Matchday 5 – Wednesday Preview
We’ll look over the results of Tuesday’s matches along with Wednesday’s matches in one big wrap-up article on Thursday. For now, we’re going to preview matches in Groups A through D.
We start with Liverpool where coach Rafa Benitez has been pestering club owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett about sanctioning more transfer activity in January. The owners have told him they will not discuss any plans until they arrive on Merseyside for the match against fierce rivals Manchester United on December 16. Liverpool are coming off a 3-0 win at Newcastle. This should tempt Benitez to field an unchanged line-up but don’t bet on it. Both clubs have the bulk of their squads to choose from and will both field stong lineups. Porto arrive at Anfield at the top of their domestic league and an unbeaten record in the Champions League as well. With all the talk about Liverpool and their managerial-ownership drama, now is a great time for Porto to come in and get a result. I think they will scrap for a draw in this one as the Reds have not had a great home record this season thus far and Porto know how to keep a game tight when they need to get a point.
As both teams prefer an attacking style, this could be a very open game with lots of chances at both ends though Bremen may try to nick an early goal and keep things tight as they desperately need the result in order to have any hopes of keeping their European campaign going.
The other match in Group C could become a winner takes all affair depending on the result of the Bremen-Madrid match. If Werder Bremen do not beat Real Madrid, the winner of the Lazio-Olympiakos match will progress through to the knockout stages. Lazio have a major injury worry as leading scorer Tommaso Rocchi has a thigh injury and is currently doubtful to be available. For the Greek side, they are likely to be missing defender Raul Bravo as well as defender Didier Domi and striker Marco Ne who are recovering from longer-term injuries.
It’s a massive game for both sides as Lazio desperately need the cash infusion the knockout stage would bring and Olympiakos would love to end their long and futile history in European club tournaments. I’m going to have to go with the home side in this one and I think Goran Pandev will be a major factor in the match.
Over in Group D, AC Milan will be looking to book their place in the final 16 when they travel to Lisbon to face Benfica. Milan’s Serie A form has been poor by their usual high standards but they are in the driver’s seat in their Champions League group. They will be without Marek Jankulovski (knee surgery) as well as Emerson and Filippo Inzaghi, who have been left out of the squad. Massimo Ambrosini will have to serve the mandatory suspension of one match for yellow card accumulation and will also miss out. One other change might see Kakha Kaladze step into central defense for Paolo Maldini, who went the full ninety on Sunday and at . Also, Clarence Seedorf has recovered from an ankle injury and could start.
For Benfica, a defeat or draw would eliminate them. Midfielder Nuno Assis suffered a leg injury during their domestic league match on the weekend and is likely to be replaced by Cristian Rodriguez. Armando Petit, who returned on Saturday after two months out, should replace Augustin Binya, who has been suspended for six games for his horror tackle on Celtic’s Scott Brown.
The other match in the group sees Celtic host Shaktar Donetsk and all we really need to talk about is Celtic’s tremendous Champions League record at Celtic Park – they have won 11 and lost just once at home in 14 group games. The only big worry they have is the fitness of goalkeeper Artur Boruc but backup Mark Brown stepped in and had a solid match against Aberdeen on the weekend. I really would be shocked by anything other than a Celtic win in this one. A win for the home side should secure their passage into the knockout stages.
At the age of 43 years and 168 days, Lazio goalkeeper Marco Ballotta became the oldest player to compete in the Champions League when he started against Olympiakos on Matchday 1 . The record was previously held by Alessandro Costacurta, the AC Milan defender who played against AEK Athens in the 2006/07 season at the age of 40 years and 211 days.