- Posted by Geoff Reid
- On September 13, 2011
- 0 Comments
- 2011/12 UCL, Geoff Reid, UEFA Champions League
By: Geoff Reid
Chelsea vs Bayer Leverkusen from Stamford Bridge, London
The big story in this one to kick off this season’s group stage for both clubs is the return of former Chelsea midfielder Michael Ballack to Stamford Bridge as a player for Bayer Leverkusen. The former Germany captain enjoyed a 4 year spell winning a Premier League title, and three FA Cup titles along the way. Of course since he left a little over a year ago, the squad has gone through a little transition with a different manager, and a few new signings to replace some of the aging players. What will be interesting from Chelsea’s point of view is where will Fernando Torres fit in? He was left on the bench on the weekend, maybe because he’ll start today, but the expensive misfit needs to start scoring goals otherwise his career will continue into a downwards spiral. Leverkusen are playing in the Champions League for the first time since the 2004/05 season, so not much should be expected of them here.
Prediction: Chelsea 2-0 Bayer Leverkusen
Genk vs Valencia from KRC Genk Arena, Genk
The Belgian champions have their work cut out for them and they’re expected to finish at the bottom of the group. As club captain David Hubert has put it “Until now, we have only come up against these stars on PlayStation.” Certainly their target is the Europa League knockout phase, which means finishing third so they will have nothing to lose going into this encounter. For the visitors from the Spanish coast, Valencia have lost Juan Mata to group rivals Chelsea which was a big hole to fill. They are favorites to qualify for the knockout phase along with Chelsea, but with this Valencia team not being as strong as in years past, both Genk and Leverkusen will take note of that, and that they can also finish second.
Prediction: Genk 1-1 Valencia
Olympiakos vs Marseille from the Georgios Karaiskakus Stadium, Piraeus
The home side will find it tough, as this is the first competitive match of the season for the Greek champions. They’ve had a long pre-season that’s lasted nearly two months, but they will be also be heavily motivated to get their season started in the right fashion. They were scheduled to play two league games already, but both clubs (FC Kavala, and Olympiakos Volou FC) were both relegated to the forth tier of Greek football. Marseille on the other hand have gotten off to a very slow start, and most recently losing at home this past weekend to Stade Rennais FC 1-0. Manager Didier Deschamps doesn’t seem too concerned, and considers this to be his team’s most important priority this season. This should be a good one.
Prediction: Olympiakos 2-1 Marseille
Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal from BVB Stadion Dortmund, Dortmund
Both of these sides have not got off to the best starts this season, but more pressure is clearly on the Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. His opposite number, Jurgen Klopp is almost walking on water in Dortmund after last season’s amazing run to the Bundesliga title. However, this is a results business, and Wenger was once like Klopp too. With two league defeats already this season, the German champions want to make a name for themselves in this season’s tournament. For the visitors from north London, after everything that’s happened this summer, and to start the season, Arsenal need a consistent run in the Champions League this season. Both clubs are expected to qualify from this group, so their is real pressure for both squads.
Prediction: Borussia Dortmund 2-2 Arsenal
FC Porto vs Shakthar Donetsk from the Estadio do Dragau, Porto
In one of the weaker groups in this year’s competition, FC Porto are the favorites to win Group G, and have a never lost their opening game in the Champions League at this point. Star striker Hulk was rested over the weekend during their 3-0 win against Victoria SC, and came off the bench in the 71st minute. Coach Victor Pereira is making his debut in the tournament, and promised his side’s record of being unbeaten to begin the group stages will continue. The Ukrainian champions are coming off a massive 5-1 win one FC Volyn Lutsk in league play, so their confidence should be sky high. Plus, they’ve had success in this competition in recent seasons, so they’re no strangers to the Champions League. With a mixture of Ukrainian, and Brazilian players, they’re expected to get out of this group along with today’s hosts.
Prediction: FC Porto 2-1 Shakthar Donetsk
APOEL vs Zenit St. Petersburg from the GSP Stadium, Nicosia
The two underdogs in Group G meet in that should be an interesting encounter, and APOEL manager Ivan Jovanovic has challenged his squad to prove that they belong in this competition, and to prove people wrong starting today against their Russian counterparts. They made their debut two years ago, so they now have somewhat of an idea about what to expect. The side are coming off a 3-1 win against Alki Larnaca FC over the weekend in the league, so they should be looking forward to this one. For the Russians, manager Luciano Spalletti has been here before when he was the manager of Roma, and he’s counting on his squad’s previous experience in European play to avoid any mistakes. Preparation didn’t go too well though, by suffering a 4-2 defeat against FC Lokomotiv Moskva on Saturday.
Prediction: APOEL 0-2 Zenit St. Petersburg
Barcelona vs AC Milan from the Camp Nou, Barcelona
The match of the day comes from the home of the defending champions, and the best club side of this generation. From a neutral perspective, you couldn’t ask for a better curtain raiser, and their is healthy respect amongst the clubs. One side note, former Barcelona and current Milan frontman Zlatan Ibrahomovic did not travel to Catalonia due to a thigh injury picked up in the clubs season opener against Lazio. Both clubs didn’t have ideal results this past weekend, with both teams drawing 2-2 against Real Sociedad, and Lazio respectively.
Prediction: Barcelona 3-1 AC Milan
FK Viktoria Plzen vs BATE from Eden, Prague
The other two teams in this group are not expected to qualify for the knockout phase, so the target for both these clubs is going to be Europa League knockout round qualification, and third place in the group. Plzen coach Pavel Vrba believes that both sides to have a chance to possibly upset the European hierarchy, and no better place to do it then in this group. For the Belarusian champions, manager Viktor Goncharenko thinks his side can go one further, and upset the odds. For either side, a win will go a long way to proving their worth in European competition.
Prediction: Plzen 0-0 BATE