Let’s take a moment to thank the soccer gods that we have some interesting (ie: not the League Cup) midweek soccer as the Champions League makes its return to our TV screens.
Matchday 1 was filled with some very interesting storylines, mainly three of four English clubs losing with the only one that won being Chelsea. As matchday 2 roles around there are plenty of things to look at: how will teams who took unexpected losses respond, how will teams who aren’t having the best domestic campaigns fare, or how will a team that just lost the best player in the world to an injury do?
Only a fool would try to accurately answer all those questions for you. Luckily for you, I am that fool.
(All games at 2:45 PM ET)
FC Porto (POR) vs. Chelsea (ENG) (FSN: Tuesday)
There’s obviously one big storyline concerning this game. No, I’m not talking about that whole Chelsea-are-absolutely-horrendous this year thing. I’m talking about Jose Mourinho taking on his former club and the club where he made a name for himself. That’s the story that’s going to dominate the headlines. As for the actual game on the field, well that’s where that little Chelsea’s poor play comes in.
If you look at Chelsea’s recent form you’ll see that it’s very misleading. They thumped Macabbi Tel Aviv 4-0 on matchday 1, but Tel Aviv are arguably the worst team in the competition. Since then, they defeated Arsenal, courtesy of Mike Dean, won their League Cup tie against Walsall (a team who plays in the third division and is so small I hadn’t heard of them until five minutes ago), and then had to rally late to rescue a draw against an awful Newcastle team that still should have beat them. Chelsea’s defense is an absolute mess and Porto will be a whole different challenge as they try to one up their former manager. Porto wins 2-1.
FC Barcelona (ESP) vs. Bayer Leverkusen (GER) (Fox Sports 1: Tuesday)
This past Saturday Barcelona lost Lionel Messi for two months to a knee injury. There’s a reason that despite losing the best player in the world Barcelona shouldn’t even think of panicking. That reason is because they still have Luis Suarez and Neymar up front, playing in front of the rest of the team that is still Barcelona.
If there was a reason for Barcelona to be worried it’s because Barcelona have been pretty pretty bad this season (by Barcelona standards). How bad? Besides losing 4-1 to Celta Vigo two weeks ago the Catalans have yet to win a non-league game this season. Usually in this case I’d make a claim that that streak will continue when they take on a very good German side in Leverkusen, but this season, whenever I’ve used history as my guide, I’ve pretty much always been wrong. In that case, Barcelona snaps their funk and wins 2-0. Let’s not forget Suarez and Neymar is still plenty of fire power.
Manchester United (ENG) vs. Wolfsburg (GER) (Fox Sports 1: Wednesday)
Manchester United are in first place in the Barclays Premier League and Wednesday night there will be a Champions League match at Old Trafford. Suddenly everything is back to being right in the soccer world.
As for the actual match, Wolfsburg were always seen by United fans as the toughest opponent United would face in the group stage. Then Wolfsburg went and sold Kevin de Bruyne to Manchester City and United lost their first match to PSV Eindoven. Does that change the Wolfsburg match though? Not at all other than making it a must-win for United.
The German side will provide the biggest test yet in the Champions League for Memphis Depay, who has been nothing short of brilliant in the competition, and Anthony Martial continues to impress more and more with each game. Despite not having de Bruyne around anymore the German side certainly won’t be defeated easily. However, United just went top of the league this past weekend for the first time since Sir Alex Ferguson was around, and are playing their first home Champions League match in a year and a half. That’s enough to get Old Trafford buzzing like it used to. Wolfsburg might score first, but United win 3-1.
Borussia Monchengladbach (GER) vs. Manchester City (ENG) (Fox Sports 2: Wednesday)
Borussia Monchengladbach are starting to put things together lately after a rough start to the season. To make matters even better for the German’s, they now get to face a Manchester City side who not only are historically awful in Europe, but come into this game limping having lost three of their last four (their only win came in the League Cup against Sunderland..).
After a great start to the season, City have been undone recently by injuries in their defense as well as a key one to David Silva. In the grand scheme of things it’s not really surprising that City’s new “£300 million team” has gotten off to a slow start seeing as how when you throw a bunch of superstars together it often takes time for them to gel. Now is as good as any time for ‘Gladbach to nick an *upset special* as they grab a 2-1 win.
Lots of other games on the slate that are also available on ESPN2 and ESPN3. A couple quick winners, no surprises that I’m expecting Arsenal, Bayern Munich, Juventus and Atletico to all grab home wins. Real Madrid will go to Sweden and take care of business. I think Valencia goes to France and pull out a win in what should be the most even match of the week. For some longer shots, I think Astana and Shakhtar Donesk have a real good chance of making some noise this week.
Enjoy the games everyone.