The opening week of the 2011-12 Champions League concludes this evening with a host of mouth-watering encounters from Groups A, B, C and D. Can Manchester City mark their debut in the competition with a victory? Will Inter Milan rebound from an opening day defeat in Serie A? Will Man United have their group sewn up inside the opening three fixtures? Can Real Madrid wrestle the most coveted title in European football from their bitter La Liga rivals?
I will attempt to answer these questions and more as we preview the concluding Matchday 1 fixtures from Wednesday evening’s menu.
Wednesday 14 September
Group A of this season’s Champions League looks the most competitive with four quality sides set to battle it out for two knockout round berths in the round of 16. Roberto Mancini’s Manchester City have been a revelation in the Premier League this year playing an attractive brand of attacking football a million miles away from the usual defensive, dour tactics served up in previous campaigns.
City’s first foray into the Champions League sees the Eastlands club in rude health with strikers Edwin Dzeko and Sergei Ageuro scoring for fun in their domestic league. David Silva is also in scintillating form with the little Spaniard buzzing around behind the front two to devastating effect. City will be anxious to start with a victory when Napoli arrive in Manchester tonight but the Serie A side are packed full of attacking talent of their own so a cracking game is anticipated.
The attacking duo of Lavezzi and Cavani will test City’s defence to the full and expect Marek Hamsik to pull the strings in midfield. I will go for City to squeeze past a dogged Napoli effort and collect their first 3 Champions League points.
The other Group A fixture pits the free-scoring Bayern Munich against La Liga outfit Villarreal. Bayern are currently top of the Bundesliga with 4 wins from their opening 5 fixtures and last Saturday’s 7-0 demolition of SC Freiburg should provide the visiting Spanish side with plenty to think about. Mario Gomez has enjoyed a terrific start to the new campaign and notched 4 of his side’s total at the weekend.
Villarreal drew 2-2 at home to Sevilla in an entertaining clash on Saturday evening and the yellow submarines will look to striker Giuseppe Rossi for goals ahead of their daunting trip to the Bundesliga giants. We will plump for a home victory from this one.
Group A prediction: 1st Bayern Munich, 2nd Man City, 3rd Villarreal and 4th Napoli
When UEFA officials made the draw for Group C the loudest noise heard was the collective groans from football fans around Europe at how easy a group Manchester United ended up in. Fans would do well not to discount the ability of a talented Benfica outfit while FC Basel possess plenty of Champions League experience and Romanian newcomers Otelul Galati will have nothing to lose in their inaugural appearance. (Anything other than United topping the Group would constitute a shock though).
FC Basel begins their fourth CL campaign having only once reached the last 16 and should prove too strong for the debutantes from Romania. Galati won their domestic title for the first time last season but any point garnered from this group will be a bonus. A prediction of Basel opening their account on Matchday 1 looks the most probable result.
Manchester United begins another European campaign away to Benfica in Portugal looking to go one better than the demoralizing defeat to a rampant Barcelona in the final at Wembley back in May. Sir Alex Ferguson’s side have torn through their domestic opposition to top the Premier League and recently demolished Arsenal 8-2 at Old Trafford.
United will expect Wayne Rooney and Ashley Young to continue their recent goal scoring blitz in their European opener but can expect a difficult evening from Jorge Jesus’ Benfica in Lisbon. 10 points from their opening four league matches sees the Eagles only 2 points behind leaders and bitter rivals FC Porto so United will be pushed all the way before eventually securing an opening night victory.
Group C prediction: 1st Man Utd, 2nd Benfica, 3rd FC Basel and 4th Otelul Galati
Inter Milan will be anxious to recover from their weekend 4-3 defeat at the hands of Palermo when new manager Gian Piero Gasperini leads his Serie A side out against Trabzonspor this evening. A new formation did not appear to suit the Nerazzuri’s star-studded side on Saturday but the Italians should possess too much quality for their Turkish visitors who qualified for the competition by virtue of Fenerbache’s earlier expulsion.
Ligue 1 Champions, Lille, take on CSKA Moscow in the Lille Metropole Stadium with new signing Joe Cole part of their Champions League squad for the coming campaign. Last season’s French double winners will have it all to do against a CSKA outfit currently tied at the summit of the Russian Premier League with Zenit St. Petersburg.
Group B prediction: 1st Inter, 2nd CSKA Moscow, 3rd Lille and 4th Trabzonspor
José Mourinho begins his quest to deliver the Champions League trophy back to the Santiago Bernabeu with a tricky away visit to Dinamo Zagreb on Matchday1. Zagreb are currently top of the table in their native Croatia having amassed 19 points from their opening 7 games.
9 times European Champions Real Madrid are also top of the their domestic league with maximum points from their opening 2 matches and will look to the mercurial Cristiano Ronaldo to kick-start their European campaign. A
Group D prediction: 1st Real Madrid, 2nd Lyon, 3rd Ajax and 4th Dinamo Zagreb
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