Sportsnet’s soccer panel offer their picks, predictions and analysis of Wednesday’s marquee UEFA Champions League group stage matches.
James Sharman: Manuel Pellegrini knows all about German football, as it was his upstart Malaga that fell to Borussia Dortmund in last season’s quarter-finals. He is also knows all about his managerial counterpart. It was Barcelona’s dominance under Guardiola that cost Pellegrini his job at Real Madrid at the end of the 2009-10 La Liga season. Ninety-six points was a club record, but only good enough for second spot, and he ended up making way for Jose Mourinho. Now at Manchester City, Pellegrini will lead his new team against a Bayern side that is experiencing growing pains under Guardiola. With Bayern second in the Bundesliga table, Guardiola took off star trio Arjen Robben, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Mario Mandzukic in the second half of this weekend’s laboured victory over Wolfsburg. City lost to Aston Villa on Saturday, which came after a superb win in the Manchester derby. This is a big money and big club clash between two sides that won in Matchday One. A relatively weak group, this contest could go a long way in deciding who wins the group.
Prediction: A 1-1 draw.
Thomas Michalakos: An entire generation of Red Devils supporters are drifting into unchartered waters. A disastrous 2-1 home defeat to West Bromwich Albion over the weekend has heaped more pressure on the shoulders of David Moyes, who has guided Manchester United to its worst start to a topflight campaign in 20 years — eight points off the summit and three losses from six matches. The rumblings of discontent are an understandable reaction to the club’s current plight. Is it too soon for the axe to drop on Moyes’ tenure as United manager? Just a bit. But if results continue down this path, you better believe the blade is being sharpened for a quick end to this new found misery. After a morale boosting 1-0 victory over Liverpool in the Carling Cup, United crashed and burned against a West Brom side that hadn’t recorded a victory at Old Trafford in over three decades. A treacherous trip to Ukraine now stands between Moyes and salvation, with maximum points in high demand at this point. The lack of a creative presence in midfield and sub-par defensive performances has elevated the stress level for everyone associated with the club. Normally, a split of the points would be sufficient, but Moyes must produce a victory in Donetsk on Wednesday or further doubt will be cast on his managerial credentials.
Prediction: A 2-2 draw.
Dan Riccio: When Juventus brought Fernando Llorente and Carlos Tevez into the squad over the summer, it was supposed to fix their attacking issues. While the Turin side is creating a lot of chances, lately they lack that finishing touch. However, this has yet to end in disappointing results domestically, which is something you can’t say about their opponents Galatasaray, who hired Roberto Mancini on Monday. Two wins and four draws to start the domestic season, and a 6-1 loss at home to Real Madrid in the Champions League opener cost Fatih Terim his job as manager. The show goes on for Galatasaray though, and heading to Juventus Stadium may be too much for them at this time. This is a big game for Juventus with two matches against Real Madrid upcoming, and should see the Bianconeri play with a sense of urgency against the Turks.
Prediction: Juventus wins 2-0.
John Molinaro: Both clubs won their opening fixtures of the group stage, but PSG is the hotter team, unbeaten in their last nine games in all competitions. No slouches themselves, Benfica are unbeaten in six. With Thiago Silva still out with a long-term thigh injury, the Parisian outfit rested Brazilian centre-back Alex in their 2-0 league win over Toulouse on the weekend. Keep an eye out for how he deals with Oscar Cardozo, Benfica’s Paraguayan sharpshooter up front. PSG coach Laurent Blanc also started forward Edinson Cavani on the bench versus Toulouse, and didn’t bring him on until the 69th minute, so the Uruguay forward will be relatively fresh coming into this contest. PSG might be looking ahead to Sunday when they travel to Marseille to take on their bitter rivals in a marquee Ligue 1 matchup, but the French champions have more depth and quality then their Portuguese opponents, and playing in front of a boisterous Parc des Princes crowd will give them an added edge.
Prediction: Paris Saint-Germain wins 2-0.