Champions League play is entering Matchday 2 of the group stage this week. There are several matches Tuesday you won’t want to miss.
Chelsea v Steaua București
Chelsea’s 1-2 loss to Basel on Matchday 1 was out of nowhere. The Swiss side netted two goals in the second half to overcome a first-half deficit to beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge — their first Champions League group match loss at home in a decade. It was Jose Mourinho’s return to Champions League play with the club after six years (to the day) away from the Blues. The loss can easily be overcome, but the negativity and doubt surrounding his club is growing and somewhat reminiscent of the uncertainty surrounding the club in 2007.
București had to fight their way through qualifying rounds to reach the round of 32, and were treated to a 3-0 thrashing by Schalke 04 on Matchday 1 backed by goals from Atsuto Uchida, Kevin-Prince Boateng and Julian Draxler. While they are the likeliest of this group to finish in the cellar, they have recent memories of beating Chelsea 1-nil earlier this year in Romania during the Europa League.
Prediction: Mourinho should shake up his starting 11 and head into Stadionul Ghencea with a chip on his shoulder. The Blues will prove to be too much for Roș-Albaștrii and will jump onto the table with their first three points while Laurențiu Reghecampf’s side will be looking elimination straight in the face.
Borussia Dortmund v Marseille
Dortmund is still unbeaten in the Bundesliga but are coming off an ugly loss on Matchday 1 to Napoli. Gonzalo Higuaín and Lorenzo Insigne each chipped in a goal with Higuaín’s causing a bit of controversy that saw Dortmund boss Jürgen Klopp off the pitch. Dortmund defenseman Neven Subotic was off the pitch receiving treatment and wasn’t allowed back on until after the damage had been done: the fury set in for the German boss and they weren’t able to recover from it. The lone goal attached to Dortmund’s name was an own-goal by Juan Zuñiga in the 87th minute, putting a fitting end to an ugly match — but Napoli will take the points.
Marseille were unfortunate losers in their first match against Arsenal. The French club controlled the match for large periods in both halves but were unable to do anything about. Or at least until a questionable 90th minute penalty that finally put them on the board but still a goal-shy of equalizing. The match was nil-nil at half and the south French coast fans were rowdy and hoping their heroes would sink the North London club, but they continually came up empty. Should they be any match for Dortmund, they will need to convert at a much higher rate while picking up their defense simultaneously — not going to be easy.
Prediction: Dortmund are highly unlikely to repeat such an ugly performance. With the match to be played at Westfalenstadion in North Rhine-Westphalia, Marseille will be overwhelmed with pressure and fail to pick up any points a third of the way through the phase.
Arsenal v Napoli
This matchup is chock-full of headlines: both clubs won their first match in what is considered this year’s “death group”and Arsenal striker Olivier Giroud seeks to fulfill what Arsène Wenger was looking for when he tried bringing in now Napoli striker Gonzalo Higuaín. Arsenal may not have looked their best on Matchday 1 against Marseille, but they got the job done on the road. The English club are winners of nine straight matches in all competitions and are as prepared as they possibly can be heading into what is hands-down their biggest match since acquiring Mesut Özil. But since Özil has joined, the club have had a lethal attack that has allowed the likes of Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere and Olivier Giroud and even newcomer 18-year-old Serge Gnabry to elevate their play.
Napoli are undefeated in the Italian League and have been as impressive as Arsenal early on. Their 2-1 victory over Dortmund may not have been pretty, but they proved to be worthy of this competitions attention. If they’re able to take advantage on the flanks against Arsenal, which could keep Kieran Gibbs and Bacary Sagna occupied on defense and out of the Arsenal attack, then they have a real shot of taking this one. But for that very reason, their attack against Arsenal could backfire. Should they not convert on their chances, Özil will have plenty of chances to set up Ramsey and Giroud with wide-open looks all night long.
Prediction: This one is as hard to predict as they come. Arsenal will be given their toughest challenge in months and will feature a winger competing in his first Champions League tilt, though Gnabry’s demeanor on the pitch far exceeds his age. Napoli are in top form and have a lethal attack but are prone to mistakes. The Gunners sneak away with another win at the Emirates in a close battle.
Zenit Saint Petersburg v Austria Wien
Austria Wien debut in the Champions League group stage saw them losing at home 0-1 to FC Porto. Playing host to the likely second qualifier of this group, Wien were able to hang in the game through the entirety but clearly lacked the ability to equalize. They often settled for long shots and failed to capitalize on the two realistic chances they had. Having advanced as far as they already have has been impressive, but a win against Zenit could put them back in the mix to advance past the group stage.
Zenit had the unfortunate task of playing against a club on fire at the moment: Atlético Madrid. A 58th minute equalizer by Givanildo Vieira de Souza lifted spirits for Luciano Spalletti’s club of the Russian Premier League, but the winning goal was scored just six minutes later by Arda Turan and then the icing situated on the 80th minute by Leo Baptistao. The fact that Zenit were able to unsettle Atlético at all is impressive.
Prediction: If Zenit can look past their opening match loss, this could be an easy one. However, they need to target three points and be careful of settling for a draw. The only way either of these clubs can compete with Porto or Atlético for advancement is by picking up all three points in this match. Both clubs know this and will be playing their best. This one could very well end in a scoreless draw making both clubs chances as knockout phase hopefuls slim.
FC Basel v Schalke 04
Basel has been the most talked-about club since their stunning victory over Chelsea on Matchday 1. The impressive play on their travels will now have the chance to be showcased at St. Jakob-Park against Schalke. If they’re able to carry over any momentum into this one, Schalke will have their hands full. Boss Murat Yakin has his club right where he wants them, looking even more likely to snag the second qualifying spot into the round of 16.
Schalke haven’t looked impressive in the German Bundesliga but put together an impressive performance shutting down Steaua Bucuresti a few weeks ago. Manager Jens Keller has his work cut out for him as he knows losing all three points would make Chelsea’s way back into the top easier than it might already be in this group.
Prediction: Basel strike early and keep the pressure on all match. This one could see upward of a handful of goals scored and will be, if nothing else, fun soccer to watch.
Other matches: Barcelona v Celtic, which should be an easy one for the Spanish side; Ajax v AC Milan could be exciting but Milan will surely come out on top; FC Porto and Atlético Madrid’s result will likely have no effect on the weak Group H.