
Donbass Arena, Donetsk
The Ukrainian champions have been regular participants in the Champions League in recent years, and have recently started to show that they are not just there to make up the numbers. Manager Mircea Lucescu is no spring chicken, and has set about building a fearsome squad consisting of homegrown talent blended with a number of Brazilian players in attacking positions. The Romanian, however, is currently dealing with a squad that needs to be integrated, as he deals with the departures of Willian, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Fernandinho over the last one year. The Ukrainian side have just come off a draw away to Metalurh Donetsk over the weekend, but had claimed the full three points in the opening round of the tournament.
David Moyes, on the other hand, goes into this game under a significant amount of pressure. A midweek victory over Liverpool in the Capital One Cup may have ensured progression and bragging rights for the time being, but it has only papered over the cracks that were opened by Manchester City one week and ruthlessly exposed by West Bromwich Albion the next. Even the fear factor associated with Sir Alex Ferguson looks to be waning, with Lucescu even (cheekily) blaming David Moyes’ constant tinkering for Man United’s troubles. Robin van Persie could start his first game in 2 weeks however, thus boosting the visitors.
The Donbass Arena is a notoriously tough place to play an away game, not least in the Champions League. Mircea Lucescu has already warned the visitors that the place will be a cauldron, and the experienced pros among the Red Devils will need to summon all their experience to negotiate this fixture. Shakhtar had beaten Chelsea at home last season; so there is no reason to suggest that they won’t be able to pull off something of a similar nature on Wednesday. Expect goals from both sides in this fascinating battle; as even 1 point at this stage for Manchester United will be well-earned.
Prediction: Shakhtar Donetsk 2-2 Manchester United
Players to watch out for: Alex Teixeira (Shakhtar Donetsk), Robin van Persie (Manchester United)
Bayer Leverkusen v/s Real Sociedad
Bay Arena, Leverkusen
The hosts go into this game having defeated Hanover 96 at home by a two-goal margin. They face the prospect, though, of having to do the same in Wednesday’s Champions League encounter. The pedigree of the English champions means that the Germans have a tough fight on their hands to qualify for the knockout rounds. They did themselves with no favours on the opening day, and will need to be more solid on home territory this time around. Former Liverpool defender Sami Hyypiä is in charge of a team that currently lies third in the Bundesliga after a strong start to the season, and will be relying on star striker Stefan Kießling to do the job required on Wednesday. Lars Bender is reportedly doubtful for this fixture, but the German side have no significant injury concerns.
La Real, on the other hand, have had contrasting fortunes at the start of their season. They currently lie in the lower half of the table in the La Liga, and missed an opportunity to score points at home thanks to an opening round loss to Ukrainian champions Shakhtar Donetsk. Unfortunate as it is for the Spanish side, they have major concerns on the injury front. Captain Xabi Prieto picked up a hamstring injury during their 4-1 defeat at Barcelona a week ago and will be absent for the game. Esteban Granero, on loan from Queen’s Park Rangers, will miss out too; while Frenchman Antoine Griezmann faces a race against time to be fit enough to take the field. La Real have suffered due to their poor form in front of the goal, and defender Carlos Martinez bemoaned their poor goalscoring form this season.
Sidney Sam, Heung Min Son and Stefan Kießling have been prolific for Bayer Leverkusen of late, and should excel in this fixture. Real Sociedad are technically strong as well, and the German side would do well not to underestimate the visitors on Wednesday.
Prediction: Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 Real Sociedad
Players to watch out for: Stefan Kießling (Bayer Leverkusen), Antoine Griezmann (Real Sociedad)