Europe’s biggest competition returns this week with some interesting group stage matches involving big teams, in this article we’ll be looking at a pair of games for Tuesday and Wednesday so without further delay lets kick off the round-up:
Group A: Manchester United vs. Bayer Leverkusen (Old Trafford) – Tuesday September 17, 2013
The first match we’re taking a look involves an interesting storyline, as David Moyes faces his first UEFA Champions League test at Manchester United manager when he hosts a potent Bayer Leverkusen at Old Trafford.
This is Man United’s 18th consecutive Champions League campaign but it will take quite an adjustment from being under the leadership of Alex Ferguson who led the club to two UEFA Champions League trophies, combine this with a looming Manchester Derby against rivals Manchester City and this is a difficult week for the Red Devils. Leverkusen under Sami Hyppia have had a great start to the Bundesliga season and have an intriguing three pronged attack of Stefan Kiessling, Sidney Sam and Son Heung-Min, a worrying prospect for a United midfield and defensive unit that have been poor to start the season and will be looking to new signing Marouane Fellaini to add steel and quality. All of that said Manchester United has the ultimate trump card in Robin Van Persie, a player that is a proven goal scorer in both domestic and European competition.
On the face of it taking Manchester United at Old Trafford would be the automatic choice, but with David Moyes managing in his first high profile game as United manager going up against a challenging Bayer Leverkusen side makes me lean with the German side against the spread.
Prediction: Bayer Leverkusen +0.5 (+120)
Group C: Olympiacos vs. Paris Saint-Germain (Karaiskakis Stadium) – Tuesday September 17, 2013
The next match on the list sees the high profile French outfit PSG travel to a raucous stadium in Greece to take on Olympiacos, a notoriously difficult place to play on European nights.
This is the first time both of these clubs are facing each other as well as the first time PSG is playing Greek opposition, however Olympiacos is familiar with playing French opponents having played Montpellier, Marseille and Bordeaux on recent occasions. The most attractive aspect of this match is how Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Edinson Cavani play together in UEFA Champions League competition, at this early point of the season they’re still adjusting to each other and developing a relationship but that forward partnership is a difficult prospect for any opposition. PSG has a looming league match against AS Monaco in a high profile Ligue 1 clash; it will be interesting to see how Laurent Blanc sets his side up for this match knowing that Monaco will have the advantage of no mid-week match.
Even though Olympiacos is a difficult side to play against and playing in Greece is no picnic it’s difficult not to side with PSG in this one, the embarrassment of riches that the defending French champions has at its disposal is incredible and with and getting games in a tough group last season gives them much needed experience.
Prediction: PSG ML (+105)
Group F: Napoli vs. Borussia Dortmund (Stadio San Paolo) – Wednesday September 18, 2013
The heavyweight clash in the dreaded “Group of Death” this week sees a new and improved Napoli side under Rafa Benitez hosts last season’s finalists Borussia Dortmund at Stadio San Paolo.
Both of these teams have newly revamped and high profile attacks mixed with some proven players that makes this match fascinating, Dortmund has integrated Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrick Mkhitaryan has been fairly seamless and in combination with potent goal scorer Robert Lewandowski as well as influential midfielders Marco Reus and Ilikay Gundogan it makes Jurgen Klopp’s side a force while Napoli have had to replace major parts to its team over the last few seasons as well and have done so with great effect in Gonzalo Higuain, Pepe Reina and Jose Callejon joining the likes of Marek Hamsik, Gokhan Inler and Lorenzo Insigna. From a playing standpoint it’s incredibly difficult to give one side a clear advantage, as while Dortmund has more experience in recent times Napoli has acquired players that have Champions League experience that can carry over.
I think the OVER is the play in this one, as it’s incredibly difficult to pick one side to convincingly beat the other here but it shapes up to have goals and great attacking play.
Prediction: OVER 2.5 (-120)
Group H: AC Milan vs. Celtic (San Siro) – Wednesday September 18, 2013
The final match we’ll be taking a look at is Celtic traveling to the San Siro to take on AC Milan, the Scottish side have been known to slay some giants of the European game both at home and on its travels and fought its way into the group stages after almost suffering embarrassment at the hands of a side from Kazakhstan but face a huge a big test against AC Milan.
A good sign for Celtic is that it’s going up against a Milan side that is injury hit, as new signing Kaka has joined the likes of Stephan El Shaarawy, Riccardo Montolivo, Ignazio Abate and Mattia De Sciglio as doubts for the game. All of that being said they`ll still have to contend with a host of talented players led by none other than Mario Balotelli, the Italian international has proven to give any side a tough time and Celtic`s defensive unit will have its work cut out for them in an attempt to negate and frustrate the star forward. Celtic has mostly relied on the play of Anthony Stokes and will need players like Giorgios Samaras and Kris Commons to step up, particularly after the sale of last season’s influential player in Victor Wanyama joining EPL side Southampton, one must wonder if there is another player on Celtic waiting to burst onto the scene from out of nowhere much in the same vein.
I`m going with the UNDER in this match, even with the injuries Milan has a quality side but not having some to those players will be a factor and Celtic will look to primarily focus on defending and getting out of Milan with a point.
Prediction: UNDER 2.5 (+100)