UEFA Champions League 2013-14: Key Battles to Watch in Wednesday's Fixtures

Tom Sunderland@@TomSunderland_Featured ColumnistSeptember 18, 2013

Napoli's Marek Hamsik will be hoping his side can emerge victorious from their clash with Borussia Dortmund.
Napoli's Marek Hamsik will be hoping his side can emerge victorious from their clash with Borussia Dortmund.Dino Panato/Getty Images

We are barely one day into the 2013/14 Champions League season, and already the excitement of European football is flooding back, with 30 goals scored in Tuesday’s action.

One can only hope that kind of prolific form in front of goal is maintained by the second batch of European elite on show this Wednesday evening.

Let’s break down some of the matchday’s key encounters that are sure to have some significance on how things play out.

AC Milan vs. Celtic: Mario Balotelli vs. Celtic Centre-Backs

With AC Milan currently carrying a raft of first-team injuries, Massimiliano Allegri is fortunate to still be able to call upon a talent like Mario Balotelli.

Wednesday evening sees the Serie A giants welcome Celtic to the San Siro, the same Bhoys side that upset Barcelona in last season’s competition.

Riccardo Montolivo, Kaka and Stephan El Shaarawy are all creative talents set to miss the fixture through injury, per BBC Sport, restricting the ammunition given to Balotelli up top.

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In truth, both of Celtic’s central defenders would be smart to double up on Balotelli, with Virgil van Dijk and Mikael Lustig a likely combination.

As we’ve seen in the past, Balotelli is a forceful striker capable of making things happen on his own, but the lack of attacking supply means that this fixture isn’t out of reach should they contain the fiery Italian.

Zenit St. Petersburg vs. Atletico Madrid: Axel Witsel vs. Tiago

Axel Witsel’s time at Zenit St. Petersburg has been a fruitful one, seeing the Belgian go a long way in justifying his £32.5 million price tag as one of Russia’s finest defensive midfielders.

While Witsel has mastered his craft in breaking up play, Tiago has done the same at the Vicente Calderon, except substituting timely tackles for a keen attacking presence.

Whether or not David Villa and Diego Costa are to have much luck in breaking down the Zenit defence could be decided by who comes out on top of this particular midfield battle.

Napoli vs. Borussia Dortmund: Marek Hamsik vs. Sven Bender

One of the most enticing encounters this week is undoubtedly the clash between two teams looking to overcome the hierarchy of Serie A and the Bundesliga, respectively: Napoli and Borussia Dortmund.

For some five seasons now, Hamsik has been the play-making heartbeat of the Napoli setup, while Bender has established himself as one of the finest midfield anchors in Europe.

What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? The battle between these two midfield marvels of totally contrasting styles should give us an answer.


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