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Champions League preview

Normal service resumes as the Champions League is tonight upon us once more. Clear your schedule for the next two evenings and take in sixteen fixtures that should keep us all glued to our television sets. Let’s have a look at all of the fixtures in detail for matchday one:

Runners-up last season, Atlético Madrid embark on the new campaign as they travel to Piraeus to face Olympiacos. The Greek side will be a tough test for Diego Simeone’s men at the Stadio Georgios Karaiskakis as Olympiacos last season won 16 out of 17 matches at home in the league last season.

Swedish champions Malmo travel to Turin to face Italian giants Juventus. It will be a tough test for Malmo who go into the fixture with some injury concerns while Juve’s Carlos Tevez will be out to prove a point. The Argentine has gone 14 matches without a goal in the competition since scoring in Man United’s 2-2 draw with FC Porto in April 2009.
Carlos-Tevez-Juventus

Liverpool are back in the Champions League after a five year absence. The Premier League runners-up welcome Ludogorets to Anfield – the first meeting between the Reds and a Bulgarian team since the 2005/06 campaign. Emre Can and Lazar Marković are both suspended for Liverpool on matchday one while Ludogorets are without goalkeepers Vladislav Stoyanov and Ivan Čvorović through suspension and injury respectively. 

Four months after they conquered ‘La Décima’ in Lisbon, Real Madrid will begin their title defence against FC Basel. The Swiss side travel to the Spanish capital with new coach Paulo Sousa, who has won six of his first eight Super League games. Los Blancos can boast some of the biggest names in world football, as well as new additions in James Rodriguez, Tony Kroos and Chicharito – all ready for tonight’s fixture.
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Monaco are back in Europe after an eight year absence as they tonight host Bayer Leverkusen. The Ligue 1 side replaced coach Claudio Ranieri with Leonardo Jardim in the summer and lost star players such as James Rodriguez, Eric Abidal and Falcao without getting any substantial replacements. Leverkusen are in fine form having won five out of five this season before last Friday’s 3-3 draw with Werder Bremen.

Zenit St Petersburg travel to Lisbon as they face Benfica in their opening match of the campaign. The Russian side have a good record against Portugese teams in the past 12 months having beaten FC Paços and FC Porto in the qualifying games and group stages respectively.
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It’s new coach Cesare Prandelli’s first Champions League match tonight since taking charge of Galatasaray as they face Anderlecht in Istanbul. The Belgian side will be seeking to get their first win on Turkish soil in their history while Galatasaray will be more than aware that they have not won any of their last four opening-night fixtures.

No strangers to one another, Borussia Dortmund welcome Arsenal in their opening fixture. Jurgen Klopp will be hoping to reverse the home defeat they suffered to the Gunners 12 months ago while Arsene Wenger will be without defender Mathieu Debuchy, but will be keeping a close eye on star-signing Alexis Sanchez, who has scored in each of his last three appearances, to cause considerable damage to the Germans.

Ashley Cole is set to play in the Champions League for a third club as Roma tonight face CSKA Moscow in the Stadio Olimpico. The Italian side are without star players Daniele de Rossi and Kevin Strootman while the Russians are beaming with confidence coming off the back of four consecutive wins – their best since 2002.
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Yet again Man City and Bayern Munich meet in the group stages – the third time in four years – but it still makes for a tasty fixture. The last time managers Pep Guardiola and Manuel Pellegrini met as coaches was during El Clásico in 2009/10 Spanish season. City are tonight without Pablo Zabaleta but can take comfort in the recent form of both Stevan Jovetić and Sergio Agüero.  

The only Irishman in the Champions League Cillian Sheridan and his APOEL team-mates travel to the Camp Nou to try topple giants Barcelona despite having never won away from home in the competition as Luis Enrique makes his European coaching debut with the Catalans.
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Zlatan Ibrahimović returns to face his former club Ajax in the Amsterdam Arena with his Paris Saint-Germain team-mates. The Parisians are six games unbeaten in 2014/15 yet have won just one of their last seven away games. Ajax however started their season with two league wins before a 3-1 home defeat to PSV Eindhoven on 24 August cost them their first defeat in 25 league matches dating back to last November.

Chelsea welcome Schalke to Stamford Bridge once more having last faced the Germans a year ago. The Blues, and new star signing Diego Costa, are both in flying form have won four out of four in the Premier League this season while Schalke have failed to win any of their first four competitive games of a new season for the first time since 1968.
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Slovenian side Maribor, regarded as minnows in the competition, play host to Sporting Lisbon for their first group stage campaign for 15 years. Sporting, under new coach Marco Silva, are in the group stage for the first time since 2008/09 but, as Maribor will be aware of, they have lost their last two opening-day fixtures in the competition.

FC Porto begin their 19th group stage campaign determined to put last year’s poor home results in the Champions League behind them and make ammends as they seek an opening-night win against BATE Borisov in what will be the Portugese side’s 200th European Cup fixture. BATE are no strangers to competition, but rarely make any impact and have lost their last three European away games.

Finally, tomorrow is Athletic Bilbao‘s first appearance in the Champions League group stage since 1998/99  as they face Shakhtar Donetsk in their brand new stadium at San Mamés. Despite political unrest in the Donestk region and forced to play their home games some 1,200 km away in Lviv, Shakhtar’s form is very good having won eight out of eight in all competitions in 2014/15, scoring 18 and conceding just once in the process.
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The fixture list in full:

16 September 2014
(Group A)
Olympiacos
19.45
Atlético
Referee: Pedro Proença (POR) – Stadium: Stadio Georgios Karaiskakis, Piraeus (GRE)
(Group A)
Juventus
19.45
Malmö
Referee: Szymon Marciniak (POL) – Stadium: Juventus Stadium, Turin (ITA)
(Group B)
Liverpool
19.45
Ludogorets
Referee: Matej Jug (SVN) – Stadium: Anfield, Liverpool (ENG)
(Group B)
Real Madrid
19.45
Basel
Referee: Damir Skomina (SVN) – Stadium: Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, Madrid (ESP)
(Group C)
Monaco
19.45
Leverkusen
(Group C)
Benfica
19.45
Zenit
Referee: Svein Oddvar Moen (NOR) – Stadium: Estádio do Sport Lisboa e Benfica, Lisbon (POR)
(Group D)
Galatasaray
19.45
Anderlecht
Referee: István Vad (HUN) – Stadium: Ali Sami Yen Spor Kompleksi, Istanbul (TUR)
(Group D)
Dortmund
19.45
Arsenal
Referee: Olegário Benquerença (POR) – Stadium: BVB Stadion Dortmund, Dortmund (GER)
17 September 2014
(Group E)
Roma
19.45
CSKA Moskva
Referee: David Fernández Borbalán (ESP) – Stadium: Stadio Olimpico, Rome (ITA)
(Group E)
Bayern
19.45
Man. City
Referee: Alberto Undiano Mallenco (ESP) – Stadium: Fußball Arena München, Munich (GER)
(Group F)
Barcelona
19.45
APOEL
Referee: Deniz Aytekin (GER) – Stadium: Camp Nou, Barcelona (ESP)
(Group F)
Ajax
19.45
Paris
Referee: Wolfgang Stark (GER) – Stadium: Amsterdam ArenA, Amsterdam (NED)
(Group G)
Chelsea
19.45
Schalke
Referee: Ivan Bebek (CRO) – Stadium: Stamford Bridge, London (ENG)
(Group G)
Maribor
19.45
Sporting
Referee: Clément Turpin (FRA) – Stadium: Stadion Ljudski vrt, Maribor (SVN)
(Group H)
Porto
19.45
BATE
Referee: Bas Nijhuis (NED) – Stadium: Estádio do Dragão, Porto (POR)
(Group H)
Athletic
19.45
Shakhtar Donetsk
Referee: Tasos Sidiropoulos (GRE) – Stadium: Estadio de San Mamés, Bilbao (ESP)

The next blog will be coming to you directly from Italy, as I head to Milan to see what a big game in the San Siro is like as AC Milan take on Juventus – historically two of Serie A’s and Europe’s most famous and successful teams.

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

 

Champions League preview (6/3/12)

Arséne Wenger has absolutely nothing to lose. After the 4-0 hammering his Arsenal side received at the San Siro at the hands of AC Milan on February 15th last, the French boss may aswell go for it. What has he got to lose? Can the Gunners do what seems like the impossible? He must, of course, be wary of the Italian giants. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is in fine form, having scored a hat-trick at the weekend and not to mention the difficult time Robinho can give the North London side. To quote Del Boy Trotter: he who dares, Arséne, he who dares.

Also on Tuesday sees Zenit St Petersburg travel to Portugal to take on Benfica. The excellent five-goal-thriller in Russia last month gives Zenit the edge, but Benfica’s domestic form and their two away goals may count for something for Jorge Jesus’ side if they go all guns blazing at Luciano Spaelletti’s men. Watching from the sidelines will be the cup-tied Andrei Arshavin, who recently returned to Zenit from Arsenal.

Tomorrow, Barcelona host Bayer Leverkusen at the Camp Nou. The German outfit’s hopes of reaching the next stage of the competition appear slim at best, given that they go into this leg trailing 3-1 from the previous encounter at the BayArena on Valentine’s Day last. But Bayer’s form is quite good –  consecutive wins against Augsburg, Koln and then upsetting the mighty Bayern Munich could give Robin Dutt’s men the confidence for a massive upset in Catalonia. Pep Guardiola, of all people, will be well aware of this.

Also on Wednesday, APOEL host Lyon. The French side have only a slender 1-0 lead against the Cypriots and Ivan Jovanovic’s men will be seeking to make a historic win at the GSP Stadium in Nicosia (a place most of us Irish fans would prefer to forget after THAT game).

All in all there is some interesting ties with some more even more interesting ones next week. What’s your predictons? Let me know or hit me up on Twitter.

 

 

Champions League last 16 round-up

Lyon coach Rémi Garde had been disappointed by Saturday’s defeat by Caen and looked to freshen his side up by making four changes in their Champions League game on Tuesday against APOEL FC. One of these was the hot prospect Alexandre Lacazette and it was his 58th minute goal that secured the French side’s a vital home victory.

Also on Tuesday was Bayer Leverkusen who played hosts to current holders Barcelona. And despite it being Valentine’s Day, Barça showed the Germans no love or no mercy. Alexis Sánchez scored twice as the Catalans took a giant step towards a place in the quarter-finals. Michal Kadlec did score for Leverkusen but it was, of course, Leo Messi whose goal two minutes from time made him the competition’s outright leading scorer so far. See the video below for highlights:

[jwplayer mediaid=”1676″]

Arsenal have a mountain to climb at the Emirates. The reason? AC Milan put four past them at the San Siro. Ouch! Two goals from Robinho, a Zlatan Ibrahimovic penalty and a spectacular Kevin-Prince Boateng volley gave the Rossoneri a comfortable 4-0 lead going into the second leg. Arsene Wenger will need to go on an all out attack – or pray that an extremely sub-par Milan side turn up at the Emirates on March 6th. I can’t see Arsenal recovering from this, though football has it’s surprises.

Finally, a tense-scoring match at the Petrovsky Stadium, witnessed home side Zenit St Petersburg narrowly clinch victory against Benfica. Uruguayan Maxi Pereira opened the scoring on 20 minutes for the Portugese side, only for Roman Shirokov‘s equaliser seven minutes later for Zenit brought things level. Sergi Semak goal gave Zenit the lead on 71 minutes before Benfica’s equaliser came with three minutes from time from Oscar Cardozo. But, it was to be Zenit’s night as sixty seconds later, Shirokov gave the Russian outfit their much deserved with and the game finished 3-2. Phew!

Next week sees Chelsea take on CSKA Moscow away, Chelsea travel to Napoli, Basel host Bayern Munich and Inter Milan face Marseille at the Stade Vélodrome in the French port city. ‘Til then.

Champions League matchday 6 round-up & last 16 preview

The Champions League last 16 will not feature either Manchester club. Not City nor United. This certainly wasn’t in the script. But it’s happened and Sir Alex now faces the penalty of playing in the Europa League along with Roberto Mancini.

The Mancunian sides aren’t they only ones to face an early exit form Europe’s biggest tournament. Trabzonspor’s stalemate at Lille witnessed both sides failing to qualify from Group B.  Real Madrid’s sixth win out of six sends Ajax out along with Dinamo Zagreb, who were destroyed by by Lyon at home 1-7 – Zagreb were 1-0 up at one point. The powers that be at Zagreb sacked coach Krunoslav Jurcic immediately after the match following the defeat. Who said football isn’t that ruthless?

The Europa League is Rooney's "penalty"

Elsewhere FC Porto narrowly missed out on the last 16 at the hands of Zenit St Petersburg following a 0-0 draw at the Estadio do Dragao. Finally, Marseille’s late victory at Borussia Dortmund book their place ahead of Olympiacos – who themselves did manage to beat Arsenal 3-1 on Tuesday.

So, in the last 16 are:

  • Bayern Munich
  • Napoli
  • Inter Milan
  • Benfica
  • FC Basel
  • Real Madrid
  • Lyon
  • Chelsea
  • Bayer Leverkusen
  • Arsenal
  • Marseille
  • APOEL
  • Zenit St Petersburg
  • FC Barcelona
  • AC Milan

The draw takes place on Friday 16 December at mid-day. There could be some potentially good ties drawn. The Milan derby would appeal to many a fan (except those who support Inter or AC Milan possibly). Check back on Friday week and I’ll run through them with my predictions.

What games would you love to see drawn? Let me know on Twitter.

 

 

Blatter's babbling lands him in hot water….again!

Every now and then I like to put up a video of the odd blooper – a player missing an open goal, a player making a ridiculous dive or even a spectacular own-goal. But one of the biggest idiots in football in recent times must be FIFA President Sepp Blatter. If I was ever in any doubt of his idiocy, he has certainly earned this title with his comments this week.

Asked whether he thought racism on the pitch was a problem, Blatter told CNN World Sport: “I would deny it. There is no racism” before suggesting a simple handshake would resolve any “word or a gesture which is not the correct one”. Oh dear. That’s not entirely true.

[jwplayer mediaid=”1295″]

If he took a look at, for example, the Russian Premier League where racism is unfortunately as clear as day, he may not back up these comments. Players and fans alike have been known to racially abuse players in Russia. Even Zenit St Petersburg’s notorious racist ultra supporters allegedly told club’s management they wouldn’t accept a black player at their club. Something former-coach Vlastimil Petrela confirmed to the BBC. Russia is just one of many countries where racism is a clear problem.

It is, however, hardly surprising that Blatter is, if we’re all honest, a bit of an idiot. He once did publicly suggest that women wear ‘tighter shorts’ to increase popularity of the women’s game. He also said that any gay fans going to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, where homosexuality is illegal, should “refrain from sexual activity”. And he publicly laughed at the FAI’s request for being being included as a “33rd team” in last year’s World Cup (as a result of the Henry controversy). Though he could have been laughing at John Delaney’s stylish haircut. Hard to tell.

He can’t remain in power for much longer? Surely not?

Champions League matchday 4 preview (part 1)

The two London sides, Arsenal and Chelsea, are sitting pretty in pole position in their respective groups. The Gunners and the Blues are both on seven points apiece after their opening three games.

Tonight Arsenal host Marseille. Two weeks ago Arsene Wenger’s side narrowly earned a 1-0 victory (courtesy of a goal in the 92nd minute). Marseille are absolutely no pushovers with one of the most creative manager’s in the European game – Didier Deschamps. Arsene Wenger must be wary of the French side’s counter-attacking style. However, confidence in the Gunners’ camp will be high after their marvellous 5-3 victory against Chelsea.

Speaking of Chelsea, the West-Londoners travel to Belgium to take on Mario Been’s Genk at the Cristal Arena. A fortnight ago, AVB’s men eased past the Belgians with a 5-0 win. The Blues have lost only once in their previous eight away Champions League games while Genk have yet to score in the competition. The odds are truly in favour of Chelsea. It might be safe to predict an away win.

The odds tonight are in favour of AVB - despite his recent results

Elsewhere, Zenit St Petersburg face Shakhtar Donetsk which, in my opinion, will be a cracking tie. Victory for Donetsk should lift them off the bottom spot of Group G and put them ahead of tonight’s opponents. Currently top of the table however, is (perhaps surprisingly) Cypriot side APOEL on five points, who themselves face FC Porto at the GSP stadium in Nicosia – a stadium Irish fans would remember for all the wrong reasons.

Finally, European giants AC Milan and Barcelona, both in Group H and both on seven points, travel to face BATE Borisov and Viktoria Plzen respectively. Milan will be without Gattuso and Cassano but apart from that, they have a full-strength squad and will come out with all guns blazing in Minsk to seal the top spot of the group. Barça travel to Prague with the knowledge that Viktoria Plzen are unbeaten at home this season. In their four European fixtures they have won three (all in the preliminary rounds) and drew with Borisov. Pep Guardiola will need to be wary of the Czechs – defeat could easily cost them the much-sought-after pole position.

Who the hell are FC Anzhi?

I’ll tell you who they are. They’re a Russian club with Man City-type ambitions and the money of Russian billionaire Suleyman Kerminov to back them. Two seasons ago, they played in Russia’s equivalent of the Championship. Now they have their sights set on a Russian Premier League title along with Champions League football for next season.

They first made international headlines with the signing of former Real Madrid ‘galacticoRoberto Carlos last February. But they made even bigger headlines when they recently acquired world-class Cameroon striker Samuel Eto’o from Inter Milan. He’ll earn a measly €10 million per season with the Russian side. I wonder will he kiss the club crest each time he scores? For that money, I’d tattoo it on me.

Most of the players live and train in the Moscow area but travel approximately 1,500 KM for home games 15 times a season. This is because of security issues in the Dagestan area of the country. Despite this, their billionaire owner has been literally pouring money into the club and attracting the likes of international stars such as  Diego Tardelli, Yuri Zhirkov and the hotly-tipped Mehdi Carcela Gonzalez to the little club with big ambitions and a bigger bank account.

"Oi...I'm not just here for the money!"

Of course, where does it count? That’s right – on the pitch. Have Anzhi been producing the goods on the pitch? The answer is simply: not for what they have spent so far. They’ve won less than half of their league games. Given the money they’ve spent on players and the enormous wage bill, anything less than 1st place could be deemed unacceptable. At the time of writing, they currently lie 7th in the Russian league. There is, however, only 9 points between them and top-placed Zenit St Petersburg. But there’s only six games left.

They say Rome wasn’t built in a day. But owner Suleyman Kerminov is determined to build FC Anzhi Makhachkala into something bigger than any Roman club overnight.