It is crunch time in the Champions League for a host of clubs on Wednesday night with an out of form Chelsea travelling to Germany while fellow Premier League side Arsenal host Bundesliga giants Borussia Dortmund. The clash of AC Milan and Barcelona is certainly the glamour tie of Matchday 5 and the focus of many football betting specials but the possibility of APOEL Nicosia claiming a last sixteen berth is the headline grabber on another exciting night of European football writes Ger McCarthy.
Wednesday, 23rd November
Chelsea travels to the Bay Arena in Germany to take on Bayer Leverkusen in a crucial Group E fixture as part of Matchday 5 of the opening phase of the Champions League. Michael Ballack takes on his old team in search of a home victory that would take Leverkusen to the top of the table with one round of games remaining. A draw would not suffice for Andres Villas-Boas’ side who would then host Valencia in their final group fixture needing a victory to cement first place in Group E.
Neither side could manage a win on Matchday4 with the Premier League club drawing 1-1 in Genk and Bayer Leverkusen going down 3-1 away to Valencia in Spain. The German side is currently languishing in mid-table in the Bundesliga with attacking trio Andre Schurrle, Stefan Kiessling and Eren Derdiyok combining for a mere 7 goals.
Robin Dutts’ side cannot afford to lose at home to Chelsea with Valencia likely to topple Genk in the corresponding night’s fixture and taking a firm grip of the runners-up berth heading into the final round of opening phase matches.
Chelsea’s recent 5-3 hammering at home to Arsenal has seen the Pensioners lose ground on the two Manchester clubs at the summit of the Premier League. The London club defeated Leverkusen 2-0 on Matchday1 thanks to goals from David Luiz and Juan Mata at Stamford Bridge and a similar result will secure a spot in the last sixteen suggesting an open / attacking game in Germany on Wednesday evening.
Nothing short of a victory will suffice for Valencia in the Mestalla on Matchday5 in the Spaniards pursuit of a place in the knockout phase of the competition. The visiting Genk have proven plucky opposition at various stages in Group E, none more so than their 0-0 draw at home to Valencia on September 13. An expected victory over their Belgian opponents would setup a cracking final game away to Chelsea for Unai Emery’s side who will look to ace striker Roberto Soldado to fire in the goals on Wednesday night.
Group E Matchday5 predictions: Bayer Leverkusen 2 Chelsea 2, Valencia 3 Genk 1
Arsenal and Borussia Dortmund clash at the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday night with the Gunners one victory away from topping Group F and qualifying for the knockout phase of this year’s Champions League. The visiting German side simply must get a result in London; otherwise, a Marseille victory in the corresponding Group F match will end Dortmund’s interest in this year’s competition.
Arsenal’s slow start to the 2011-12 domestic and European campaign saw Arsene Wenger’s side draw their opening match away to Dortmund before embarking on a three game unbeaten run to take the North London club to the brink of qualification. The in-form Aaron Ramsey and Robin Van Persie have been pivotal to Arsenal’s revival with the Dutch striker in particular producing a succession of match-winning games and goals.
Rumours about Van Persie’s long-term contract negotiations have dominated the buildup to the Dortmund encounter but a fourth victory in five Champions League games will secure passage to the next phase with one round of fixtures remaining.
If Arsenal were guilty of slow start to their campaign then Borussia Dortmund’s equivalent could be described as downright awful. The reigning German champions recovered from four defeats in their opening eight league fixtures to surge up the Bundesliga table into second place behind runaway leaders Bayern Munich. Jurgen Klopp’s side managed just one point from their first three Champions League encounters until a morale boosting 1-0 victory at home to Olympiacos courtesy of a solitary Kevin Grosskreutz strike resurrected their faltering European aspirations.
A draw is of little use to Dortmund on Wednesday evening as Marseille are three points ahead in the group and should prove too strong at home to their Greek opponents to move to ten points. All signs point to an open encounter between two excellent sides the fact Dortmund managed to defeat Bundesliga title-rivals Bayern Munich on their home patch over the weekend suggests an away victory is on the cards on Wednesday night.
Marseille enjoys home advantage for the visit of Olympiacos at the Stade Velodrome on Wednesday night knowing a win could secure a last sixteen berth. The Ligue1 club got the better of the Greeks on Matchday1 courtesy of a narrow 1-0 win and Lucho Gonzalez’s 51st minute strike. A win over Dortmund preceded a 1-0 loss at home to Arsenal and dogged 0-0 draw at the Emirates on November 1. A run of four consecutive league wins in recent weeks has seen ‘Les Olympiens’ shoot back up the Ligue1 standings following an indifferent start to their domestic campaign. Olympiacos have proven tough opponents throughout the Champions League opening phase the high point being a 3-1 defeat of Dortmund on Matchday3.
Group F Matchday5 predictions: Arsenal 2 Borussia Dortmund 1, Marseille 3 Olympiacos 1
The whole of Europe will be keeping an eye on the Group G match between Zenit St. Petersburg and APOEL Nicosia on Wednesday as the visitors can create history by becoming the first Cypriot side ever to reach the knockout phase of the Champions League with an away win. APOEL heads into their crunch encounter against second place Zenit with the hosts also gunning for victory that would see the Russians jump into first place in the standings with one round of games to go.
The previous fixture between the two sides on Matchday1 saw APOEL record a shock 2-1 victory thanks to goals from Manduca and Ailton. Since then the Cypriot side have continued to punch above their weight and manager Ivan Jovanovic has overseen away draws in Porto and Donetsk before the ‘Thrylos’ (legends) overcame the challenge of FC Porto on home soil on Matchday4. Zenit St. Petersburg has won both their home fixtures and Luciano Spalletti ‘s side are in a rich vein of form sitting atop the Russian Premier League.
The second Group G encounter on Wednesday evening sees FC Porto and Shakhtar Donetsk fighting for their Champions League survival. A draw will suit neither side with only two games remaining so an open encounter is anticipated at the Donbass Arena as Shakhtar look to reverse a 2-1 defeat to the Portuguese Champions from Matchday1.
Group G Matchday5 predictions: Zenit St. Petersburg 3 APOEL 1, Shakhtar Donetsk 1 FC Porto 2
Both Barcelona and AC Milan have already secured safe passage to the knockout phase of this season’s Champions League so all that is left to decide is who goes through as the seeded club from Group H. The Catalans travel to the San Siro on Matchday5 hoping to maintain their two point advantage at the summit of the standings while Milan needs a home victory to leapfrog the Primera Liga outfit.
The star –studded teams shared a thrilling 2-2 draw at the Camp Nou on Matchday1 with Thiago Silva netting an injury time equaliser to earn the Rossoneri a point. Milan striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic comes up against his former club on Wednesday evening and the Swedish striker’s derogatory comments about Barca head Coach Pep Guardiola in his recently released autobiography should add spice to potentially cracking encounter.
BATE Borisov welcomes Plzen to the Dinamo Stadion in Minsk on the same evening with the two Group H minnows battling it out to see who can claim a Europa League spot. It finished 1-1 in the previous Champions League fixture between the two sides on Matchday1 when Renan Bressan cancelled out Bakos’ opener for Plzen to earn BATE a share of the spoils. The Belarusian side should prove too strong for the Czech’s on this occasion and solidify third place in Group H.
Group H Matchday5 predictions: AC Milan 1 Barcelona 2, BATE Borisov 2 Plzen 0
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