I had a pretty decent day with the predictions yesterday, so let’s see if I can keep it going. Today’s matches feature some teams that desperately need to put points on the board, including Liverpool and Werder Bremen. Let’s take a quick look at the matchups.
Besiktas – Liverpool
On the back of their derby win over Everton, Liverpool will look to get their Champions League campaign rolling. The Reds have had a sputtering start this season, drawing against Porto and suffering a shock loss at home to Marseille. Fernando Torres is ruled out due to a thigh injury suffered on international duty with Spain but I think the team will come out with purpose in this match.
Marseille – Porto
I think Marseille will be boosted by their massive win on Matchday 2 against Liverpool. They will be missing young playmaker Samir Nasri but Matchday 2 hero Mathieu Valbuena should be in the starting lineup. This will be a close game as there is little to choose between the sides. Marseille are sitting on top of the Group A after wins against Besiktas and Liverpool. Porto have a win against Besiktas and a draw against Liverpool. I give the nod to Marseille partially because they are at home but also because of the growing confidence instilled in the team by new manager Eric Gerets.
Rosenborg – Valencia
The draw Rosenborg claimed against Chelsea said more about the state of the Chelsea team at that time rather than the quality of the Rosenborg side. They have been struggling in their domestic league though they did win in their most recent outing against Odd Grenland. However, I would expect Valencia to win, though perhaps not easily. Rosenborg will try to shut up shop so the Spanish side will have to remain patient and make the most of the chances they do generate. Despite David Villa being deemed healthy enough to be part of the squad for this match, I expect Nikola Zigic will partner Fernando Morientes in attack.
Chelsea – Schalke
I think the storm of the Mourinho departure has passed for Chelsea and they have played much better in their last two matches. Add to that, their stellar home record and it looks to be all three points for the London club.
Bremen – Lazio (draw)
Bremen have been hot and cold this season and their Champions League form has been lacking. They’ve lost both their games so far, including a disappointing performance against Olympiacos at home. A loss against Lazio would make it a monumental task to reach the knockout stages. Meanwhile, Lazio only has two points from two games and will be desperate to gain ground on the other teams in the group. They are also struggling in Serie A and keeping the ball out of their own net has been a problem on all fronts. They did manage to keep a clean sheet in the last league outing against Livorno, a 1-0 win that took them to 13th place, but they will be missing holding midfielder Cristián Ledesma for the Bremen match.
Real Madrid – Olympiacos
Real will be looking to shake off a disappointing 2-1 loss to Espanyol in La Liga on the weekend. Prior to that Madrid had reeled off seven wins and two draws in their first nine games in all competitions. With their 3-1 victory at Werder Bremen, Olympiacos ended a 31-match drought of away wins. I’m not optimistic that they will go 2-for-2 though and Madrid, despite a number of players absent through injury, should have more than enough to take all three points.
Benfica – Celtic (draw)
Celtic are another club with a long-running drought away from home in the Champions League. They have lost 13 and drawn one of their last 14 away matches in CL play. Benfica have not been consistently sharp this season either and I can’t see either side taking a hold of the match and dominating play.
Milan – Shakhtar
I was very tempted to pick an upset result here but with the game being in Milan, I have to go with the home side. Shakhtar has built a strong side and will give Milan a good fight but the San Siro is always a tough place to go and get a result. A major point will be whether Kaká, who is struggling with a knee problem, is able to recover in time for this match. He was expected to be a gametime decision. If Kaká is unavailable, a draw could be in the cards.
Players to Watch:
Alex Rodrigo Dias da Costa (Chelsea): After his 30-yard rocket of a goal on the weekend, Alex (nicknamed “The Tank”) will again line-up in central defence alongside Ricardo Carvalho. Chelsea captain John Terry is still out through injury so this pairing will be scrutinized and Schalke will be looking to exploit their unfamiliarity. One of the keys for Chelsea will be the central pairing and how they cope with Schalke’s experienced strikers Kevin Kuranyi and Gerald Asamoah.
Goran Pandev (Lazio): The 24-year-old Macedonian scored a brace against Real Madrid and helped his club earn a point against the Spanish giants on Matchday 2. Of course, he had barely reached the locker room after that performance when rumours of a possible lucrative transfer began to circulate in the press. He seems to flourish as an attacking midfielder with the license to roam anywhere across the midfield and in support of the striker(s). Lazio, who have some financial difficulties, will not sell a player of this quality unless it is for a big (possibly 25m euros or more) transfer fee.
Freddy Adu (Benfica): Once looked upon as the great hope of US Soccer, he now has the opportunity to prove himself on the European stage. He scored in a league cup tie on the weekend and could be called into action against Celtic with veteran striker Nuno Gomes unavailable. Reports coming out of Portugal suggest that Benfica’s coaching staff are impressed with Adu’s technical skills and his attitude in training. This has prompted them to to increase the young American’s playing time.