Oh how we love Champions League weeknights.
We get to see our favourite teams square off against teams from far, far away lands, with players we do not necessarily know, playing in stadia we do not necessarily find pleasing or tolerable.
Managers pit wits, tactics and playing styles clash…and that UEFA theme song or anthem…sigh, stuff of legend.
Well, Matchday 2 of the Champions League is upon us this week and here are a few of the things we should look forward to or expect.
1. United to struggle in Donestk
United’s troubles have been well documented so I will not waste any more ink on this. However what I will say is United have one of their toughest tasks in getting a result in Ukraine. David Moyes’ men kicked off their campaign with a flattering 4-2 victory over Bayer Leverkusen at Old Trafford but face a journey to the unknown as they travel to take on trophy-laden Shakhtar for the first time.
Shakhtar’s manager Mircea Lucescu is their version of Sir Alex Ferguson, a winner. His longevity bears hallmarks of Fergie’s time at United but that is not where the similarities end. His trophy haul is nothing short of remarkable, having won seven titles in nine seasons, league and cup doubles and a UEFA Cup in 2009. They sold Fernandinho, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Willian, three players who had been so instrumental to their cause last season but the ‘most Brazilian side in Europe’ recruited Brazilians Fred, Wellington Nem and Bernard (who had been a target of Arsenal).
A bit of background. They started the season in imperious fashion, winning all six opening fixtures before hitting a lull, winning one of their last five outings. They did, however, beat Real Sociedad comprehensively away from home in their first group game. United, on the back of back-to-back Premier League defeats could not be in worse shape…they will struggle against a team that has won all its previous three home fixtures against English opposition – Arsenal in 2000/01 and again in 2010/2011 and Chelsea last season.
2. Napoli to get a positive result against Arsenal
With Mr. European competition at the helm, Rafa Benitez, Napoli should be confident of leaving the Emirates with something when they face off later tonight.
Arsene Wenger’s troops have been in red-hot for since their opening day defeat to Aston Villa and will once again be looking to standout performer Aaron Ramsey to continue his blazing streak. The Welshman is playing the best football of his career and with experienced Ozil in their ranks, Arsenal are packing serious ammunition.
Napoli though, are currently unbeaten so far. They dispatched last season’s finalists Borussia Dortmund in their first group game and in Marek Hamsik, Lorenzo Insigne, Jose Callejon and former Arsenal target Gonzalo Higuain, they possess major firepower. Add to that the man in the dugout, Rafa Benitez and it becomes easy to see why Napoli may be the dark horses in this year’s edition.
3. Manchester City to lose against Bayern
The recent derby winners have sought solace in Europe since the multi-million pound take over but until now, are yet to find it. They have faltered in Europe year after year, even failing to get past the group stage under former manager Roberto Mancini.
New man Manuel Pellegrini has a lot more pedigree than his predecessor, with stints at Villarreal, Real Madrid and last season’s quarter-final heartbreak with Malaga. He is yet to achieve a single victory over the man he will be coming up against at the Etihad though. Pep Guardiola takes his Bayern team to face off with City having won his first fixture against CSKA Moscow.
City recorded an impressive win over Czech side Viktoria Plzen by a similar margin. Both sides were paired together two years ago, with each winning 2-0 at home but City’s win nevertheless saw their elimination from the competition. It was too little, too late.
City however, are unbeaten at home in the past 20 matches in Europe but are coming off the back of a shock 3-2 loss away at Aston Villa. Bayern, in contrast, have had a typically strong start to their season having dropped just two points in their opening seven fixtures and will feel confident of getting a result against City.
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