The Champions League continues this week with the Bundesliga’s representatives finishing their groups and either heading into the round of sixteen or out of the competition altogether. Tuesday night features Felix Magath’s Schalke, who will travel to Benfica for three more points that will seal their top-of-the-table status; and Thomas Schaaf’s struggling Werder Bremen side, who will host last year’s Champions League winners Internazionale.
SL Benfica v Schalke 04
I actually saw Benfica when they came to Toronto this summer to play a friendly against Panathinaikos just before the World Cup. David Luiz, who has become one of the most coveted defenders in Europe, was turned over and over again by Pana’s Sebastian Leto, and was eventually sent off – in a friendly! He looked top notch in training before the match, but he had an awful game. If Schalke can get at him, they might be able to expose him. Despite that, Benfica’s front three of Pablo Aimar, Oscar Cardozo and Javier Saviola will definitely pose a big threat to Schalke’s defense. Still, they held Bayern Munich on the weekend and they’ll be confident of their chances here. The atmosphere will be electric, and Magath will need to keep his players focused throughout the 90 minutes. Fabio Coentrao is another break out player in this Benfica side and he’ll fancy his chances down the wing. If Schalke win, they secure top spot in the group.
Werder Bremen v Internazionale
I’m not sure any Werder Bremen fans saw their season going as badly as it has so far. All but out of the Champions League, out of the title race, and even virtually out of the race for a European spot and all by mid-December. True, there’s lots of time left to make amends, but it’s hard to see where that extra spark is going to come from. Naldo’s been a huge loss for them in the center of defense, and it’s one spot in particular where Werder Bremen have suffered this season. Sebastian Prodl is hardly a top class player, but it’s not all been down to him. Despite their defensive instabilities, they haven’t conceded a goal in two games. Inter will likely prove a much greater challenge though, and it’s one they may not be able to meet. The reigning Italian champions have been far from their best as well after losing Jose Mourinho in the summer, and they’ve got an injury list that Werder Bremen would empathize with, but they’ve got a squad full of top players and they can’t be counted out. Their qualification into the next round is sealed though, but Werder Bremen’s is far from it. They’re too far behind to qualify for the Champions League now, but there’s still the slightest possibility that they could nick a Europa League spot as long as they win – and win handily – here.