Ajax are going to be hard pressed to outpace either FC Barcelona or Paris St Germain. However, they look comfortable for the Europa League spot at the moment. If they do drop into that competition, I fancy them to do well. The star man for them through the first two fixtures has been Danish international Lasse Schöne. 4 shots on target, 1 goal, 1 assist and a 91% pass completion rate mark him as one to watch as the group phase continues. Ajax travel to the Nou Camp on Matchday 3 and will need a top performance from not only Schöne but his colleagues as well. Barcelona are not at their best at the moment and an upset result (early prediction — a third consecutive draw for Ajax) could be on the cards.
Applause for the old guys
It’s odd for me to refer to these gentleman as old considering they are a few years younger than I am but in footballing terms they are definitely elderly. With that age comes experience and the occasional moment of brilliance.
Francesco Totti’s delightfully chipped equaliser against Manchester City made him the oldest goalscorer in the history of the competition at 38 years, three days old surpassing Ryan Giggs who was 37 years and 289 days old when he scored against Benfica in the 2011-12 season.
Totti told Gazzetta dello Sport that he was inspired by a bit of banter posted on the Manchester City Twitter feed. The club posted “We’re looking forward to hosting you @OfficialASRoma, and a legendary player such as Totti. He’s never scored in England, has he? #CityvRoma” Totti may have to look elsewhere for his Matchday 3 inspiration as it’s very likely Bayern Munich will learn from City’s mistake. Bayern are currently top of the group with maximum points from their first two matches. Manchester City must win against CSKA Moscow to relieve some of the pressure that will start to build.
Xavi Hernandez, a sprightly 34, came on in the second-half against Paris St. Germain to become the Champions League’s most experienced player with 143 appearances. A fellow Spaniard, Raul, held the previous mark of 142. It seemed fitting that his record-breaking appearance come from the sub’s bench as that was how his first appearance was made back in September 1998 against Manchester United.
I found a section of Sid Lowe’s up recent column (http://www.theguardian.com/football/blog/2014/sep/30/xavi-hernandez-champions-league-record) for the Guardian to be the best summation of Xavi’s career accomplishments : “Every year for five years he won the most significant trophy in world football. But he did not just win them; he was not a fellow traveller. He led. He was an ideologue. He played and made others play.”
Can these two masterful midfield presences lift their teams into the next round and beyond? Barcelona will need to lift their performance on Matchday 3 at home against Ajax.
Don’t call it an upset
Basel have done it again. It’s hard to call these shock results when they keep occurring. Take for example, their 2-1 win in the group stage against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge last season that spurred them on to a quarter-finals appearance. After they were thrashed 5-1 by Real Madrid on Matchday 1, some pundits had already awarded the group to Madrid and second place to Liverpool. Based on what I saw of Liverpool’s performance, I had a suspicion that they may not do so well on their travels to St. Jakob Park. The battle of former Swansea bosses ended up going the way of Paulo Suosa
After the match, Brendan Rodgers admitted that his team did not start well and did not get into the game properly for the opening half hour. Basel ended up with a slight edge in possession (55%-45%), an equal number of attempts on target and won more corners that Liverpool. That being stated, Basel were not dominant and Liverpool will have to feel disappointed after the sale of Luis Suarez and subsequent £117m spending spree.
Basel have a chance to turn up the pressure on Matchday 3 when they travel to Sofia to face Ludogorets. Ludogorets are playing their ‘home’ fixtures in Sofia as their home stadium does not meet the UEFA minimum standards. The Bulgarian team have proven a tough side to break down so Basel cannot be considered anything more than slight favourites to win. A draw would not be unlikely. Liverpool play host to Real Madrid and will be hard-pressed to collect more than a draw based on their performance in the first two fixtures.
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