Wednesday, February 25, 2015

UEFA Champions League Preview February 25

Results from yesterday's campaign saw Juventus defeat Dortmund 2-1 with the German side having the away goal. The other match result saw Barcelona defeat Manchester City 2-1 with Barcelona having two strong away goals from Luis Suarez. However, Barcelona could of had three goals if it wasn't for this miss.

Today's matchups are Arsenal vs. Monaco and Bayer Leverkusen vs Atletico Madrid. Arsenal and Monaco will face each other for the first time in each club's history and both clubs are nursing a lot of injuries to their key players.  Atletico Madrid will battle against a Bayer Leverkusen team that has been struggling in the Bundesliga at 6th but has to be happy to make it to the knockout rounds of the Champions League. 

Arsenal vs Monaco
Arsenal runs on Alexis
Possible lineups
Arsenal: Ospina; Chambers, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal; Coquelin, Cazorla; Welbeck, Özil, Sánchez; Giroud.
 Out: Ramsey (hamstring), Arteta (ankle), Debuchy (shoulder), Gnabry (knee), Diaby (calf), Wilshere (ankle)
 Doubtful: Oxlade-Chamberlain (groin)

Monaco: Subašić; Fabinho, Abdennour, Wallace, Kurzawa; Dirar, João Moutinho, Kondogbia, Bernardo Silva, Ferreira-Carrasco; Berbatov.
Out: Toulalan (suspended), Lamina Traoré (leg), Bakayoko (thigh), Carvalho (calf), Raggi (knee)
Doubtful: Kurzawa (leg), Ferreira-Carrasco (thigh)

Arsenal have qualified for the knockout stage for the 15th year in a row. The closest they reached to a Champions League final was 2006 where they were only runner ups. 
Monaco were also runner ups in 2004, but went through some dark times in the years following getting relegated after 2010-2011 season. 
After Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybololvev took over, the sun started shining again for Monaco and are 4th in Ligue 1. 
Rejected by Manchester United resurrected by Monaco.
They have lost their Colombian duo James Rodriguez and Radamel Falcao to Real Madrid and Manchester United respectively but they have enough quality to compete. 
Joao Moutinho and Kondogbia complement each other well in the midfield and Dimitar Berbatov is one of the most effective lazy players in soccer. 
Arsenal's midfield have been depleted by injury but still have Carzorla and Ozil as both can make magic with the ball at their feet. 
The attacking instincts of Alexis Sanchez and Olivier Giroud and speed of Danny Welbeck will be alot to ask for the Monaco defense which will be the deciding factor over this match series.

Arsenal Key Player: Alexis Sanchez
Monaco Key Player: Dimitar Berbatov
Aggregate: Arsenal 3-2

Atletico Madrid vs Bayer Leverkusen
He's been excellent for Atletico this season, can he replicate that against Bayer 04?

Possible lineups
Leverkusen: Leno; Castro, Spahić, Papadopoulos, Wendell; Reinartz, Rolfes; Bellarabi, Çalhanoğlu, Son; Drmić.
Out: Kruse (ankle), Ömer Toprak (suspended), Jedvaj (hamstring), Bender (knee)
Atlético: Moyà; Juanfran, Godín, Miranda, Siqueira; Saúl, Gabi, Tiago, Raúl García; Griezmann, Mandžukić.
Out: Koke (hamstring)
Doubtful: Arda (dead leg), Giménez (illness)

Atletico Madrid finished the UEFA Champions League last season against Real Madrid as runner ups due to Real's late game heroics.
They are a different team this season as Courtois, Filipe Luis and Diego Costa now play for Chelsea.They have replaced them with effective signings in Mario Mandzukic, Miguel Moya and Antoine Griezmann(above).
Griezmann and Mandzukic have combined for a total of 26 goals this campaign. 

Josep Drmic is a striker on form.
Leverkusen have key players such as Lars Bender, Tin Jedvaj and Max Kruse out for injury and Omer Toprak suspended for one match.Swiss striker Josep Drmic is not to be slept on as he has 16 goals this campaign. This will be the battle of two potent attacks but also strong defenses.
The winner out of this draw will be Atletico as they have the better defense of the two sides.

Bayer 04 Key Player: Josep Drmic
Atletico Key Player: Antoine Griezmann
Aggregate: Atletico 3-1

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

UEFA Champions League Preview February 24

Last week's UEFA Champions League showed everything of what soccer is all about, from the red cards, controversial penalty kicks to an amazing goal from Marcelo. Today's Champions League matchups features more familiar teams to the casual soccer fan. Manchester City finally ending their knockout stage drought going against one of the most storied Champions League team in Barcelona. Juventus under new manager Massimiliano Allegri will go against struggling Dortmund.. Which football heavyweights will come out of the draw and get to the second round?

Barcelona at Manchester City
Old friends battle it out.
Manchester City: Hart; Zabaleta, Mangala, Kompany, Clichy; Fernandinho, Fernando; Nasri, Silva, Milner; Aguero.
Out: Touré (suspended)

Barcelona: Bravo; Alba, Mascherano, Piqué, Alves; Iniesta, Busquets, Rakitić; Neymar, Messi, Suárez.
Out: Douglas (hamstring), Vermaelen (hamstring)

Ever since Manchester City acquired the funds to be relevant, they have been known to be a domestic team, winning the Barclays Premier League trophy twice over the course of five years but have struggled in UEFA play only being the second time in the knockout stage, getting knocked out last year by Barcelona. 
This time Man City manager Manuel Pellegrini said he is ready to take the challenge to Barcelona. However, Manchester City will be without Yaya Toure for the round after a sending off against CSKA Moscow. 
How important is he to Manchester City?
Without Yaya Toure this season Manchester City's record is 3-5-2 and can prove all the difference against Barcelona without the services of the Cote D'Ivoire international. The combination of Messi, Suarez and Neymar will be too much of the defense of Mangala and Kompany.

Manchester City Key Player: Sergio Aguero
Barcelona Key Player: Lionel Messi
Aggregate Barcelona 4-3

Dortmund at Juventus
All eyes are on him, even Barcelona
Juventus: Buffon; Lichtsteiner, Bonucci, Chiellini, Evra; Pogba, Pirlo, Marchisio; Vidal; Tevéz, Morata.
Out: Marrone (thigh)• 
Doubtful: Barzagli (ankle), Matri (thigh)

Dortmund: Weidenfeller; Piszczek, Sokratis, Hummels, Schmelzer; Bender, Gündoğan; Błaszczykowski, Kagawa, Reus; Aubameyang.
• Out: Grosskreutz (thigh)
• Doubtful: Kehl (shoulder), Durm (flu), Kampl (undisclosed muscle problem)

Dortmund have the possibility of being the first club to win the Champions League while being relegated in their domestic league. 
Once winners of the Bundesliga titles in 2010-11 and 2011-12 and UEFA Champions League runner ups in 2012-2013, Dortmund are not the same squad as two of their best players Mario Gotze and Robert Lewandowski left to greener pastures in Bayern Munich.
They also been rather unfortunate with injuries which seen at times key players such as Reus and Gundogan and Sahin all out.
While now 12th on the Bundesliga table they have a chance to prove themselves outside of Germany as they have a tough test in Juventus. 
How far can loyalty reach you?
The midfield of Pogba, Pirlo,Marchisio, Vidal and even Pereyra can be argued as one of the best midfields of the world. Tevez and Morata are a deadly strike duo, and Bonucci and Chiellini are as tough as they come. 
Marco Reus and Aubameyang will have to shoulder the attack for Dortmund but I fear they will not have much power upfront against the Italian giants.

Juventus Key Player: Paul Pogba
Dortmund Key Player: Marco Reus
Aggregate Juventus 2-2

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

UEFA Champions League Preview February 18

Well I guess it is safe to say my Shakhtar, Bayern Munich prediction has been well off. I did not factor the field conditions coming into play(as well as Xabi Alonso getting a red card). 
However, Bayern will be back in more familar territory as they will be back to the Allianz Arena. Today's matchups consists of two teams commonly unknown to the casual soccer fan and another set off teams that are more popular to the world of sports. 
FC Basel vs Porto and defending champions Real Madrid vs Schalke. 
While Schalke may have a tough battle on their hands, the other matchup presents an interesting spectacle that can go either way as Basel and Porto as both teams are not the average clubs you see on everyday television. 
The first day of Champions League play came out in draws, can these two matches provide more excitement?

FC Basel vs Porto

Possible lineups(Basel): Vaclík; Xhaka, Samuel, Suchý, Safari; Frei, Elneny; González, Zuffi, Gashi; Streller.• Out: Ivanov (knee), Schär (suspended)• Doubtful: Gashi (fatigue)

Possible lineups(Porto): Fabiano; Alex Sandro, Maicon, Marcano, Danilo; Casemiro, Herrera, Óliver Torres; Brahimi, Quaresma, Martínez.
• Out: none
Porto boasts a young squad full of flashy and quick players.
Porto have won the Champions League under the management of Jose Mourinho, they have also won four trophies in one season under Andre Villas-Boas, can current manager Julen Lopetegui replicate half the success these past household managers started in Porto? He will certainly hope so as Porto stood the only team undefeated in the group stage.
 Porto boasts a young exuberant squad of players with lively talent. Lopetegui took advantage of the loan market with players such as Casemiro and Oliver Torres from Real and Atletico Madrid respectively.  
Casemiro adds an anchor in the midfield while Oliver is a creative maestro along the lines of a young Iniesta in terms of his play style. 
The wings are dangerous as well for Porto as Brahmi and Quaresma can definitely surge up the flanks and dazzle observers with their flair. Oh and did I forget to say that striker Jackson Martinez has scored 21 goals throughout 25 appearances?

Shkelzen Gashi doubtful today.
Basel are walking to this knockout stage as underdogs, but they are no slouch either. This Switz club is known for giving young players a chance and have seen wingers like Xherdan Shaqiri and Mohamed Salah come up through the ranks. Basel was also famous for upsetting Fergie's Manchester United in 2011 . 
This current Basel team may be without their leading goalscorer Shkelzen Gashi who is battling fatigue. Gashi has 13 goals in the season in only 17 appearances playing from the midfield. 
Basel will still have the leadership provided by Fabian Frei and longtime Basel legend Marco Streller. Basel's top defender Fabian Schar will also be suspended and this may prove the difference for Basel as they never won a Champions League match against a Portuguese side.  

Porto Key Player: Jackson Martinez
Basel Key Player: Fabian Frei
Aggregate: Porto (3-1)

Schalke vs Real Madrid

Real Madrid: Casillas; Carvajal, Pepe, Varane, Marcelo; Lucas Silva, Kroos, Isco; Bale, Ronaldo, Benzema.
• Out: James Rodríguez (right foot), Khedira (hamstring), Ramos (hamstring), Modrić (thigh)

Schalke: Wellenreuther; Höwedes, Matip, Nastasić; Uchida, Fuchs; Kirchhoff, Höger, Boateng; Choupo-Moting, Huntelaar.
• Out: Fährmann (knee), Kolašinac (knee), Goretzka (hamstring), Draxler (hamstring), Farfán (knee), Obasi (shinbone), Giefer (groin)
Can Real Madrid replicate Champions League success again?
Real Madrid have changed since winning the Champions League trophy, out with Xabi Alonso, in with Toni Kroos, out with Angel Di Maria, in with James Rodriguez (who's injured with a broken foot). Real Madrid are definitely the modern day Galaticos, buying every single player known to man and will sell off a player of lesser popularity to stay under Financial Fair Play. 
Cristiano Ronaldo has been struggling scoring only 4 goals in the last 10 appearances and apparently has been taking boxing lessons 
Even if Cristiano Ronaldo is struggling with form Real Madrid has alot of ammo in their artillery with the likes of Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Isco. 

He parked the bus before, will he park it again?
Real Madrid does not have the only manager with past Champions League glory, Schalke manager Roberto Di Matteo won the Champions League in 2012 with his park-the-bus style Chelsea. 
After coming mid season as manager, Di Matteo has brought the German club to fourth on the table. Schalke will be rather unlucky as quite their key players are dealing with injuries, Jefferson FarFan and Julian Draxler will be missed on the flanks. Schalke will also be missing first choice keeper Fabian Giefer. 
Although he is serving a domestic ban, Klass-Jan Huntelaar will be available for the Champions League however they will be missing too much players to injury to stand a chance against the defending champions.

Madrid Key Player: Cristiano Ronaldo
Schalke Key Player(s): Partnership of Matip and Howedes

Aggregate: Real Madrid (5-2)

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

UEFA Champions League Preview February 17

It has been a long wait but we are finally in the UEFA Champions League Knockout Stage.  This first day opens up with Shakthar vs Bayern Munich and Chelsea vs Paris Saint Germain. There are many storylines for all four teams. Bayern Munich were humiliated last season at the hands of defending champions Real Madrid.  Shakhtar have been battling with more than just playing football as pro Russian rebels have forced them to move away from their home stadium of Donbass Arena where they have not played a home match since May. Chelsea are first place in the Barclays Premier League and Mourinho would want to replicate his success in the Champions League.  Paris Saint Germain on the other hand have not been as well in their domestic table(3rd place), and hit wit the injury bug.

Shakhtar vs Bayern Munich

David vs Goliath

Shakhtar will have a real battle in the hands, they will have to face of the most dominant clubs over the last few years. The key battle will be the midfield. Shakthar boasts a midfield of little known but talented Brazilian players in Fred, Fernando, Alex Teixeira, Douglas Costa, Taison and Wellington Nem. Shakhtar with their speed will definitely cause trouble on the counter attack and Bayern goalkeeper Manuel Neuer may actually be a little bit busy. Bayern's midfield of Schweinsteiger, Robben, Ribery, Alaba, Muller and Gotze will prove too much for Shakhtar expect Bayern to win easily. Following an artillery attack on Donbass Arena last October, Shakhtar will host this game 750 miles away in Lviv.

Shakhtar Key Player: Alex Teixeira
Bayern Key Player: Robert Lewandowski

Bayern wins (aggregate 7-3)

Chelsea vs PSG
Eyeing for revenge.

Both clubs have striking similarities, both funded by rich oil companies, both have household names, and both have something to prove in terms of reaching the Champions League. Mourinho is under some tough expectations as for Roman Abramovich winning the Premier League is not enough to satisfy his fat pockets. Paris Saint Germain lost to Chelsea last year on a 2-0 aggregate with Chelsea in their classic "park the bus" formation. Chelsea is a much stronger opponent this year and their strike force of Diego Costa, Didier Drogba and Loic Remy accompanied by Eden Hazard, Oscar, Willian and Cesc Fabregas make them dangerous in the final third. Paris' attack in Zlatan Ibrahmovic, Edinson Cavani and Lavezzi should not be taken to lightly either. Nonetheless Chelsea is a stronger team all around and they will come up with another victory against this French club.

Chelsea Key Player: Eden Hazard
PSG Key Player: Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Chelsea wins (aggregate 3-2)