Nov 20, 2012, 11:46 PM EST
Porto head coach Vitor Pereira may believe “[t]here are no such things as favorites in [Champions League],” but there are certainly teams more likely to win games than others. Some might even call that a favorite. Pereira’s is team one, hence his dismissive, containing attitude ahead of the Dragons’ match with Dinamo Zagreb, even if Pereira’s right to be skeptical of frontrunners. Milan, Zenit St. Petersburg, and Manchester City — all in action on Wednesday — have failed to find results commensurate with their talent.
Those teams may still be hoping for a turnaround, but time’s running out. Wednesday marks the end of group stage’s fifth of six rounds. Up to seven teams could be eliminated after the day’s matches, and unless Luciano Spalletti and Roberto Mancini (right) can find solutions to their teams’ Champions League travails, Zenit and City will be among them.
Porto (Portugal) vs. Dinamo Zagreb (Croatia), Estadio Dragão, 2:45 p.m. Eastern
Dynamo Kyiv (Ukraine) vs. Paris Saint-Germain (France), Olympic Stadium, 2:45 p.m. Eastern
Standings: Porto 10 pts, PSG 9, Dynamo Kyiv 4, Dinamo Zagreb 0
Calling a side’s last performance “weak-willed and unfocused” while claiming there could be “major changes during the winter break” might seem like a dangerous, potentially mutiny-inspiring way to approach an important match, but Dynamo Kyiv’s poor run of form leaves Oleh Blokhin little choice. Instead of gloss over his team’s woes ahead of Ukraine’s winter break, Blokhin’s made it clear. Sitting third place in league and staring at a probable relegation to Europa League, the team could be in for a major shakeup.
If Dynamo beat PSG, they stay alive ahead of a matchday six meeting with Dinamo Zagreb, against whom a win could put them through to the knockout round. In order for that to happen, PSG would have to follow their upset in Ukraine with a home loss to Porto, a team who’d likely have a knockout round birth sewn up. Even if with the Parisians coming off an embarrassing Saturday loss, that’s a lot of planets that need to lineup for Dynamo to be playing Champions League soccer come January.
Schalke (Germany) vs. Olympiacos (Greece), Veltins-Arena, 2:45 p.m. Eastern
Arsenal (England) vs. Montpellier (France), Emirates Stadium, 2:45 p.m. Eastern
Standings: Schalke 8 pts, Arsenal 7, Olympiacos 6, Montpellier 1
After taking four points off Arsenal, Schalke’s control of this group goes beyond their one-point group lead on the Gunners. Hosting Greece’s champions before visiting struggling Montpellier (who somehow managed a point in Gelsenkirchen), Schalke’s facing the easiest run-in possible. If form holds, they’ll earn first place and the benefit of an easier Round of 16 matchup.
Coming off a weekend loss in the Bundesliga (where they’ve dropped two of three), Schalke may be vulnerable, though it’s unclear how much of a threat Olympiacos will pose. The Greek champions haven’t lost since Oct. 3, but that’s against a kind Champions League schedule (back-to-back with Montepellier) and a weakened Greek league.
Schalke wins this game if they play to their potential, but what happens if they have an off day, like they did this weekend at Leverkusen? Can they still get three from Olympiacos?
Zenit (Russia) vs. Málaga (Spain), Petrovsky Stadium, 12:00 p.m. Eastern
Anderlecht (Belgium) vs. Milan (Italy), Constant Vanden Stock Stadium, 2:45 p.m. Eastern
Standings: Málaga 10 pts, Milan 5, Anderlecht 4, Zenit 3
Anderlecht “could be Alexandre Pato’s game,” insists Milan coach Max Allegri, who also talked up the improved form of Kevin-Prince Boateng and Robinho during his Tuesday press conference. Anybody who’s followed Milan’s season might be quick to accuse the embattled Rossoneri boss of burying the lead. These days, Milan is all about Stephan El-Shaarawy.
The 20-year-old Italian international scored twice this weekend in Naples, single-handedly helping Milan recover from a terrible first 30 minutes to claim a point at Napoli. With six goals in his last nine games (plus his goal for Italy against France last Wednesday), the former Genoa attacker is up to 11 all-competition goals this season. In a Milan season that’s been defined by disappointing results and the memory of sold stars, El-Shaaraway is doing his part to make up for the summer loss of Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
If El-Shaarawy stays hot and gets help from the rest of Milan’s talented attack, the Rossoneri may be in the knockout round by day’s end. They’ll need a result from Málaga in St. Petersburg, but given how the two teams’ have fared in this year’s competition, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Manuel Pellegrini take three points from Zenit.
Ajax (Netherlands) vs. Borussia Dortmund (Germany), Amsterdam ArenA, 2:45 p.m. Eastern
Manchester City (England) vs. Real Madrid (Spain), Etihad Stadium, 2:45 p.m. Eastern
Standings: Borussia Dortmund 8 pts, Real Madrid 7, Ajax 4, Manchester City 2
Sometimes you wonder if Prozac might help Roberto Mancini’s press conferences.
“We don’t have much chance to go through,” he conceded on Tuesday. “It was a difficult group from the start and now it’s very difficult because of the mistakes we made in the first two games.”
The last two games have been much more damaging. Against Ajax — a team that should have been a distant fourth of four in this group — Manchester City claimed a single point. Had they claimed all six, they would still be fighting for a spot in the knockout round.
Thanks to Real’s stumbles against Dortmund (taking only one point in two games), City still has a chance to advance. Unfortunately, for Mancini, that means beating Real Madrid boss José Mourinho. The two will forever be linked after Mourinho replaced Mancini at Inter Milan, taking the Nerazzurri to a European title.
“[I]t’s not Mourinho v. Mancini,” the City boss said, “it’s between the players, they are more important than we are.”
Contrast that with Mourinho’s attitude.
“I don’t think it is normal when you are out of the competition at a very early stage,” was a combative Mourinho’s blunt assessment of the job his rival’s done in Champions League. “I speak for myself, and if Real Madrid lost a final, or a semifinal, or even a quarterfinal, that’s football. But when you are out at the group stage it is more difficult to accept and to understand. Last season, they were out [at this stage] and this season I think they will be out again.”
Even if City pulls off an upset, they could still be in last place come Wednesday night. Conversely, if Dortmund gets a result in Amsterdam, the German champions clinch a spot in the next round.
Dec 6, 2013, 11:24 PM EST
It appears that Arsene Wenger will remain a Gunner for at least three more years, with a contract extension reportedly near completion.
Dec 6, 2013, 10:39 PM EST
With injuries putting Robin van Persie on more and more of an island at Old Trafford, are troubling times creating a stir in the dressing room?
Dec 6, 2013, 9:58 PM EST
Cameras caught the main man of English soccer laughing and making a throat-slash gesture when England were selected into their devilish group.
Dec 6, 2013, 9:22 PM EST
Nick Rimando, Kyle Beckerman and Javier Morales were all part of the 2009 MLS Cup winning side – and they are still on top of it all:
Dec 6, 2013, 8:46 PM EST
The Germans and Ghanans alike are ready to watch the Boateng brothers square off, and US nemesis Asamoah Gyan has vowed to escape into the knockout phase.
Dec 6, 2013, 8:10 PM EST
Where to watch all the games from Week 15, right here:
MLS Cup preview: Real Salt Lake meets Sporting Kansas City to decide Major League Soccer’s 18th championship
Dec 6, 2013, 7:33 PM EST
Two well-regarded American coaches, two super defenses and record cold temperatures are the dominant sub-plots:
Dec 6, 2013, 7:00 PM EST
Could one very hard-to-read Frenchman be the key to Real Salt Lake’s title chances?
Dec 6, 2013, 6:21 PM EST
Given the crippling equatorial heat in Manaus, England and Italy will lobby FIFA to build drinks breaks into matches. The United States is also set to play a match in the Amazonian city.
Dec 6, 2013, 5:45 PM EST
Two Best XI players and 2012′s Goalkeeper of the Year will be Sporting’s key men on Saturday.
Dec 6, 2013, 5:05 PM EST
The German boss smiled upon FIFA’s placement of his country with the United States. The rest of the country remains confident that the group stage is just the beginning for Germany.
Dec 6, 2013, 4:30 PM EST
Will the Three Lions roar to victory in Brazil? The answer is… probably not:
Dec 6, 2013, 4:29 PM EST
One team that could have not asked for a better World Cup draw is non other than two-time World Cup champion, Argentina. Being drawn into Group F with Bosnia, Iran, and Nigeria; the South Americans are already expected to have a place in the Round of 16 and even already in the quarterfinals since they…
Dec 6, 2013, 4:00 PM EST
If RSL’s number nine is healthy, this is an easy call. If not, Saturday’s visitors may still have the edge.
Dec 6, 2013, 3:46 PM EST
Star Cristiano Ronaldo, manager Paulo Bento, and former international Luis Figo all acknowledged Germany’s presence will make things difficult but remained hopeful of Portugal’s chances in the group.
Dec 6, 2013, 3:30 PM EST
The formations are different but the roles are similar for Sporting, RSL’s midfields.
Dec 6, 2013, 3:18 PM EST
Some of the massive games we can look forward to in the opening stages of the World Cup:
Dec 6, 2013, 2:59 PM EST
Real Salt Lake captain and USMNT midfielder, Kyle Beckerman, was caught by the media in the MLS World Cup Draw party in Kansas City. The holding midfielder sounded calm with a hint of resignation about the unkind USMNT World Cup draw that has put them against Portugal, Germany and Ghana on what many people claim to be this…
Dec 6, 2013, 2:47 PM EST
It’ll take a lot of work for any of CONCACAF’s four teams to find their way out of group play at the 2014 World Cup, though for some it will be easier than others.
Dec 6, 2013, 2:42 PM EST
The USMNT forward has shed some light, if vaguely, on what his immediate future might hold as he gears up for Brazil 2014.
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