Champions League Week 5 Preview

Champions League Week 5 Preview

With two games remaining, all is to play for in groups A-H as a place in the last 16-knockout stage awaits those who finish in the top-two of their respective group tables. The qualification prize money amounting to as much as €5,500,000 may prove a significant cash prize to those clubs playing outside of Europe’s glamour leagues. For some high-flying outfits, qualification has already been secured; however the final placing outcome will very much affect the direction of the last-16 with the group-winners facing the runners-up from corresponding groups in a two-legged knockout tie.

Group A

Arsenal vs Paris Saint Germain-19.45 (Wed) – Both sides have already comfortably qualified for the knockout stages, with Arsenal topping the group on goal difference. The corresponding fixture in September resulted in a 1-1 draw thanks to Alexis Sanchez salvaging a 77th minute equaliser in a match the Gunners were largely outperformed in. Both sides sit in 3rd place in their own domestic leagues. However, PSG are the side currently facing the more negative press in a campaign that has seen new manager Unai Emery come under-fire for supposedly attempting to change PSG’s style of play too quickly and radically, from Laurent Blanc’s previous title-winning regime.

Ludogorets Razgrad vs FC Basel-19.45 (Wed)- Both clubs have endured emphatic losses to Arsenal & PSG and are subsequently sitting joint bottom with one point each (that point coming in the 1-1 corresponding draw from the fixture in Switzerland). The Bulgarian side currently occupy the 3rd place spot; sufficient for Europa League qualification, having scored two more goals than their Swiss counterparts. All to play for in Bulgaria on Tuesday night as both sides look to continue their European adventure outside of the Champions League.

Group B-

Besiktas vs Benfica –17.45 (Wed)- It’s 2nd vs 3rd on Wednesday evening at the Vodafone Arena in Istanbul. Only a point separates the two sides after four games in one of the tightest and most exciting groups of the competition.  Talisca, a player who was actually loaned out from Benfica to Besiktas, scored a last-gasp free-kick to rescue a point for the Turkish side in the corresponding game in Lisbon on the 13th September. Benfica were quarter-finalists last year whilst Besiktas have not progressed beyond the group stages since 1987.

Napoli vs Dynamo Kiev- 19.45 (Wed) – It’s 1st vs 4th at the Stadio San Paolo as Napoli still require a point to qualify and a win to ensure qualification as group winners. The Italians won 2-1 in September in Kiev thanks to a Arkadiusz Milik brace. Coach Maurizio Sauri will have to get used to playing without Milik for the majority of the season as the Polish striker has sustained a ruptured cruciate ligament. By contrast, Dynamo Kiev have experienced a miserable European campaign thus far, sitting on 1 solitary point and virtually require a miracle to even obtain 3rd place.

Group C-

Borussia Monchengladbach vs Man City- 19.45 (Wed)- Pep Guardiola’s men head to Borussia-Park looking for a repeat performance of their 4-0 victory in the corresponding game at the Etihad as they look to secure their qualification place into the next round. Conversely, Monchengladbach can go level with City if they win and take the qualification race to the last game on the 6th December where they play at the Nou Camp; whilst City host Celtic. Guardiola may have to be without captain Vincent Kompany in Germany, who picked up a concussion-related injury in their win at Crystal Palace on the weekend.

Celtic vs Barcelona-19.45 (Wed)- Brendan Rodgers’ side sit bottom of the qualification group on 2 points  but will still be in with a chance of qualification with if they can pull off the unlikely victory over Barcelona. The Hoops will be praying the Catalonians will again be without Lionel Messi who missed their goalless draw against Malaga at the weekend. Celtic famously beat Barcelona 2-1 at Celtic Park in 2012 with goals through Victor Wanyama and substitute Tony Watt.

Group D

FC Rostov vs Bayern Munich-17.00-(Wed)- FC Rostov sit bottom of the group on one point but level with PSV Eindhoven so will still have Europa League qualification in their sights. Bayern have already secured qualification as they sit 8 points above Eindhoven, but still trail leaders Atletico by three points. The 2013 Champions League holders Munich beat Rostov 5-0 in the corresponding fixture at the Allianz Arena.

Atletico Madrid vs PSV Eindhoven- 19.45-(Wed)-Diego Simeone’s side host Eindhoven having already qualified, looking to top Group D over Bayern Munich. Atletico have been experiencing somewhat of a downturn in form domestically in Spain as they currently sit 9 points adrift of La Liga leaders and city rivals Real Madrid. For Philip Cocu’s Eindhoven who have taken 1 point from 4 games, Champions League qualification is now beyond them. The Dutch side will be looking for a 3rd place finish to guarantee Europa football in the New Year.

Group E

CSKA Moscow vs Bayer 04 Leverkusen-17.00 (Tues) – The CSKA Arena will host a key tie in one of the competitions tightest and most unpredictable of groups. CSKA currently sit bottom with 2 points but with a win can go to within a point of their German rivals and will be in contention for a knockout birth in the final group stage match. The Russian side have not qualified beyond the Group Stages since 2012. Roger Schmidt’s side have impressed many thus far in this competition, no more so than in their disciplined 1-0 victory over Tottenham at Wembley in the last fixture. A win in Moscow could potentially put the Germans at the top of the group table, within touching distance of qualification.

Monaco vs Tottenham-19.45 (Tues) – All to play for at the Stade Louis II as Monaco will qualify with a win over Tottenham.  Spurs have struggled to reach the playing standards of their domestic form so far in this competition, losing both of their home games at Wembley in front of 85,000 sell-out crowds. A win for the North London side in the south of France will see them go within a point of Monaco and have a great chance of qualification in the final group fixture (another home tie at Wembley where they host CSKA).

Group F

Borussia Dortmund vs Legia Warsaw-19.45 (Tues) – Top versus bottom at the Westfalenstadion as already-qualified Dortmund look to win the group where they currently sit two points above second-placed Real Madrid. Legia Warsaw have taken a solitary point from their four games played in a campaign that will be more remembered for their shocking crowd disturbances, particularly in the corresponding tie at home to Dortmund, where the Germans embarrassed their Polish counterparts 6-0.

Sporting Lisbon vs Real Madrid- 19.45 (Tues)- Cristiano Ronaldo returns to his old club after his dominant, hat-trick hero performance in the Madrid derby on Saturday night which Real emerged from victorious by 3 goals to 0. Ronaldo scored a free-kick in the corresponding game at the Bernabeu in September. Sporting sit in third place, 5 points behind Madrid; looking a nigh on impossible task to overcome the world-class excellence of La Liga table-toppers Real in the group. However, stranger things have happened in this competition.

Group G

FC Copenhagen vs Porto-19.45 (Tues) – Porto face the tricky task of an away game at the Parken Stadium with an opportunity to secure qualification to the last-16 stage with a victory. However, this may be easier said than done as the youthful Portuguese side will be up against a club who are no pushovers in Europe, always strong at home in Denmark and with plenty of motivation in this fixture as a win for Stale Solbakken’s men will see them overtake Porto into second. This fixture could go either way.

Leicester City vs Club Brugge- 19.45 (Tues) – Claudio Ranieri’s men have already qualified to the last -16 and another win for the Foxes will see the go through as group-winners. This competition has been somewhat of a welcome escape for Leicester thus far as the Champions of England have been experiencing a turbulent domestic campaign. Club Brugge sit bottom of the table with 0 points, with virtually nothing to play for as they are five points off third place.

Group H

Dinamo Zagreb vs Lyon- 19.45 (Tues)- Lyon travel to Croatia needing two wins from their last two group stage fixtures to have a chance of qualifying to the last-16. They sit 4 points below Juventus in second and 4 points above Dinamo who like Club Brugge have not yet accumulated a single point and have proved to be the whipping boys of the tournament. Lyon won 3-0 in this fixture back in September at the Parc Olympique Lyonnais.

Sevilla vs Juventus- 19.45 (Tues)- Group H has been largely dominated by these two sides who drew 0-0 in Turin in the corresponding fixture. The Europa League holders can progress tonight with a victory over the Italians. Massimiliano Allegri’s men will qualify with a victory themselves but will also open the group up to Lyon if they win in Spain and Lyon win their remaining two fixtures.

Frank De Boer sacked in the latest Inter Milan saga

Frank De Boer sacked in the latest Inter Milan saga

After a torrid 85 days in charge, with his side sitting in 12th position in the Serie A after a 1-0 loss at Sampdoria, head coach Frank De Boer’s time in charge has come to an end after being sacked on Tuesday the 1st November.

The sacking will by no means come across as a surprise to Inter fans, media or followers of Italian football. Seven defeats in 14 games (all competitions) was ultimately unacceptable for ambitious new Chinese owners “Suning” who had outlaid a net spend of almost €120 million in the summer.

After being hired barely two weeks prior to the beginning of the season, the former Ajax manager’s job to win over the expectant fans and media was made all the more difficult on the first day of the season; a shock 2-0 defeat at the hands of Chievo.

De Boer was unable to regard the Thursday night schedule of Europa League fixtures as any sort of welcome distraction as Inter suffered two humiliating losses in September at the hands of Hapoel Be’er Sheva and Sparta Prague respectively as calls for the Dutchman’s head were already being called for three weeks into the season.

The turbulent start to the campaign was made all the more problematic for De Boer by a series of negative occurrences that have amassed to a very unhappy Inter camp with a clear morale issue.

Eder’s refusal to shake hands with De Boer after his substitution in the Sampdoria defeat made clear for all to see this was not a team who were playing for the manager.  Gabriel Barbosa; the £29.5m signing from Santos has struggled to make any sort of impact and further negative publicity was gathered by his conspicuous absence in the Sampdoria fixture. This is a player who was billed as one of world football hottest young properties and the Nerazzuri had supposedly beaten off the likes of Man Utd, Barcelona and Juventus for his signature.  One of Inter’s most influential midfielders Marcelo Brozovic was frozen out of the squad by De Boer for indiscipline. If matters were not challenging enough for the Nerazzuri, captain Mauro Icardi created an aggressive public argument with the club’s Ultras after a chapter in his recent autobiography that entailed a threat to unleash 100 criminals from Argentina in relation to an argument with supporters after a defeat to Sassuolo in 2015. At the next San Siro fixture, a banner read in english from the Curva Nord “You are not a man. You are not a captain. Just a vile piece of s***”.

For De Boer, 46, who was heavily linked in the early part of the summer with the Premier League vacancies at Everton and Southampton, this will no doubt be a learning curve for an aspiring young manager. However, many will feel that the Inter experience may be nothing but a blight on his CV as it will be questioned whether he should have ever taken the job in the first place. Having being hired immediately after Mancini’s sacking; 12 days before the start of the season, the Dutchman was denied a full pre-season to work with his players.  This issue became so clear for all to see as the players appeared totally unfamiliar with his tactical methods from the first game of the season (particularly his unexpected 3-5-2 formation choice in the Chievo season opener).

The summer recruitment is an area that has been frankly completely mismanaged. Heavy investment was paid into star-quality attacking options seemingly without any comprehension in how to accommodate these individual talents into any strategic system to move the team forward domestically to challenge for the top 4 as a minimum. Joao Mario (£30m from Sporting Lisbon), Ever Banega, Antonio Candreva and 20-year old Gabigol (€25 million from Santos) have all been drafted in but have just not gelled and the defensive recruitment has been just as poor. Andrea Ranocchia and Jeison Murillo have proved error-prone and are not up to the standard the former 2010 Champions League holders should expect. Caner Erkin, a Turkish left back signed from Fernabache in June was sent on loan to Besiktas on the 30th August.

Youth team coach Stefano Vecchi took charge of Inter’s Europa League tie last night at St. Mary’s where they lost 2-1 at Southampton after leading through a Mauro Icardi opener.

The Nerazzuri now look for their ninth manager since Jose Mourinho’s departure in 2010.