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We’re now getting into the meat and bones part of the Champions League group stage. Things are starting to take shape within each individual group; however, there are still chances for teams to turn their fortunes around, especially with the first game of the fortnight doubleheader starting this week. A few of the groups are wide open (Group B) while other teams are in must-win mode right now (Arsenal). All in all, it sets up for a doozy of some matchups this week. Let’s get to them. (All matches at 2:45 PM ET)
Arsenal (ENG) vs. Bayern Munich (GER) (Tuesday Fox Sports 2)
This is far and away the biggest matchup of the week as winless Arsenal get set for two straight matches with Bayern Munich. If Arsenal lose both of these games, it’s almost a certainty that they won’t be able to make it out of the group stage.
Arsenal come into the match riding some good form domestically, as they’ve won three straight in the Premier League including a 3-0 thrashing of Manchester United. The problem for Arsenal this season–and always–has been consistency. Arsenal rarely put together back-to-back great performances. They had their best game of the season at the time in a 5-2 win over Leicester City and three days later lost to Olympiacos. Now they come up against a Bayern team that has won their last 12 matches in all competitions. Since this game is at the Emirates I’ll give Arsenal a fighting chance, but I still think Bayern rolls 3-1.
Bayer Leverkusen (GER) vs. AS Roma (Tuesday ESPN2)
When you play in the same group as Barcelona it’s pretty much assumed that everyone else is playing for second place when it comes to a trip to the knockout rounds. When BATE Borisov is the 4th team in the group, you would normally assume that the teams from Germany and Italy would be the ones competing for that second spot.
Apparently AS Roma didn’t get that memo. After drawing with Barcelona on Matchday 1, Roma lost to BATE and now sit at the bottom of the group. Factoring in BATE’s likely loss to Barcelona, a loss in this game wouldn’t see them get buried too badly in the basement of the group. However, it would see Leverkusen open up a five-point lead on the Italians for the second knockout round spot. That is something Roma simply can’t afford. Unfortunately for them, Leverkusen are better than them. 2-1 win for the Germans.
CSKA Moscow (RUS) vs. Manchester United (ENG) (Wednesday Fox Sports 2)
Manchester United return to the site of their triumph in the 2008 Champions League Final to take on a Moscow side that are finally starting to get things together in the Russian Premier League. As expected, United put a bad loss to Arsenal in the rearview mirror and took care of business against Everton.
Things are looking good for the English side. Anthony Martial continues to impress every game and Wayne Rooney found himself back on the scoresheet for the second time in three games. Expect to see Memphis Depay come back onto the squad giving United multiple players who like to run directly at their opponents (despite how much Louis van Gaal hates that) as United pick up a 2-0 win.
Juventus (ITA) vs. Borussia Mochengladbach (GER) (Wednesday ESPN2)
When it comes to Juventus, you have to almost completely discount the up and down season they’ve had so far for the simple reason that no matter how things are going for them, when it comes to the Champions League they get things done. As for Borussia Mochengladbach, their past two Bundesliga games have been a great improvement on the rest of the season–they kept a clean sheet against Wolfsburg and thrashed Eintract 5-1. Despite that though, ‘Gladbach has been sneaky terrible this season. There’s a reason they sit at the bottom of the group with three points and lost to Manchester City, a team that can’t beat anybody in Europe. Juventus wins 1-0.
Thanks to Fox Sports 1’s coverage of the ALCS we get less televised games than normal this week and because of that, the best game of Matchday 3 won’t even be on television. The top two teams in Group A, Real Madrid and PSG, square off Wednesday in what will be the best match you’re not watching. Real Madrid have a couple injury issues, including Gareth Bale, and I think PSG will have enough fire power to work out a draw. Chelsea look to keep up their winning ways (hey they won a game this weekend!) with a tricky trip to Dynamo Kiev. Unfortunately for Chelsea, the best they’d manage to do there would be a draw.
Leo Messi or no Leo Messi, despite Barcelona’s struggles away from home and outside of La Liga this season Luis Suarez and Neymar are still all the firepower they will need to get past BATE Borisov. I expect Wolfsburg to get past PSV Eindhoven at home Wednesday. Finally, one win over a pretty bad Mochengladbach side and two blowouts of lowly Newcastle and Bournemouth isn’t enough to convince me that Manchester City have suddenly fixed their European problems or their lack of David Silva problems. Sevilla will provide a much bigger challenge than Bournemouth did, and with City dealing with multiple injuries they’ll be able to pick up a home draw, but nothing more then that.
Enjoy the games everybody!