Saturday 7 December 2019

Champions League preview: Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool must all improve in crucial week of European football

The four English teams in Europe’s top competitions had inauspicious starts to their Champions League campaigns this season.

Liverpool were the only team to record a victory in matchday one of the competition and even they needed an injury-time penalty to beat Bulgarian champions Ludogorets 2-1 – a team playing in the group stage for the very first time.

Chelsea drew 1-1 with Schalke, a team who had not won a game this season at the time, guilty of missing a number of chances to put the game out of sight.

The other two clubs, Arsenal and Manchester City, both lost in Germany, though City’s performance against Bayern Munich was much more encouraging than the Gunners’ surrender at Borussia Dortmund.

Both Chelsea and City proved just last season that you can lose your first game and still qualify for the knockout phase, but all four teams have much room for improvement in their matches this week.

Joe Hart impressed against Bayern Munich

Manchester City vs Roma

City are yet to hit top form this season as they bed in a couple of new players and continue to look for the right balance between defence and attack.

Manuel Pellegrini’s side were guilty of losing concentration against Hull on Saturday, letting a 2-0 lead slip before fighting back to win 4-2. The Chilean manager dropped Joe Hart for that match but is likely to bring back England’s No 1, while he must make a decision in the heart of his defence.

Eliaquim Mangala was superb against Diego Costa and Chelsea in the 1-1 draw at the Etihad, but scored an own goal and conceded a penalty in a desperate 10 minutes at the KC Stadium. Pellegrini could bring back the experienced Martin Demichelis for what will prove to be a tough test against high-flying Roma - the Chilean manager has already confirmed he will recall Joe Hart after he was dropped against Hull.

The Italian side have won all five of their Serie A matches so far this season, scoring nine and conceding just one goal. They demolished CSKA Moscow at the Stadio Olimpico 5-1 in the opening round.

With Bayern favourites to win Group E, City cannot afford to lose more ground against their direct rivals in the race for qualification.

Chelsea's Diego Costa celebrates after scoring a goal against Aston Villa

Sporting Lisbon vs Chelsea

Jose Mourinho’s team really should have beaten Schalke at Stamford Bridge.

Cesc Fabregas and Didier Drogba each had a golden chance to settle the tie but failed to take it – Mourinho will be acutely aware of the cost of failure to do well in Europe’s top competition, his first spell at the club ended because of a poor start to that season’s Champions League.

With prolific striker Diego Costa likely to be rested as he continues to struggle with niggling injuries, it would be a mistake for Mourinho to again turn to the veteran Drogba. The 36-year-old looked a yard off the pace against the Germans and with Loic Remy waiting in the wings, the Ivorian should not again but trusted in a game that takes on greater significance after the earlier draw.

Sporting Lisbon are no great shakes with four draws out of their last five matches. Group G is  arguably the easiest group in the competition and Chelsea not want it to be any more of a struggle than it needs to be.

SOCCER Arse_15.jpg
Arsenal's Jack Wilshere is tackled by Tottenham Hotspur's Ryan Mason and Etienne Capoue

Arsenal vs Galatasaray

Arsene Wenger is undergoing yet another injury crisis; it seems the French manager is yet to understand the importance of squad depth.

With seven players definitely missing for the match and Jack Wilshere only a maybe, Wenger is going to have to name a patched-up side against the Turks. Defensively the club are having major problems, with only four senior defenders available another injury would leave the French manager turning to Hector Bellerin or Francis Coquelin.

The Gunners were thoroughly outmatched at the Westfalenstadion but are still a class above Galatasaray despite their injuries.

Those two clubs have more than enough to qualify from Group D, but Wenger will want to finish top of the group to avoid the stronger teams in the next round.

Despite being investigated by UEFA under the financial fair play regulations, Liverpool will not face any financial sanctions at this stage. Photo: John Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images

Basel vs Liverpool

Despite all the talk of crisis at fierce rivals Manchester United, Louis van Gaal’s team now find themselves above the Reds in the Premier League table.

Brendan Rodgers is yet to find a favoured first XI or formation and is seemingly making massive tactical shifts from week to week. Liverpool’s new signings, chiefly Mario Balotelli and Adam Lallana, were improved against Everton but are still to find their feet for their new team. Defensively, Liverpool look porous, while inspirational captain Steven Gerrard is still suffering from a World Cup hangover.

With Real Madrid the strong favourites to top Group B, Liverpool go to Basel knowing they must get a positive result. But as Chelsea, Manchester United and Tottenham have found out in recent years, St Jakob-Park is never hospitable to English teams.

The Reds at the very least need a draw from this match and the likes of Balotelli and Lallana need to show their true mettle.

Who is your sportstar of the year?

Vote in the Irish Independent Sport Star Awards and you could win the ultimate sports prize.

Prizes include, tickets to Ireland's against Scotland in the Six Nations, All Ireland football and hurling final tickets and much more.

Simply click here to register your vote

Online Editors

The Left Wing: The problem with the Champions Cup, the Stephen Larkham effect and trouble in Welsh rugby

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport