A crucial night in the Champions League sees both Manchester clubs seeking victories to maintain their hopes of making the knockout phase of the competition. Real Madrid put their 100% record on the line away to Lyon in France while Internazionale can put one foot in the next round with victory over Lille.
Wednesday, 2nd November
Manchester City faces their toughest test in their first season in the Champions League with a must-win game away to Villarreal on Wednesday evening. An injury-time Sergio Aguero goal earned Roberto Mancini’s side a late 2-1 win over their Spanish opponents at the Etihad Stadium on Matchday three and a similar result is necessary if the English club are to maintain their aspirations of qualifying for the last sixteen.
City are the form team of the Premier League having hammered their bitter rivals Manchester United 6-1 at Old Trafford recently. Mario Balotelli has assumed the role of chief striker in the absence of suspended Carlos Tevez while Aguero and especially David Silva are carving up defences with their majestic interplay.
The contrast with City’s Matchday four opponents Villarreal could not be starker. Juan Carlos Garrido’s side have lost all three Group A matches to date and are worryingly struggling near the relegation zone in their domestic league. The Yellow submarines know anything other than a home win over Manchester City on Wednesday night will all but end their European hopes for another season. Giuseppe Rossi and Nilmar have combined for a mere five goals this term but news that former Manchester United striker Rossi is out injured for at least six months is another blow to Villarreal’s season.
The meeting of Bayern Munich and Napoli in Munich on Matchday four offers the two front-runners in Group A an opportunity to enhance their prospects of making the knockout phase of the competition. A 1-1 draw in the Stadio San Paolo on October 18th ended Munich’s 100% record in the group with a Badstuber own goal cancelling out Toni Kroos’ opener.
Bayern remain top of the Bundesliga despite a recent 2-1 defeat at Hanover 96 and with Mario Gomez still the club’s top scorer on ten goals. Victory for Munich in Naples would secure a second round berth providing Manchester City fail to win away to Villarreal so Jupp Heynckes side are certain to go all out for a third victory in four Champions League ties.
Napoli are also unbeaten in Group A and are also riding high in the top four of Serie A. Ezequiel Lavezzi and Christian Maggio found the net in a recent 2-0 victory over high-flying Udinese and Bayern can expect a tough examination amid the intimidating atmosphere of the Stadio San Paolo
Group A – Predictions: Villarreal 1 Manchester City 3, Napoli 1 Bayern Munich 1
Internazionale currently sit top of Group B heading into Matchday four and a home win over Lille would go a long way to helping Claudio Ranieri earn his new club a place in the round of sixteen. Giampaolo Pazzini’s 16th minute strike proved enough to secure Inter a 1-0 away win at the Lille Métropole last time out but the Italian giants face the prospect of competing in their most important fixture of the season without first choice goalkeeper Julio Cesar.
The Brazilian shot-stopper was injured in the previous match with Lille and is unlikely to feature in the San Siro showdown on Wednesday evening. Inter remain perilously just above the relegation zone in Serie A following a dismal start to the campaign but recent European performances suggest Ranieri’s side are capable of moving away from the bottom three and a home win over Lille could prove the catalyst to a positive second half to the season.
Ligue 1 club Lille are enjoying a decent run of form in France and currently sit in the top four of the division following consecutive victories over Auxerre, Lyon and Sedan. Eden Hazard is Lille’s standout player this term contributing four goals from midfield and making the side tick with his incisive play. The French club badly need a win to reignite their European campaign and will need to reproduce their recent domestic form to get anything out of their trip to Italy.
CSKA Moscow’s first win of the Champions League campaign arrived on Matchday three courtesy of a merited 3-0 win at home to Trabzonspor in the Luzhniki Stadium. Ivory Coast international striker Seydou Doumbia bagged a brace for CSKA on that occasion taking his tally to four goals in three Group A fixtures.
Trabzonspor have home advantage for the return fixture on Wednesday evening and the side ranked 96th by UEFA will be hoping for a return to the form which delivered four points from their opening two group matches. Burak Yılmaz has netted eleven goals in the Turkish Super League this term and Coach Senol Gunes will be hoping for a result at home to CSKA to keep their hopes of making the knockout phase alive.
Group B – Predictions: Inter 2 Lille 1, Trabzonspor 2 CSKA Moscow 2
Manchester United go into their home Group C fixture with Otelul Galati hoping to build on their 2-0 victory over the same opposition on Matchday three. Wayne Rooney converted two penalties that evening in Bucharest but United lost the services of returning Captain Nemanja Vidic to a red card and will probably start Rio Ferdinand and Phil Jones in the heart of their defence for the visit of Galati. Sir Alex Ferguson’s side has been surprisingly off-colour in their opening three European fixtures and was fortunate to emerge with a 3-3 draw in the previous Old Trafford encounter with FC Basel.
A recent 6-1 reversal at the hands of title rivals Manchester City should focus the players’ minds ahead of the visit of Otelul who have lost all three Group C fixtures in their first Champions League appearance. Failure to register an expected three points would make United’s two remaining group matches interesting to say the least.
Current group leaders Benfica can put some daylight between themselves and Manchester United on the same evening in the Estadio do Sport Lisboa where FC Basel are the visitors for a crucial encounter. The Eagles are battling it out with FC Porto at the summit of the Portuguese Super League with strikers Oscar Cardozo and Javier Saviola combining for ten goals.
It is possible for Jorge Jesus’ side to qualify for the knockout phase if results go their way although an FC Basel side that picked up four points from their opening two group fixtures can get their own qualification hopes back on track with an unlikely away win.
Group C – Predictions: Manchester United 4 Otelul Galati 1, Benfica 2 FC Basel 0
Real Madrid and Lyon meet in the Stade de Gerland on Wednesday night with Jose Mourinho’s side looking to make it four wins out of four in the 2011-12 Champions League. A comprehensive 4-0 victory over the French side at the Santiago Bernabeu was achieved thanks to the sterling efforts of former Lyon striker Karim Benzema.
Lyon began their Group D campaign with a 0-0 draw at Ajax before a routine 2-0 win over Dinamo Zagreb. Remi Garde’s talented side are looking to qualify for the last sixteen for an eighth consecutive season and remain in title contention in their domestic league thanks to the goals of Bafetimbi Gomis who has netted seven in eleven appearances.
Should Lyon slip up at home to Madrid then Ajax will be hoping to capitalise at the Amsterdam Arena when winless Dinamo Zagreb visit on Matchday four. Ajax’s failure to win either of their two opening group encounters meant the away trip to Zagreb on October 18th was a must win game for the famous Dutch club. Goals in either half from Boerrigter and Eriksen secured a vital 2-0 win and Coach Frank DeBoer needs a similar result at home to Dinamo to keep their qualification hopes alive.
Group D – Predictions: Lyon 1 Real Madrid 3, Ajax 3 Dinamo Zagreb 1
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