[dropcap]A[/dropcap]lrighty, the UEFA champions league is back and we have three “BIG GAMES” to look forward to seeing tonight.
SCHALKE VS CHELSEA
FC Schalke 04 face their toughest test of the UEFA Champions League so far when they welcome Chelsea FC to the Veltins-Arena on Tuesday evening.The Royal Blues currently sit top of Group E with maximum points from their opening two games, but preparation for their third tie of the campaign has been far from ideal. Star striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar has been ruled out until the New Year, while midfielder Marco Höger suffered a partial tear of the cruciate ligament in his right knee on Saturday and will miss the remainder of the season. With Jefferson Farfan and Kyriakos Papadopoulos yet to regain full fitness, head coach Jens Keller goes into Tuesday’s encounter with several key players missing. But it is expected that every player on the pitch will do his very best.
Not that it’s all bad news for Schalke: Kevin-Prince Boateng, Jermaine Jones and Timo Hildebrand have all been declared fit for the match after missing the last-gasp win over Braunschweig in the Bundesliga.
6 points from 6 mean Schalke are top of Group E, 3 points ahead of their rivals in this game, Chelsea, but this is likely to be the biggest test they have faced so far.
Prediction: Schalke 1-2 Chelsea
AC MILAN VS BARCELONA
Los Blaugranas started their season on a tear, and before their goalless draw this weekend, they had won all of their matches in all competitions. So far they are perfect with six points in two games in this Champions League campaign whilst the Italian side have four points after defeating Celtic and drawing against Ajax.
Barcelona have some of the best players in the world, and it will be interesting to see how their attacking trio faces a tough defensive line. Lionel Messi is the best player in the world, but he’s coming off an injury. Alexis Sánchez started this season scoring a lot of goals, and Neymar seems like he hasn’t been able to settle into the team’s rhythm. Barcelona will go as far as these three players can take them on Tuesday.
Milan, on the other hand, might have been struggling so far, but they can’t be discarded as they have a knack for being in some of the greatest moments in soccer history. With practically the same teams on both sides they already defeated Barcelona 2-0 last season and they will look to repeat not only the result but also the performance. Stephan El Shaarawy is the most dangerous element in the squad and he will be a constant headache for Barcelona’s defensive unit.
Prediction: AC Milan 1-2 Barcelona
ARSENAL VS BORUSSIA DORTMUND
After two Champions League matches played, things are quite different for both sides. While the Gunners sit at the top of the standings thanks to their attacking style that saw them won their first six points, Dortmund haven’t been at their best in the group stage and have conquered just three out of six possible units as they defeated Olympique Marseille but lost against Napoli.
Lots of Arsenal hopes lay on the shoulders of German star Mesut Ozil. The former Real Madrid playmaker has been on an absolute tear since joining the London side, and a lot of the success the team has had this season could be thanks to the spark that Ozil provides in the attacking midfield.
Dortmund, on the other side, will depend heavily on what Robert Lewandowski is able to do up front. Playing away from home, the current Champions League runner-up will surely push their lines back as they try to employ a counter attacking style where the Poland international is highly effective. The play of midfielders Nuri Sahin and Ilkay Gundogan will also be a key factor as they will be in charge of stopping Ozil, Jack Wilshere and the rest of the Gunners’midfield.
Prediction: Arsenal 2-1 Borussia Dortmund
Away from the three big games;
AUSTRIA WIEN VS ATLETICO MADRID
Diego Simeone’s men will try to continue their blistering start to the season as they will travel to Austria to take on Austria Wien in a match where the Spaniards are the clear favorites to take home the three points.
After two matches played in the Group Stage the situation is quite different for both sides. Los Colchoneros are sitting at the top of Group G with six points after two convincing victories against Porto and Zenit whilst the Austrian side only have one point after their draw against the Russian outfit.
Despite being considered as massive underdogs for this game, the hosts have some weapons to pull an upset against Los Rojiblancos.
The front line is highlighted by experienced striker Tomas Jun and the midfield is led by Alexander Grunwald, a creative playmaker that can cause a lot of damage when given enough space.
Atletico Madrid, on the other hand, will look to heal their wounds at Europe’s biggest tournament following their defeat against Espanyol in La Liga this past week. The individual quality is enough for Atletico to take home the three points. They also have a lot of chemistry, and it seems like they are playing better after each game, so it would be a shock if they aren’t able to continue their perfect campaign at the European level.
Diego Costa is the one player the whole world is talking about as the Brazilian is currently the top scorer in the league and has already found the back of the net 10 times. His pace and his complement with David Villa will prove to be too much for the inexperienced defensive line of Austria Wien.
Prediction: Austria Wien 0-2 Atletico Madrid
CELTIC VS AJAX
Celtic know they have to win if they’re to keep up their hopes of securing a place in the next round of the Champions League, but are missing a number of key men for the welcome of Ajax. The Dutch champions are yet to win away from the Amsterdam Arena this season. However, they picked up a 1-0 win over Celtic the last time the two teams met at Parkhead back in 2001.
Despite missing a number of first-team regulars, Celtic are tipped to make home advantage count and capitalise on Ajax’s poor away record this term. Kris Commons is the biggest loss after the midfielder limped out of the 1-1 draw with Hibernian at the weekend with a hamstring problem. He’s joined on the sidelines by Steven Mouyokolo, Adam Matthews and Derk Boerrigter, while Mikael Lustig and Emilio Izaguirre are doubts. Scott Brown is suspended following his red card against Barcelona.
For Ajax, Frank de Boer will be without the services of injured pairing Bojan and Lerin Duarte, but Niklas Moisander, is expected to travel.
Prediction: Celtic 2-1 Ajax
STEAUA BUCURESTI VS BASEL FC
Steaua currently foot Group E and need to pick up a win here if they’re to harbour and hopes of qualifying for the latter stages of the Champions League, but head into the meeting with Basel on the back of a confidence boosting win.
Head coach Laurentiu Reghecampf has just one injury worry in the form of Stefan Nikolic, however, he’ll be boosted by the return of Alexandru Chipciu, who made his first appearance since May from the bench on Friday.
Basel have impressed in the Champions League thus far and were unlucky not to come away with at least a point in the 1-0 defeat to FC Schalke 04 last time out. Manager Murat Yakin has a fully fit squad to chose from and may make a couple of changes from the side that won on Saturday in their local league.
- The pairing come into the encounter having scored 7 goals between them at the weekend and a high scoring affair is a distinct possibility.
- Prediction: Steaua Bucuresti 2-2 FC Basel
MARSEILLE VS NAPOLI
The French side have lost their last two matches in Ligue 1, and may be short of confidence in Europe as they are yet to pick up a point in Group F and know they have to beat Napoli tonight to renew their hopes.
- Napoli returned to Naples empty handed in the battle for Serie A supremacy in Rome, despite matching Roma’s power for a majority of the game. The visitors have been more comfortable in hosting stronger opposition rather than travelling, but Marseille could be an affordable opponent to face away from the San Paolo.
For Marseille, Jérémy Morel and Benjamin Mendy are both available and will battle for the left-back position, with the latter expected to be favoured.
Napoli will be without Juan Zuñiga and Miguel Britos in defence, but Pablo Armero and Paolo Cannavaro are set to start in their absence. Gonzalo Higuaín has travelled with the rest of the team, but it’s unsure whether he’ll start and Gökhan Inler and Blerim Dzemaili are battling for one spot in midfield, while Lorenzo Insinge is expected to start ahead of Dries Mertens.
Prediction: Marseille 1-2 Napoli
FC PORTO VS ZENIT PETERSBURG
Portuguese outfit, Porto will be hoping to bounce back after defeat handed Atletico Madrid the advantage in group G, meanwhile Zenit need a result to avoid falling 5 points short of their hosts. The Russians would be content with a draw in that instance but their key players are certainly in attacking areas so they will look to exploit any opportunities to counter through Hulk and Danny in particular. The visitors are going strong domestically and will take confidence from a run of 9 wins in 10 league matches but Porto are unbeaten in the league themselves and this is likely to be a close encounter.
Porto’s back four will remain unchanged with Otamendi and Mangala getting the nod over Maicon. In midfield they have options in the likes of Herrera, Defour and Josue competing for places alongside mainstays Lucho Gonzalez and Fernando. Jackson Martinez will lead the line having netted 8 goals in the league and Champions League combined already, with Juan Quintero hoping to get his first start in the competition having scored from the bench at the weekend.
Zenit on the other hand will be missing midfielder Axel Witsel through suspension having been sent off against Austria Wien while defenders Hubocan and Smolnikov are both one booking away from a ban. The latter is likely to revert to a right-back role with Criscito and Ansaldi in competition to start on the left side of the defence. Viktor Fayzulin and Oleg Shatov will compete to take Witsel’s role in midfield alongside Zyryanov.
Prediction: FC Porto 2-1 Zenit Petersburg