Manchester United and David Moyes start their European campaign at home with a tough fixture against Bayer Leverkusen, while Real Madrid make the dreaded trip to Turkey. This and much more as THT previews the Champions League matches of Group A and Group B.
Manchester United v Bayer Leverkusen
Old Trafford, Manchester
This match will see two managers making their managerial debut in the Champions League. This competition will put to test David Moyes and Sami Hyypia’s tactical acumen and their managerial credentials.
Manchester United returned to winning ways in their last match, with a 2-0 victory over Crystal Palace. But despite that win, David Moyes might be concerned about the fact that his team has failed to score from open play in their last three matches now; United failed to create too many openings against a well organised Crystal Palace 10-men defence.
It will be interesting to see David Moyes’ team selection for his first European assignment. Marouane Fellaini is likely to make his first start in this game for Manchester United, after making his debut from the bench in the last game. There is also a possibility of Rio Ferdinand being rested for this game and Jonny Evans starting alongside Vidic. Darren Fletcher is still out injured, while there are also concerns about Rafael and Phil Jones. Wayne Rooney, who started in the last game with a protective head gear, is expected to start in the crucial midweek tie, behind Robin van Persie.
Bayer Leverkusen have made a fine start to their league campaign this season, having won four out their last five matches. Their only blemish came in the 2-0 away defeat at the hands of Schalke, but they recovered well in the last game with a wonderful performance against Wolfsburg. Stefan Kießling and Sidney Sam continued their fine start to the season with goals against Wolfsburg. The duo have scored 8 goals between them and will be a major threat for the United defence.
Sami Hyypia hasn’t experimented with his starting line-up this season, but he rested Ömer Toprak this weekend. The latter is expected to replace Philipp Wollscheid in the starting line-up in this game. Lars Bender, who missed the last game after picking up a knock, is also expected to replace Rolfes in the midfield. Other than these two changes, the rest of the starting 11 fairly picks itself for Hyypia.
United might have the home advantage in this game, but Bayer will be more than confident about getting a result at Old Trafford. Bayer’s attack is capable of scoring past most defences in Europe and United will have to do better to contain them.
Prediction: Manchester United 1-1 Bayer Leverkusen
Players to watch out for: Wayne Rooney (Manchester United); Sidney Sam (Bayer Leverkusen)
Real Sociedad v Shakhtar Donetsk
Anoeta Stadium, San Sebastian
Real Sociedad and Shakhtar Donetsk are widely considered as the dark horses in this group and possibly of this tournament – two sides who play exciting and attacking football and are capable of causing an upset against any side in this competition.
Real Sociedad have a young and talented core and manager Jagoba Arrasate is determined to get the best out of them. Sociedad made a decent start to their campaign, but they would know that they need to win matches against the likes of Elche and Levante, if they want to improve on their standings from last season. On their day, they play some of the most attractive football one can come across in La Liga, but at times, the team shows its lack of experience.
Young Spanish defender Inigo Martinez returned from his injury against Levante and will prove to be a huge boost for the side, but Diego Ifran still remains on the side-lines. There are doubts about the fitness of Liassine Cadamuro and Carlos Martinez. The attacking trident of Carlos Vela, Antoine Griezmann and Xabi Prieto are capable of troubling most defences and Arrasate will hope that his side can score more than they concede.
Shakhtar Donetsk have lost some of their key players in the summer, but have replaced them with some talented recruits of their own. The Ukrainian side ruffled a lot of feathers last time around in the Champions League, and will look to cause similar damage this season.
They made a fantastic start to the season and won their first six games of the league in a row, but off late their form has dropped, starting with their 3-1 defeat to Dnipro. They are coming into this game after a 3-2 loss to Karpaty and worryingly for Mircea Lucescu, his side is leaking goals. Shakhtar have conceded seven goals in their last three matches, and against an attacking side like Real Sociedad, they can be in for a long, cold night.
Prediction: Real Sociedad 2-1 Shakhtar Donetsk
Players to watch out for: Antoine Griezmann (Real Sociedad); Luis Adriano (Shakhtar Donetsk)
Galatasaray v Real Madrid
Turk Telekom Arena, Istanbul
Real Madrid won the tie on aggregate last season when these two sides met in the knockout stages of the competition, but not before the Turkish side gave them a scare in the second leg at home. Madrid will be well aware of how difficult is it for a visiting side to get a result in Turkey.
Galatasaray have made an undefeated start to their league campaign, but have drawn their last three matches. In their last game, they went behind early on in the match against Antalyaspor, but a late goal from Didier Drogba in the second half earned them a point. Fatih Terim will be particularly concerned that his team’s attack, which seems strong on paper, has looked a bit disjointed in the early stages of this season.
But Terim was without some key players in the last game as Wesley Sneijder was rested ahead of this big clash, while Selcuk Inan was also missing from the line-up after picking up a knock on international duty. But the duo are expected to return to the starting line-up. New signing Bruma is also expected to earn his first start for the side he joined this summer, on the right wing. It seems likely that Terim will persists with his 4-2-3-1 formation and with Drogba being favoured, last season’s top scorer for the Turkish side, Burak Yilmaz is expected to start from the bench. There are also doubts about the fitness of ex-Real Madrid player, Hamit Altintop.
Real Madrid have made an unbeaten start to their campaign, although they are coming into this match on the back of a 2-2 draw with Villarreal. The Spanish side have spent a lot this summer, especially on their star signing Gareth Bale, and big things are expected off them this season.
Unlike Terim, Carlo Ancelotti has a long injury list to contain with ahead of this fixture. Xabi Alonso and Raphael Varane are out injured, while Arbeloa, Coentrao and Marcelo were recently added to that injury list. This leaves Ancelotti with very few options at the back. Iker Casillas is expected to start in Europe and will replace Diego Lopez in the goal. Ancelotti is likely to opt for experience over youth for this tough away trip, hence Khedira is expected to replace Illarramendi in the midfield. There are still doubts about Gareth Bale’s match fitness and he will once again start from the bench, after making his debut this weekend.
By all account Carlo Ancelotti will be pleased if his team manages to come away with a draw in this game, although on paper they are the favourites. A trip to Turkey is never easy, especially with so many key players injured.
Prediction: Galatasaray 1-2 Real Madrid
Players to watch out for: Selcuk Inan (Galatasaray); Isco (Real Madrid)
FC Copenhagen v Juventus
Copenhagen have had poor start to their domestic campaign and currently lie in 10th spot in the league table. They have won just one of their eight league matches so far and are coming into this game on the back of a 1-1 draw against Esbjerg. They were somewhat lucky to have come out with a draw in that game after conceding early and going down to 10 men in the second half, but a late Cesar Santin-goal salvaged a point for them.
Juventus on the other hand are one of the dark horses in this year’s tournament. The Italian side have had a good summer and have strengthened their strike force considerably with the addition of Carlos Tevez and Fernando Llorente. They are coming into this game on the back of a 1-1 draw against Inter. Arturo Vidal has picked up from where he left off last season and seems to be in the form of his life currently – scoring three goals in three league matches. Juventus are expected to make good progress in this year’s tournament after being knocked out of the competition at the hands of eventual winners Bayern Munich in last year’s campaign.
Antonio Conte isn’t expected to make any changes to the side that started against Inter Milan, as he would realise how crucial a victory in this match might be as they face tougher opponents in the next rounds. Claudio Marchisio, Martin Caceres and Simone Pepe are still out injured, which means that Conte will persist with the midfield of Pirlo, Pogba and Vidal. Upfront Vucinic will start alongside Tevez, while Llorente will start from the bench.
Prediction: FC Copenhagen 0-2 Juventus
Players to watch out for: Fanendo Adi (FC Copenhagen); Arturo Vidal (Juventus)