UEFA Champions League Matchday 2

It’s match day two in the UEFA Champions League and after the first round of matches, players and managers seem to be gradually getting in their stride. Here’s a look at this week’s fixtures.

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Arguably the biggest game of the week, Paris St Germain host Spanish powerhouse and Group F leaders Barcelona albeit without Zlatan Ibrahimovic. PSG are unbeaten in nine matches this season but have drawn six of those fixture. Barcelona however have won all their matches bar one and not conceded any goals this season, strange for the side from Catalunya. Barcelona knocked PSG out of the Champions League last season and it must have hurt the Parisians. Barcelona coming off a 6-0 victory in LaLiga are in boisterous mood with Messi and Neymar firing on all cylinders. Key for PSG would be Edinson Cavani, taking your chances is critical against Barca and he must be on top form to give the Spaniards things to ponder. Ajax travel to APOEL after an impressive display against PSG on Match day 1.

Diego Costa celebrates after scoring his first goal for Chelsea in a friendly v Olimpija Ljubljana.

Chelsea travel to Lisbon in Group G, capital of Portugal, a country they have never lost in the Champions League. Coming off the back of a draw in their first game against Schalke 04, the blues must respond and star striker Diego Costa would feature despite his troublesome hamstrings. Expect Chelsea to be too powerful in midfield though Sporting would be dangerous on the counter-attack. With Nani eager to impress after poor performances over the last few seasons with Manchester United, Sporting have the drive they need in the team. Champions League football returns to the Jose Alvalade stadium for the first time in five years, it’s been long awaited. Schalke 04 host Maribor in the other fixture and are expected to take all maximum on the back of their impressive Ruhr derby victory over Dortmund at the weekend.

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In Group E, Manchester City have never played Roma in any competition, but striker Stefan Jovetic returns after missing the last few weeks with an hamstring injurie. Roma have injury concerns of their own as well but talisman Francesco Totti is fit to play. Midfield battle between Danielle De Rossi and Yaya Toure should have a say on who wins this one but after a spirited display at the Allianz Arena last time out, City are in pole position for the win, although defensive frailties might be their undoing as Roma look like a strong force especially on the break with the likes of Gervinho leading the attack.

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The Citizens have failed to keep a clean sheet since they defeated Newcastle United 2-0 on the first day of the season and please don’t count Sheffield Wednesday in the cup. Contrast Roma who have keep four of five clean sheets in Seria A and whipped five past CSKA Moskva on match day 1. In the other fixture in the group Bayern travel to CSKA Moskva in the early fixture.

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In Group A, Atletico Madrid were stunned in Greece on match day 1, and would be eager to get back to winning ways at the first time of asking, facing Italian champions Juventus doesn’t make it any easier. Juventus have won all matches this season in Seria A and also strolled past Malmo last time out. Atletico are missing the presence of Diego Simione on the touch line but still have enough in them to take the match to the Old Lady. The other fixture in the group sees Olympiakos visit Malmo in Sweden, another win for the Greeks puts them in pole position to be the surprise packages of the group.

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In Group B, Real Madrid travel to Bulgaria to face Ludogorets Razgad, a repeat scoreline against Basel on match day 1 might not be too far fetched. With the attacking form Madrid are in, the goals should flow in Razgad. Ronaldo has 10 goals in five games, while the team have 20 in their last six away champions League ties. Liverpool travel to Basel and must be wary of the Swiss outfit who pipped Chelsea at the St Yacob park last season. Liverpool were nervy against Ludogorets on match day 1 and haven’t been in the best of forms in recent weeks. Basel are their closest challengers in the group, getting on over them is absolutely crucial.

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Group D sees Galatasaray arrive at the Emirates having never defeated an English team in England, but all records are meant to be broken and Cesare Prandelli’s men would look to get something from a wounded Arsenal. Aaron Ramsey is out with an hamstring injury and it seems despite the signing of Danny Welbeck that the gunners do miss Olivier Giroud. Who would have thought that. Nevertheless Arsene Wenger’s lads should be too much for the Turkish lads despite only winning two of their last nine matches in all competition. Dortmund make the short trip to Belgium to play Anderlecht.

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Other matches on Match day 2, confident Porto take on Ukrainian powerhouses Shakhtar Donetsk in Lviv amidst violence in the country while Athletic Club travel to Bate Borisov. Andre Villas-Boas has won almost every game as Zenit boss, they host Monaco on match day 2 while Benfica travel to leverkusen.
Enjoy….

Its a Derby Double Delight Weekend (This Weekend 26/09/14)

Its that date that you mark on the calendar when the fixture list comes out. Its that period of the season when you forward to an opportunity to mock your fiercest rivals by virtue of your geographical location. When it comes to derbies in England; the Merseyside Derby and the North London Derby are two of the biggest installments of local derbies available. Who gets the bragging rights till the next installment will unfold before our eyes over the weekend.

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Other parts of Europe are not left out, with Germany also providing another installment of the Ruhr Derby and defending champions Atletico Madrid taking the trip to Seville; we preview the big games in England, Spain and Germany.

Arsenal v Tottenham Hotspurs

Goals have been hard to come by for Tottenham Hotspurs in this clash with their North London neighbours; its been three games since Spurs scored in this clash with Arsenal. A lot has been made of the expectations at Spurs under Mauricio Ponchetino; however he has not been able to get his team playing like he did at Southampton. A number of inconsistent performances has been the hall mark of the Spurs side; Emmanuel Adebayor and Christian Eriksen are the biggest culprits for me. The Gunners are undefeated thus far this season, however they have been somewhat disappointing thus far this season; injuries havent been fair on the Arsenal, but then that comes with the territory.

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Arsenal are undefeated in their last 20 games at the Emirates and look very much like sure bets to win this, but I feel this is the game where Spurs will pick themselves up and give a worthy performance.

Halftimeng.com Prediction: A score draw (surprisingly)

Liverpool v Everton

Liverpool have struggled this season especially with coping with the departure of Luis Saurez; Mario Balotelli has failed to leave up to his supposed talent coupled with a number of the reds summer signing yet to settle in at the club. The story is also the same at the Toffees; this is possibly the first time in quite a while that both Merseyside clubs would both be in identically wretched form especially defensively for Everton with Tim Howard being the main culprit. Incredibly; Liverpool have already lost three times this season; but have a great recent record against Everton (undefeated in their last 16 games). The Toffees have conceded the most goals this season so far, so its imperative they get that sorted out especially if Liverpool’s Talisman Daniel Sturridge makes a return this weekend.

Everton look quite good going forward and Liverpool struggle with their midfield combinations with this being the major worry for most Reds fans; I think this may be the time Everton break their derby jinx.

Halftimeng.com Prediction: Liverpool to get the result

Schalke v Borussia Dortmund

This is another derby where the two teams have had a yoyo season; inconsistencies has been the order of the day for both teams. Dortmund have struggled with injuries and look very suspect in defense; back to back losses have not helped team morale; so this offers Schalke a great opportunity to make it three defeats in a roll. Both teams are almost identical with respect to the head to head; but Dortmund just edges it.

Both teams are looking forward to the return of some really important personnel; Dortmund would welcome Mats Hummels back whilst Schalke will welcome Kevin Prince Boateng back to their midfield. You can expect goals in this one as well as a very open game with both teams going for it.

Halftimeng.com Prediction: Score draw in this volatile derby

 

Atletico Madrid v Sevilla

If for any reason Sevilla get a point against Atlético Madrid, this will make it the club’s best start to a La Liga season in its history. Form is definitely in favour of Sevilla, 13 points from a potential 15, which puts the Andalusian side level on points with Barcelona at the top of the table. Atletico are undefeated in their last 22games at home; so a defeat seems quite unlikely, whilst also taking into consideration that Atletico are undefeated in their last 9 matches against Sevilla.

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Diego Simeone’s side have found it difficult with the adjustments of the new signings; Mario Mandzukic seems like the only one who has settled in well; new signings Raul Jimenez and Antoine Griezmann have not started their Atlético careers in great stride. Under Unai Emery, Sevilla like to keep the ball, playing some level of possession football which may play into the compact and combative style of Los Colchoneros; who would absorb pressure and pounce on the counter attack.

Halftimeng.com Prediction: Atletico to end Sevilla’s winning streak

 

This Weekend (19/09/14)

Great last weekend and an even better weekend in stall for us Football fans. All across Europe, especially in Italy where goals are supposed to be a scarce commodity; Inter and Ac Milan scored 12 goals between them and a total of 16 goals in the games that involved both teams last season. It was quite refreshing having league football back on our TV screens; for these weekend we take our preview jet on trips to England, Italy, France, Germany and preview a rather awkward game from Spain’s La Liga.

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Paris Saint Germain v Lyon 

Expect a high scoring game at the Parc D’ Princes with PSG struggling and Lyon getting some form of their groove back with their victory over Monaco. The Parisians made light work of Los Gones last season, but may be in for a tougher test this time around. PSG are undefeated in 32 of their last 33 games home games in Ligue 1, but then have had 4 consecutive draws this season; pressure may not have gone a notch yet, but a team of their calibre and investment should not be in the position they currently are especially with the mercurial Zlatan Ibrahimovic. PSG are still without Thiago Silva through injury, but Marquinhos has shown great maturity in the early weeks of the season. Christophe Jallet makes a return to the capital with a point to prove, but then Lyon’s injury crisis lingers on.

Halftimeng Prediction: PSG to win (expect a couple of goals)

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Hamburg v Bayern Munich

Rewind back a number of years, this is traditionally a big game in Germany, but then Hamburg have fallen completely from grace. Struggled last season through out and are only in the Bundesliga due to success in the relegation play off. Already, a manager (Mirko Slomka) has been fired for their poor start to the season, hence Bayern meet a team suffering psychologically and a team with one point and no goals so far this season as well as a mounting injury crisis. The only Achilles heel I see here for Bayern is their consistent change in style or formation; take nothing away from Pep’s side this looks clearly like 3 points in the bag.

Halftimeng Prediction: Bayern Munich to win comfortably

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Manchester City v Chelsea

Last season, this game seemed about the midfield battle between Yaya Toure and Nemanja Matic; the battle did live up to expectations as Chelsea got the better of the citizens at the Etihad. To a number of people (this also includes me), Chelsea are clear favorites to win the league, but not if Manchester City have anything to do with it. Jose Mourinho will definitely set up his team to be solid, compact and geared towards counter attacking; so expect a tough, engaging encounter. Manchester City are currently on a run of two losses from their last three games; technically form is an issue and City need a win here in order not to have too much to the in the entire title equation.

Halftimeng Prediction: Draw here, cannot see any other kind of result

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Milan v Juventus

Both Managers have been at each others throats previously and as far as i am concerned there is no love lost between the managers of both clubs. Interestingly both managers also have a point to prove; Pippo Inzaghi for all his greatness as a goalscorer for both Juventus and Milan needs to prove himself as a manager; Allegri on the other hand has a reputation that has been damaged, no thanks to his last season at Milan which was quite uneventful and quite mediocre at that and of course revenge will be on his mind.

To the game proper; Milan have started the season scoring goals and with maximum points; but then defensively especially by their showing at the Tardini against Parma, there is a worry; as Juventus are yet to concede this season and look quite solid and compact despite missing top players like Pirlo and Vidal. Juventus are on a run of 9 straight wins in Serie A; so the winning mentality is very solid; Milan’s new signings on the other hand are bedding in quite well especially Jeremy Menez and Stefan El-Sharawy is gradually looking the part along with Keisuke Honda.

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Its 4-3-3 v 3-5-2; it will be an interesting tactical battle as both managers look to assert themselves in their respective positions; expect a tough gritty affair.

Halftimeng Prediction: Looks like a draw to me; expect a typical Italian tactical battle.

Elche V Eibar

The battle of the promoted teams from Liga Adelante (Spain’s second Division) go head to head in an early relegation six pointer in La Liga. Elche have been in decent form lately and need a result here to boost their aspirations of remaining in the Primera division, although they have drawn 5 of their last 6 home games; this definitely gives Eibar a chance going into this encounter. Eibar are currently placed 14th in the league with a win in their first three games but the last two games have ended in defeat; as it is expected of promoted teams; the cautious approach always takes centre stage; Elche have been able to score goals in this division (four in total so far) with the defensive side remaining the albatross of both sides.

Halftimeng Prediction:  A draw looks very likely; score draw at that.

www.whoscored.com for all statistics references

2014/15 UEFA Champions League Preview

The sound of the champions league anthem is to die for. It sends shivers down the spine of the calmest professionals in the world. Ramps up the crowd in every stadium and brings tears to eyes of fans around the world.
The UEFA Champions League returns today and boy are we rearing and ready to go. La Decima was achieved last season by Real Madrid their first title in over a decade. Now the task is can they defend the title, a feat that no team has accomplished.

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Hears a preview of all the groups.

GROUP A.
From next season the belief is that we won’t have a group like this anymore. A group of Champions. Champions of Italy, Champions of Greece, Champions of Spain and Champions of Sweden would all fight for a place in the Round of 16. Over achievers last season Atletico Madrid would want a repeat performance from last season were a few less seconds would have seen them crowned champions of Europe while for Olympiakos their defeat of Manchester United last season has given coach Michel renewed confidence that they can do it again. Juventus the three time back to back Seria A Champions, nothing but success in Europe would suffice. With a new manager in Massimilliano Allegri hopes are high that a new chapter is about to begin for the Old Lady. Malmo FF might just as well make up the numbers but if past seasons have taught us anything giant killers are always poised to strike.

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Favorites to progress would be Juventus and Atletico Madrid.

GROUP B.
After achieving the much talked about LA Decima last season, defending champions Real Madrid have set their sights on not just an eleventh title but also a defense of their crown a feat no team in history has been able to accomplish. 2005 champions Liverpool are back in the competition for the first time since 2009 and would want to make their presence felt as they look to re-establish themselves as a force in Europe. Basel who defeated Chelsea home and away last season would fancy a shock here and there to put them in a position to capitalize on any slip ups. For Ludogorets, the Bulgarian side are the minnows in the group and would push for solid performances to prove they are no push overs.

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Favorites to qualify should be Real Madrid and Liverpool, but something tells me any slip up may open the door to a Basel invasion.

GROUP C.
The team from the principality also make their return this season but have lost star player Radamel Falcao to Manchester United and also James Rodriguez to Real Madrid. They still boast a very competitive team though and would look to make an instant impact in the competition. Bayer Leverkusen are arguably the most popular team from Germany not named Borrussia Dortmund or Bayern Munchen. Performances last season weren’t so inspiring, however new signings and a very confident start to their Bundesliga campaign have left much more to be desired. Runners-up last season in the Europa League, Benfica are the cursed team from Portugal who have lost their last seven European finals. Very unlikely they make it to the final of this one more so having lost star names Ezequel Garay to group contenders Zenit St. Petersburg. Getting out of the group would be the first step to excise the ghost of last season’s final. Zenit St. Petersburg with new manager Andre Villas-Boas at the helm have been perennial contenders in the champions league for years but have never really delivered even with star player Hulk. They have added to their ranks this season with the addition of Garay and Javi Garcia from Manchester City.

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Favorites to go through are Monaco and Bayer Leverkusen.

GROUP D.
Arsenal and Dortmund meet again in group D after two very competitive ties last season. Both made it through the group stages that time and a similar feat is expected. For Dortmund they lost star striker Robert Lewandowski but have welcomed home the prodigal son Shinji Kagawa back to the club from Manchester United. He already scored on his debut last weekend. Arsenal broke their transfer record last season with the signing of Mesut Ozil, well this season they have spent big again bringing in experienced campaigner and Chilean Star Alexis Sanchez from Barcelona. Danny Welbeck has also joined from the Red Devils. Anderlecht and Galatasaray make up the group and must get one over each other and hope Arsenal and Dortmund slip up to have any chance to qualify.

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Favorites to go through are Arsenal and Dortmund.

GROUP E.
Champions of England and Germany meet again this season at the group Stage and both might just have something to prove. Bayern Munchen were destroyed by Real Madrid in last season’s semi-final and Pep Guardiola is not one to take defeats on the chin, he would feel Bayern belong back in the final with a chance to reclaim their crown from 2013. Manchester City scored over one hundred goals last season but were bundled out last season by Barcelona. Manuel Pellegrini has not strengthened his squad of sorts but still has star players Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero and that might well be enough to see them past the group stages. Also not to forget they are only allowed to register 21 players due to financial fair play implications. Roma are the team that make this group very interesting. Runner-up in Seria A last season Roma are back in the big time and star player Francesco Totti would look to lead his team past one of the big boys and they do have a chance most especially if they turn the Stadio Olympico into a fortress. CSKA Moskva might have dominated the Russian League in recent times but they have never lit up the Champions League and this season should not be any different. Manchester City and Bayern Munchen to progress.

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Favorites to go through are Manchester City and Bayern Munchen, expect  Roma to cause a major stir.

GROUP F.
Barcelona and PSG renew old rivalries in the group stage this season having played out two draws in the knockout round last Season. Barcelona won on the away goals rule. New manager in Luis Enrique, new youngsters in Munir and maybe a rejuvenated Lionel Messi who missed the one trophy that has eluded him at the world cup in Brazil. PSG also have financial fair play implications but that hasn’t stopped them buying big, spending £50 million on David Luiz from Chelsea. Star striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic claims he is the best player in the world, he needs to prove it on the biggest stage not the world cup and that the Champions League. Unfortunately APOEL only make up the numbers but Ajax have a point to prove. They have dominated Holland in recent years and all thats left is a return to glory in Europe and Frank De Boer must feel his time is now. They probably would come a little short but expect inspiring performances from Ajax.

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Barca and PSG to go through.

GROUP G.
Nothing hurts Mourinho more than not winning. Chelsea missed out on the title in England and also the Champions League after Atletico Madrid shocked them at the Bridge in a 3-1 defeat. Now they are rearing and ready to go and have added to their ranks in powerful forward Diego Costa and mercurial midfield maestro in Cesc Fabregas. Costa and Fabregas have struck up and instant partnership with the former scoring 7 goals already in the Barclays Premier League and the latter contributing an assist in every single game. They might be favorites in England and in Europe they are not far behind. Schalke 04 are their closest challengers with Sporting Lisbon fancying their chances as well. Maribor might have knocked out Celtic but the competition comes too early for their young and promising squad.

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Chelsea and Schalke to progress.

GROUP H.
Finally probably the most even group of all. 2004 champions FC Porto are the stand out team with Atletic Club Bilbao making their return to the grandest stage. Shakhtar Donetsk have been strong in past competitions but turmoil in their home country might prove a distraction for them. Bate Borisov would fancy their chances along with the others. Since winning the title in 2004 Porto have not been the same since and have consistently lost their biggest names to the power houses of European football. This might be their chance to re-establish themselves.

Porto and Shakhtar to progress.

The champions league is back and all road lead to Berlin. Strap in for the ride and see again in the knock out round. Ciao.

A weekend of Debutants

Good grief the International week has come and gone; let me say here once again, I do not like the International break and would never like it; what an absolute waste of an entire week; but then relief is finally here as club football returns with some mouth watering encounters to keep us all clued to our television sets over the course of the weekend.

United Debuts

We start our trip around Europe by first and foremost considering that a number of Players would be making their debuts for their new clubs; the International break rob us of this chance but then they say better late than never. All across the leagues their debuts to savour; in Spain, Javier Hernandez would be looking to make his debut for Los Blancos (Real Madrid) in the Madrid Derby whilst in Italy, Fernando Torres would be seeking to make his Milan debut and in England; debuts are all over the place; especially at Old Trafford where four players are expected to make their debuts; then there’s Danny Welbeck at Arsenal (which I have made my last comment on his matter).

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To the big games; it doesn’t come bigger than the Madrid Derby; a repeat of the Champions League Final from last season. A game that would have crowned Diego Simone’s Legend; but then it doesn’t in any way diminish the achievements of Diego Simone. At the Bernabeu last season, Atletico Madrid truly showed their title credentials with a win; that victory was their first at their neighbors in ages; though this is a much changed Atletico team, they have done some fabulous business and also defeated the same Real Madrid team in the Super Cup. Real Madrid are also looking like a different side since the departure of  Xabi Alonso and Angel Di Maria as well as the damaging loss to Real Sociedad which demonstrated that all may not be well with Carlo Ancelotti and his wards especially with the expensive acquisition of James Rodriguez. Just as the case was last season that Ancelotti took time to settle on a formation or approach last season; this time around there is no time because any slip or delay may have Real far from title consideration than they can afford.

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At the Nou Camp, with new management on board, two wins on the bounce even though the second victory was done the hard way; Luis Enrique seems to have settled well and of course the Catalans still have Luis Saurez on the wings. This weekend, the Catalans welcome the Basque club; Atletico Bilbao to the Nou Camp; in all competitions Barcelona have only lost once in their  last 6 games against the Basque side; who will be a hard note to crack; the Bilbao side continues to be a compact, resolute and well oiled machine; they will prove quite diffcult to beat.

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In France; there is a Friday game with the once mighty Lyon taking on a depleted Monaco side suffering from the personal issues of their owners and the loss of two of their best players to two of Europe’s more illustrious clubs. However, that doesn’t take the shine off this tie as it remains one of the premier games on the calendar. Les Gones are a complete shadow of the team that dominated French football for seven years and are currently struggling in Ligue 1 with three defeats in their last three games; so this is definitely a most win game for Lyon; this is made a lot more difficult by the huge injury list at the Stade Gerland. Monaco are seeking to come to terms with the loss of their best two players and will be reeling from the loss last season against Lyon; both teams need this result and confidence booster badly; as both continue to struggle.

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England has a host of debutants to look forward too not least the debut of Danny Welbeck at the Emirates against Champions, Manchester City. Arsenal have another chance to show that they can mix it with the big boys; as the only top 4 team that failed to record wins off the top four teams (a damning stat states that Arsenal have only acquired 26points from a possible 90points); it is imperative that the Gunners get a result here. Manchester City on the other hand are still smarting from their loss to Stoke City before the International break and have had the break to get over that loss; yes City may be somewhat depleted upfront, but their team is still strong and a bounce back win is all they require to get things back to normal at the Etihad.

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So with all said and done, this weekend promises to be an explosive one and their is no better place to be than in front of your TV sets.