Matchday 1 of the Champions League brought the usual array of thrills and spills, but not exactly the results we were all expecting.
Three of the Premier League’s finest were left licking their wounds following damaging defeats which mean they need to respond with a victory this time around, while defending champions Barcelona were also denied three points thanks to a stunning goal from Roma’s Alessandro Florenzi in the Italian capital.
What will happen this time around? Check out our ultimate guide to stay ahead of the game.
Tuesday, September 29, 2015
Barcelona vs. Bayer Leverkusen, Camp Nou, 7:45 p.m. BST / 2:45 p.m. ET
No Lionel Messi, no problem?
It is certainly true to say that Barcelona have more than enough attacking talent to compensate for the loss of the gifted Argentinian for the next seven to eight weeks, but the absence of a player who once scored five goals in a Champions League fixture against Bayer Leverkusen is certain to have an impact as Barca look to overhaul the Germans to reach top spot in Group E.
Luis Suarez, Neymar and Co. will seek to shine in their star man’s absence, but with Bayer in fine form having dispatched Werder Bremen 3-0 on the road in the Bundesliga at the weekend, this might not be the walkover many are expecting.
Prediction: Barcelona 2-0 Bayer Leverkusen
BATE vs. Roma, Borisov-Arena, 7:45 p.m. BST / 2:45 p.m. ET
Florenzi was the talk of the Champions League following his stunning long-range goal for Roma in the opener against Barcelona in the Italian capital, but it should be the club’s more-regular goalscorers who are in the spotlight in Belarus.
One of those won’t be Edin Dzeko, though, after the former Manchester City forward picked up an injury in the weekend win over Carpi, but that could allow for the likes of Gervinho, Mohamed Salah and, of course, Francesco Totti to come to the fore against one of the weakest teams in the competition.
BATE began their group-stage campaign with a 4-1 loss away at Leverkusen, a continuation of the form which saw them hammered by Porto and Shakhtar Donetsk in last season’s competition.
There should be more of the same here.
Prediction: BATE 0-3 Roma
Bayern Munich vs. Dinamo Zagreb, Allianz Arena, 7:45 p.m. BST / 2:45 p.m. ET
The 3-0 success at Mainz at the weekend means that it’s now nine competitive victories in a row for Bayern Munich, and let’s be honest here, it’s about to become 10.
Dinamo Zagreb’s Champions League campaign may have started with an excellent win over a rotated and out-of-sorts Arsenal, who played the majority of the match with 10 men, but winning that one and succeeding at the Allianz Arena are different matters entirely, especially when you consider the Croatians have never won a Champions League group-stage match away from home in their history.
Bayern have only lost one since 2009, and their goalscoring form over that aforementioned nine-match run—which saw them score 30 times—points at only one outcome here, and it’ll be a damaging one for the visitors.
Prediction: Bayern Munich 4-0 Dinamo Zagreb
Arsenal vs. Olympiakos, Emirates Stadium, 7:45 p.m. BST / 2:45 p.m. ET
Familiar group-stage opponents, this will be the seventh time that Arsenal and Olympiakos have met in the Champions League since the 2009/10 season—and amazingly, the team playing at home won all of the previous six.
After losing in Zagreb, Arsenal will be desperate for six to become seven, but confidence should be high after the weekend win at Leicester City showcased both the Gunners’ fine, flowing football and the talents of Alexis Sanchez, whose hat-trick represented his first goals of the season.
Dismal on the road in the Champions League, Olympiakos have lost 12 of their last 17 away games in the competition, and although you can never be truly sure that the Gunners aren’t about to shoot themselves in the foot at any point, Alexis should be able to lead his side to victory here.
Prediction: Arsenal 3-1 Olympiakos
Maccabi Tel-Aviv vs. Dynamo Kiev, Itztadion Sammy Ofer, 7:45 p.m. BST / 2:45 p.m. ET
There were differing experiences for these two on Matchday 1, but the need for a victory will be easily apparent when they step out in the Israeli capital.
Maccabi Tel-Aviv’s first Champions League group-stage match for 11 years ended in a 4-0 defeat at Chelsea, but whatever the London club’s struggles this season their visitors that night were never going to judge their campaign on a visit to Stamford Bridge, and if they are to have any hope of European football beyond December this season then they are going to need to win this game.
The visitors arrive with the shot of confidence given to them by substitute Vitaliy Buyalskiy’s late equaliser in the 2-2 draw at home to Porto last time out, and that point will almost serve as a safety net for a match they’ll see as a perfect chance to at least improve their chances of finishing in third place in Group G, and qualifying for the Europa League.
Prediction: Maccabi Tel-Aviv 1-2 Dynamo Kiev
Porto vs. Chelsea, Estadio do Dragao, 7:45 p.m. BST / 2:45 p.m. ET
As he returns to Porto, Jose Mourinho does so without the usual cock-sureness which was honed at the club he guided to the 2004 Champions League title.
His and Chelsea’s season has, quite frankly, been something of a mess, with the scramble back from two goals down to draw at Newcastle on Saturday really just papering over the cracks as the Blues continue to trail behind the leaders in the Premier League.
Porto drew 2-2 at the weekend too, but they remain unbeaten in Portugal and sit on top of the table, something they could emulate in the Champions League were they to win here. But Chelsea have won their last eight matches against Portuguese sides, and Mourinho will be determined not to suffer further embarrassment on such familiar territory.
Eight might not become nine, but surely the Blues won’t lose.
Prediction: Porto 1-1 Chelsea
Lyon vs. Valencia, Stade de Gerland, 7:45 p.m. BST / 2:45 p.m. ET
There was Matchday 1 disappointment for these two, as Lyon failed to beat a Gent side which ended the match with nine men and Valencia fell to a 3-2 defeat at home to Zenit St. Petersburg, who as a result have taken control of Group H.
That means defeat here would be unthinkable for either side, with Lyon coming into the match in indifferent form following just one win in their last five in all competitions, and the news that key man Nabil Fekir will be out until the New Year.
Alexandre Lacazette has also been struggling with a back problem, so Valencia might well sense a chance for their first points of the group stage here, although they may have to settle for just the one.
Prediction: Lyon 1-1 Valencia
Zenit St. Petersburg vs. Gent, Stadion Petrovskiy, 7:45 p.m. BST / 2:45 p.m. ET
That somewhat unexpected win at Valencia has opened up the group for Zenit, who must now be expecting to make it two wins out of two when minnows Gent touch down in Russia.
The Belgians were delighted to take a point from their clash with Lyon having been reduced to nine men and indebted to a penalty save from goalkeeper Matz Sels, but you sense that everything they take from this group will indeed come at home, and they’ll have their backs to the walls here.
In his final season at Zenit before moving on again, Andre Villas-Boas—currently banned from the touchline for domestic matches—will be desperate to make Zenit the first Russian club to really make a sustained impact on a Champions League season, and that can continue here.
Prediction: Zenit 2-0 Gent
Wednesday, September 30, 2015
Shakhtar Donetsk vs. Paris Saint-Germain, Arena Lviv, 7:45 p.m. BST / 2:45 p.m. ET
Shakhtar Donetsk fulfilled the role of overwhelmed visitors to the Bernabeu perfectly in Matchday 1, conceding two penalties and having Taras Stepanenko sent off as they went down 4-0 to Real Madrid. It should get easier for the Ukrainians here, but only just.
Visitors Paris Saint-Germain are still unbeaten this season, and haven’t lost a competitive match since the defeat to Barcelona at the quarter-final stage of this competition in the last campaign.
They displayed their awesome power by surging back from 1-0 down at half-time to beat Nantes 4-1 at the weekend, and if they can hit their stride in Donetsk then the home side will find it tough to stop them.
Prediction: Shakhtar Donetsk 1-3 Paris Saint-Germain
Malmo vs. Real Madrid, Malmo New Stadium, 7:45 p.m. BST / 2:45 p.m. ET
Losing 2-0 at PSG was a fairly acceptable start to their Champions League campaign for Malmo, who, in all likelihood, would probably take the same result against opponents they’ll be fearful could blow them away.
The goalless draw at home to Malaga at the weekend was a huge disappointment for Real Madrid, but that was the first time they had failed to win in six matches—a run during which they only conceded one goal.
Rafael Benitez will be expecting his charges to stroll to victory in Sweden, but they might not find it as simple as many people are suggesting.
The hosts could trouble them, but they are likely to fall short.
Prediction: Malmo 1-2 Real Madrid
Manchester United vs. Wolfsburg, Old Trafford, 7:45 p.m. BST / 2:45 p.m. ET
The 2-1 loss at PSV Eindhoven inflicted more than just a defeat on Manchester United, with the broken leg suffered by the previously in-form Luke Shaw removing one of their most-impressive performers of the campaign so far.
They’ve since recovered to move to the top of the Premier League table, though, and next up comes this clash with a Wolfsburg side who’ve taken just one point from the last six available to them in the Bundesliga.
They did, however, beat CSKA Moscow at home on Matchday 1 thanks to a Julian Draxler goal, meaning that anything they take from Manchester ought to be viewed as a bonus.
But on the return to group-stage Champions League football to Old Trafford, they might find that taking anything at all will prove to be too tough an ask.
Prediction: Manchester United 2-0 Wolfsburg
CSKA Moscow vs. PSV Eindhoven, Arena Khimki, 7:45 p.m. BST / 2:45 p.m. ET
Win in the Russian capital and PSV will have opened up a six-point gap on CSKA Moscow, perhaps killing off the hosts’ hopes of catching them and also creating a useful buffer when it comes to the safety net of finishing third and qualifying for the Europa League.
Achieving that win in the battle of the acronyms will be a tough ask, though.
CSKA are unbeaten in four home European games, holding teams such as Manchester City and Roma to draws during that run, but recent draws with both Zenit and Lokomotiv Moscow suggest the Arena Khimki isn’t exactly a fortress for them these days, and if PSV stay solid they can certainly take a useful point to back up their victory over Manchester United.
Prediction: CSKA Moscow 0-0 PSV Eindhoven
Astana vs. Galatasaray, Astana Arena, 5:00 p.m. BST / 12:00 p.m. ET
Kazakhstan’s first-ever Champions League group game is also surely Astana’s best chance of picking up anything during their maiden campaign in the competition, given that they are hosting a team who have now gone nine matches without a win in Europe.
Galatasaray, though, will feel as though this clash offers the perfect opportunity for a first European win since beating Juventus in a weather-affected match which took two days to complete in December 2013.
Astana showed signs of promise in the 2-0 defeat at Benfica on Matchday 1, but they are winless in three games since then and might just find their visitors’ motivation to be too great.
Prediction: Astana 0-1 Galatasaray
Atletico Madrid vs. Benfica, Vicente Calderon, 7:45 p.m. BST / 2:45 p.m. ET
The weekend slip-up at Villarreal wasn’t exactly on the cards for Diego Simeone and Atletico Madrid, but they can rely on a formidable home European record when Benfica come to the Vicente Calderon.
Atletico have won a remarkable 21 of their last 24 European games at the venue, and as they aim to reach at least the last eight for the third season in a row, Simeone’s side will be relying on the fine form of French forward Antoine Griezmann, whose two strikes in the opening game at Galatasaray have put the team from the Spanish capital in control of Group C.
The Portuguese visitors would be delighted with a draw following their opening win over Astana, but they are unlikely to get it.
Prediction: Atletico Madrid 3-0 Benfica
Borussia Moenchengladbach vs. Manchester City, Borussia-Park, 7:45 p.m. BST / 2:45 p.m. ET
So formidable at the beginning of the season, Manchester City are now on a run of three defeats in four matches, and given that one of those was at home to Juventus on Matchday 1 they really need to get back in the winning habit at Borussia Moenchengladbach.
The bad news for them, then, is that Gladbach have finally rediscovered how to win following six consecutive defeats—five in the Bundesliga and one in the Champions League—during a nightmare start to the campaign, but the performances in victories over Augsburg and Stuttgart will have to be improved upon if they are to beat City.
Manuel Pellegrini’s side are desperate to make an impact in this competition, and with Kevin De Bruyne in fine form following three goals in three games, the Belgian with vast experience of German football could be their talisman here.
Prediction: Borussia Moenchengladbach 1-2 Manchester City
Juventus vs. Sevilla, Juventus Stadium, 7:45 p.m. BST / 2:45 p.m. ET
The victory over City at the Etihad Stadium was a timely boost for Juventus and the ideal start to a European campaign they’ll hope echoes last season’s, but a loss at Napoli at the weekend ensures that their domestic campaign is still lurking from one crisis to another.
Sevilla, too, have been below par in their domestic season, but they’ll know they have little to fear heading to Turin given Juve’s results and performances, and anything they get will make for the perfect start given their 3-0 win over Borussia Moenchengladbach on Matchday 1.
If they play for a draw, they could get one.
Prediction: Juventus 1-1 Sevilla