The 2015-16 UEFA Champions League resumes this week with Matchday Five of the group stage.
Sportsnet’s soccer panel of broadcasters, writers and pundits offer their picks and predictions below…
MANCHESTER UNITED vs. PSV EINDHOVEN
Donnovan Bennett, Sportsnet magazine: The infirmary is rapidly getting crowded at Old Trafford. United was already without six first team players for their trip on Saturday to Vicarage Road. Ander Herrera and Phil Jones are now doubtful to play midweek after leaving United’s 2-1 win over Watford injured. Wayne Rooney, Anthony Martial, and James Wilson are all in doubt so United’s attacking options will be limited. Those who are upset with Louis Van Gaal’s pragmatic approach to recent games might see much of the same even though the Red Devils are at home.
PSV’s Hector Moreno will hear it from the Stretford End as he was responsible for the challenge that ended Luke Shaw’s season before going on to score the equalizer when Eindhoven beat United 2-1 in Holland. A United win over the Eredivisie champions on Wednesday will put them through to the final 16. The lack of attacking options means Memphis Depay will certainly feature after scoring on the weekend. He’ll be motivated to once again find the net against his former side. Add that to the motivation of revenging Shaw’s loss and the possibility to qualify for the next round and Manchester will not only keep up their strong defensive record they’ll secure all three points.
Prediction: Manchester United wins 1-0.
JUVENTUS vs. MANCHESTER CITY
Noah Love, Sportsnet.ca: When these two teams met on Matchday One back in September, they were headed in opposite directions in their respective leagues. City was trampling its Premier League competition, while Juventus was flailing in Serie A. Two months later, it’s a reversal of fortune: City has dropped five of six points in its last two matches, and was hammered 4-1 by Liverpool on Saturday. The same day, Juventus beat AC Milan 1-0 and jumped to sixth place. But form isn’t so much the issue with City right now, injuries are. David Silva is still missing in action after getting injured in an Oct. 9 Euro 2016 qualifier with Spain. Vincent Kompany was hurt during last week’s international break, and the team has been miserable at the back without the captain this season.
Juventus has its own injuries to deal with, but as long as Gianluigi Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini and Paul Pogba are good to go, there is enough depth in the squad to compete on any day of the week. That this tie is in Turin bodes very well for Massimiliano Allegri. A final note: a loss would be cruel to City. Pellegrini finally got it right in Europe this season, but drop this match and he’ll still probably wind up with a brutal Round of 16 matchup. It won’t be impossible for City to win Group D if Juve take this game, but it will surely be improbable.
Prediction: Juventus wins 1-0.
ATLETICO MADRID vs. GALATASARAY
Thomas Michalakos, Sportsnet.ca: No need to dissect the numbers game because the narrative is as straightforward as it can get; anything short of three points will confirm Galatasaray’s swift exit from the Champions League—equally a win for the hosts will secure their spot in the next round. However, an analysis is needed nonetheless heading into Wednesday’s matchup. The omen isn’t a good one for the visitors. The Turkish side are currently winless in three, and are employing their third manager in less than a year following the sacking of Hamza Hamzaoglu last week, despite signing a new contract over the summer.
Atletico won the reverse fixture 2-0 in Istanbul—Antoine Griezmann netting a brace— and are currently on an eight match unbeaten run (five wins, three draws). Diego Simeone’s men are currently second in La Liga—four points back of leaders Barcelona and two points superior to rivals Real Madrid—after a 1-0 win over Real Betis over the weekend. One victory in 14 matches against Spanish opposition abroad; the odds are clearly heavily stacked against Galatasaray.
Prediction: Atletico Madrid wins 2-1.
MORE ON THE UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE: Zenit Saint Petersburg save their best form for Europe || Imperfection has become Arsenal’s calling card || Sportsnet panel’s Champions League picks || 5 stories to watch this week || Analytics: PSG wasting Motta’s efforts
ARSENAL vs. DINAMO ZAGREB
James Sharman, Sportsnet: This is one of those must-win games that actually is a must-win game. Arsenal and Zagreb sit tied for last place in the group, six behind Bayern Munich and Olympiacos, both of whom look set to advance. The Gunners. Oh, the Gunners. Remember they lost 2-1 to Zagreb already, but then they beat Bayern Munich, then they lost 5-1 to Bayern Munich, and this weekend they lost to West Bromwich Albion to make that one win in their last five matches? The November swoon is an annual affair for Arsenal, as is the long injury list, and once again Arsene Wenger has 10 first teamers in the treatment room, including Francis Coquelin who was the latest to twang a limb and is out for months rather than weeks.
There goes Arsenal’s best central midfielder, but hey, there wasn’t any need to address the depth of the team over the summer when only Petr Cech arrived, right? On the bright side, Zagreb is also in turmoil. They’ve dropped two straight games to fall off the top of the Croatian league table, their president was arrested on a transfer scandal and midfielder Arijam Ademi was banned for four years for doping. Zagreb also has its injury concerns. All this adds up to an easy Arsenal win, because that is what they do, just to confuse their fans and suggest faint hope, before eventually coming up just short.
Prediction: Arsenal wins 3-0.
AS ROMA vs. BARCELONA
Dan Riccio, Sportsnet 590 The FAN : The lengthy injury layoff to Lionel Messi brought questions about how Barcelona would cope. Could Neymar and Luis Suarez carry the load in his absence? The answer came back, and it was a resounding yes. It also came with an emphatic closing to the story as Messi returned as a substitute in Barcelona’s win over Real Madrid—Suarez scored twice and Neymar added a goal and assist.
The win in the clasico capped off a near perfect 10 match stretch without Messi for Barcelona. Neymar scored 11 goals, added seven assists over that span, and Suarez was good for 12 goals and four helpers. Now Barcelona has their full trident back for the week’s clash with Roma, and there is no sign of them slowing down.
Prediction: Barcelona wins 3-0.
MACCABI TEL-AVIV vs. CHELSEA
Gerry Dobson, Sportsnet : This seems like a no brainer. Chelsea are a level above Tel Aviv, and are starting to feel just a little bit better after ending a run of three straight losses by defeating Norwich on the weekend. It’s a different vibe around Stamford Bridge now. Gone are the chances of retaining the Premier League title. Jose Mourinho has taken the pressure off his club by stating it matter of factly, so the team can play more freely now and concentrate on the Champions League. Chelsea sit second in their group and a predicted win over Maccabi Tel Aviv along with a Porto win over Dynamo Kiev would clinch a spot in the knockout stage. Mourinho will still be without Radamel Falcao and Thibault Courtois through injury. But word is they are close which only improves the signs of life Chelsea are beginning to show.
Maccabi are in tough and they know it. They are winless in the group stage and haven’t earned a single point. They are coming off a strong 3-0 win over rivals Hapoel Haifa in the league. That one is always a hotly contested match and they survived it well. But Chelsea should have no trouble getting the result and getting one step closer to the round of 16.
Prediction: Chelsea wins 2-0.
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