UEFA Champions League Preview – Part 2
After a goal strewn Champions League opener (unless you were at Old Trafford) highlighted the quality on show in the world’s Elite club competition. The games in Group A were a particular highlight. Tonight see’s the rest of the competition kicking off and provides me with another opportunity to embarrass myself publicly with my predictions, Bursaspor anyone?
In the second day of the Champions League the biggest story is the match at the Bernabeu as Jose Mourinho returns to the competition he won previously. Real Madrid haven’t started the season in the best of form, a single goal was enough to take them past Mallorca but as Mourinho put it it was an ‘Easy’ game. Mourinho wins no fans with his particular brand of football but what he does win them for is his unbelievable track record, a team with Jose Mourinho as manager is a team that wins. If he had of been in charge last night for Rangers he would’ve made the story about their ‘heroic’ performance but as it was the unfashionable Walter Smith it became about anti-football.
On a different note though last night did have one horrible black spot as a tackle down the flanks resulted in one of the worst possible outcomes as Antonio Valencia was taken off with a terrible ankle injury. There is only one thing to say, we hope to see you as soon as possible Antonio and we hope you can come back the player you were before.
To the groups:
The beaten Finalists return to the Champions League missing a few players, Arjen Robben being the chief casualty. Bayern were something of a surprise in last year’s competition, their victory over Manchester United and demolition of Lyon led to high expectations for the final, expectations that Diego Milito deflated. As soon as Inter got the lead the match was over, a perfunctory second put a gloss on the match for Inter as Bayern were easily extinguished. They will be hoping that they can regain the form that saw them to the final but they still rely heavily on the fitness of Robben and Ribery. As AS Roma are gripped by off-the-field issues this group should be a one horse race. Roma are currently in the midst of a complicated sale which has left manager Claudio Ranieri in limbo, the distractions have left Roma short of form and confidence but they should still have the quality available to progress. Basel and Cluj are the makeweights for this particular group, Basel should have a running start as their League season kicks off particularly early, however they are on a run of poor form having lost their last two matches. Cluj too are not playing their best football and currently sit in mid-table in their domestic league, much like the first group from last night I see this group playing out to their seeds:
- 1. Bayern 2. Roma 3. Basel 4. CFR Cluj
Chelsea’s group should provide some competition for the English champions but should be a group they win. A trip to Russia is never an easy match and Marseille’s return to Drogba (Drogba will be serving his ban for his stamp on Motta in Chelsea’s final game last season and won’t be available for the French leg.) will be one of the more interesting highlights of the group. Much like many of the French teams playing in the Champions League, Marseille’s season has started poorly but a first round win over the Russian league runner up’s could put them on course to qualify from the group. I know little of the Slovakian Champions like the Russians their season is well under way and they sit joint top of the table unbeaten in 8 games. However their record in Europe is not enviable.
1. Chelsea 2. Spartak Moscow 3. Marseilles 4. MSK Zilina
This is the group of the former glories, bar Auxerre each team in this group have won the Champions League. Real and AC were once perennial finalists but Real have not contested the match since 2002 whilst Milan were last in the final in 2007 (where they exacted revenge upon Liverpool). Neither team are at their strongest with AC involved in an embarrassing defeat at the weekend despite fielding a multi-million pound strike-force. Ajax were pipped to the title by FC Twente in the Netherlands and suffered the ignomy of their manager seeking a move out of the club because of financial constraints. However, Ajax managed to hold on to Martin Jol and their best players so they won’t be pushovers and their start to the season has been strong. Auxerre were the fourth seed to enter the group but are not of the same low quality of Cluj or Zilina they will put up a fight but would have wished for a better group. This along with Group A would have to be considered the most competitive and strongest groups in the Champions League. Madrid will hope that Mourinho’s magic will mean they qualify easily but you can take nothing for granted in Group G.
1. Real Madrid 2. Ajax 3. AC Milan 4. Auxerre
Arsenal’s group is deceptively strong. Braga have been the surprise package in Europe this season eliminating Celtic and Sevilla on their way to the group stage. Shakhtar Donetsk are another team who have established themselves in European Competition, the Ukrainian champions are also the new team of Eduardo who will be warmly received on his return to the Emirates. Partizan needed penalties to reach the group stage eliminating Belgian side Anderlecht. This should be a group Arsenal progress from as winners so the battle is for second place. Braga already have European fixtures under their belt so I expect the Portuguese team to progress behind Arsenal. Shakhtar will drop into the Europa League and Partizan may pick up a point or two at home.
1. Arsenal 2. Braga. 3. Shakhtar Donetsk 4. Partizan
Oh, and yes I was dying to use that Mourinho photo.