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Champions League Preview: City and United face a tough test of character

Manchester City, Manchester United, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid are all in action on Matchday 2 of the Champions League on Wednesday. The focus will be on the game at the Etihad Stadium, as City host defending champions Bayern in what promises to be an absolutely thrilling encounter. English champions United, on the other hand, will be looking to end a run of 2 straight defeats when they travel to Ukraine to take on Shakhtar Donetsk.

Group A

Shakhtar Donetsk vs Manchester United

The two favourites from Group A clash at the Donbass Arena, in a game where the victor is sure to take control of top spot.

Shakhtar lost some of their main players from last season in the summer, but have managed to keep the ship steady nevertheless. Alex Teixeira starred in their opening day defeat of Real Sociedad, scoring a brace in a 2-0 win in Spain. Their away form has been ordinary thus far apart from that game, but in Ukraine, they are a tough nut to crack. Their record against English teams at home is almost perfect, with 4 wins and 1 draw in 5 games, including successes against Arsenal and Chelsea in recent seasons.

Mircea Lucescu has a fully-fit squad to choose from for this one. Luiz Adriano was deemed to be a doubt but Lucescu confirmed that barring any mishap, he will play.

David Moyes’ Manchester United are in something of a mini-crisis at the moment. The weekend defeat at home to West Brom saw them slip to 12th in the Premier League table, with just 7 points in 6 games. They are in a comfortable position in the Champions League after a 4-2 win against Bayer Leverkusen on the opening day, but a loss in Ukraine will see the alarm bells ringing even at this early point in the season.

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Robin Van Persie has been passed fit to play, but there is a chance that Moyes doesn’t play him from the start. Anderson, Wilfried Zaha and Fabio haven’t travelled to Ukraine, while Rio Ferdinand is out with a groin injury.

Prediction:

Shakhtar are absolutely brilliant at home, especially when it comes to the Champions League. United are on a 2-game losing streak and in both those matches, they have been well-beaten. If Mircea Lucescu’s side play to their potential, United will be subjected to another loss.

Shakhtar Donetsk 2-1 Manchester United

Bayer Leverkusen vs Real Sociedad

German powerhouses Leverkusen host Real Sociedad to the BayArena in a must-win game for both sides.

Leverkusen lost 4-2 at Old Trafford on Matchday 1 and though there were several positives for manager Sami Hyypia to take from that game, he knows that his side simply have to win against Sociedad to have a chance of making it through the group. Their form in the Bundesliga has been superb so far, with 6 wins in 7 games seeing them sitting in 3rd position behind Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund.

Lars Bender is the only injury worry for Hyypia, but the midfielder may still play if he passes a late fitness test.

Sociedad lost at home against Shakhtar on the opening day and unless they pull of an unlikely win in Germany, it is very difficult to see them going through. They come into this game in very poor form domestically too, sitting in 13th place after just one win this season. Manager Jagoba Arrasate will hope that his side’s good football can lead to goals and wins, rather than just good performances with nothing to show for.

Midfielders Prieto (thigh tear) and Esteban Granero (knee) are absent while defender Dani Estrada (foot) also misses out. Gorka Elustondo and David Zurutuza are also doubts.

Prediction:

Leverkusen’s fantastic home record, coupled with Sociedad’s dismal current form means there is only one result in sight in this one.

Bayer Leverkusen 2-0 Real Sociedad

Group B

Real Madrid vs FC Kobenhavn

Real Madrid host Danish champions FC Kobenhavn at the Santiago Bernabeu in a game that sees two teams looking to bounce back from domestic defeats at the weekend.

Real Madrid will be hoping to all but seal qualification from Group B with a win here. Their opening day demolition of Galatasaray in Turkey, where a Cristiano Ronaldo hattrick earned them a 6-1 win, means that a win on Wednesday will see them have one foot in the last 16. Carlo Ancelotti has called for a reaction after Saturday’s defeat against rivals Atletico Madrid saw them slip 5 points behind Barcelona in La Liga.

World-record signing Gareth Bale is out after picking up a hamstring injury, while Xabi Alonso is still nursing a broken foot. Raphael Varane is available for Ancelotti’s side, while Marcelo misses out with a thigh problem.

FC Kobenhavn face the most extra-ordinary situation in the Danish League. After winning the title last season, they are currently in the relegation zone, having picked up just 10 points in 10 games. They somehow managed to avoid defeat on Matchday 1 of the Champions League against Juventus, when a fantastic performance from goalkeeper Johan Wiland saw them earn a point. They will have to get something from the Santiago Bernabeu though, to have a chance of making it through the group.

Manager Stale Solbakken may have a fully-fit squad to choose from, but Olof Mellberg is a doubt after being forced off at the weekend with a suspected concussion.

Prediction:

Real Madrid need a reaction after Saturday’s league defeat and this is the perfect game for them to bury the ghosts of that loss. FC Kobenhavn have been poor all season, and may be in line for a hammering in the Spanish capital.

Real Madrid 4-0 FC Kobenhavn

Juventus vs Galatasaray

Roberto Mancini will take charge of his first game at Galatasaray against the club he supported as a boy – Juventus. Both sides are looking for their first three points in the Champions League.

The Old Lady dominated proceedings in Copenhagen in their opening group game but were unable to find a winner. They are still in a good position to go through along with Real Madrid, and a win here against the Turkish champions will see them go a long way towards qualifying.

Manager Antonio Conte rested many of his regular players for Sunday’s Turin derby against Torino, but will still be without striker Carlos Tevez, who is nursing an ankle injury.

Galatasaray were thumped 6-1 at home against Real Madrid, a game which many believed to be the prime reason for the sacking of Fateh Terim. With Mancini now in charge, the club hope they can turn it around and spring a surprise in Italy. The Italian though, has asked the fans and the club to be realistic and not expect miracles from day 1, but a result against Juventus is imperative if the Turkish giants are to make it through Group B.

Hamit Altıntop (waist) and Eray İşcan (knee) are definitely out, while playmaker Wesley Sneijder may also miss out after complaining of a pain in his leg and waist at the weekend.

Prediction:

Though Galatsaray look extremely strong on paper, they are on a poor run of form coming into game. The change in manager will bear fruit in the long run, but Juventus should be good enough to win this one.

Juventus 2-0 Galatasaray

Group C

Paris Saint-Germain vs Benfica

French champions PSG welcome Benfica to Parc de Princes looking to all but seal progress with a second win in the Champions League group stage.

Laurent Blanc’s men comfortably beat Olympiacos 4-1 on Matchday 1 in Greece, but will be aware than the Portuguese outfit will provide a much sterner test. Their recent form is good though, and the likes of Edinson Cavani and Zlatan Ibrahimovic will look to turn on the style in their first home game in this season’s Champions League.

Alex and Thiago Silva are both out for Blanc’s side, while attacking midfielder Javier Pastore is also a doubt after sitting out PSG’s weekend win against Toulouse with a slight hamstring problem.

Benfica are real veterans when it comes to the Champions League, but come into this game in less than impressive form domestically. Last season’s Europa League finalists though, did win on the opening day of the Champions League against Anderlecht, and a result in Paris will see them sitting very comfortably indeed.

Rúben Amorim (thigh), Sílvio (knee), and Eduardo Salvio (knee) were all missing from Jorge Jesus’ squad at the weekend and are doubtful for this one too.

Prediction:

This will be no means be a walk in the park for PSG. Benfica have the experience and the quality to cause the French team problems, and Blanc will be aware of that. At the end of the day though, with home advantage, PSG look strong enough to win.

PSG 3-1 Benfica

Anderlecht vs Olympiacos

Anderlecht and Olympiakos both lost their opening group games and need a win here to challenge PSG and Benfica.

Belgian outfit Anderlecht were well-beaten in Lisbon by Benfica, but will be hoping to make home advantage count against Greek side Olympiacos. John Van den Brom’s side know that this is the best game for them to get all three points from in this season’s Champions League.

Ronald Vargas is still recuperating from a knee surgery he had in July, but apart from him, Van den Brom has a fully fit squad.

Olympiacos were thumped by PSG in their first game and like Anderlecht, they know that this game is the best opportunity for them to gain three points. Neither of these teams is expected to make it through to the last 16, but the winner of this match will be in pole position to qualify for the Europa League. Olympiacos manager Michel though, has stated that his team will learn from the PSG loss and go for the win in Brussels.

David Fuster (groin), Sambou Yatabaré (foot), Leandro Salino (hamstring) and Gaëtan Bong (ankle) have all passed fitness tests and are available for selection, whereas Paulo Machado (knee) has stayed back in Patras.

Prediction:

Both the sides desperately need a win, and even that may not be enough to take them through. Olympiacos are the more experienced team when it comes to the Champions League and should have enough in their arsenal to get past Anderlecht in their own backyard.

Anderlecht 0-2 Olympiacos

Group D

Manchester City vs Bayern Munich

In easily the pick of the games on Matchday 4, Manchester City take on Bayern Munich at the Etihad Stadium in a game featuring two sides fighting for top spot in Group D rather than for qualification. With the other two sides in the group being CSKA Moscow and Victor Plzen, there is little doubt that both City and Bayern will easily make it through.

City were eliminated in the group stages in the past two editions of the Champions League but look good to make it through this time after coasting past Victoria Plzen 3-0 on the opening day. Manuel Pellegrini’s men have a tendency to step it up against the big teams, and will surely match the defending champions stride for stride.

Pellegrini has been handed a big boost ahead of this game, as both David Silva and Sergio Aguero have been declared fit.

Pep Guardiola’s Bayern side are, according to many, the best side on world football at the moment. Their opening day dispatching of CSKA Moscow by 3 goals to nil was a thoroughly professional and clinical performance. In City though, they face a much bigger challenge. A win in Manchester will definitely enhance their reputation as the top side in the world, but City will have a lot to say about that.

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Bastian Schweinsteiger is still not fully fit and is unlikely to feature, while Mario Gotze is also a doubt.

Prediction:

It is sure to be an open and expansive game, with both sides playing some brilliant football. City have the advantage of playing at home, while Bayern are the superior side on paper and on current form. The two teams could cancel each other out in an entertaining affair.

Manchester City 2-2 Bayern Munich

CSKA Moscow vs Vicoria Plzen

The two underdogs of Group D clash in St. Petersburg on Matchday 3.

CSKA lost to Bayern Munich in their opening game, and will be looking to put things right in front of their own fans against Plzen. Leonid Slutsky’s side have an extremely thin chance of qualifying for the last 16, and anything other than a win here will make that task impossible.

Alan Dzagoev, Seydou Doumbia, Mario Fernandes and Aleksandrs Cauna are all out for CSKA.

Czech side Plzen were thrashed 3-0 at home by Manchester City and their chances of making it through the group are almost non-existent. They will though be hoping to make it to the Europa League by getting a result in Russia.

David Limberský and Marián Čišovský are out through injury while manager Pavel Vrba has Radim Reznik back after four weeks out.

Prediction:

With both sides looking poor thus far in the Champions League and not in spectacular form domestically, the only thing that looks like separating them is home advantage.

CSKA Moscow 1-0 Victoria Plzen

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