Chris Bland is back to preview tonight’s Champions League action as Jose Mourinho travels to Germany looking to avenge the 7-2 defeat inflicted upon Spurs back in October. If you agree with his tips for tonight why not get involved in tonight’s Pick 5 pool?
Dinamo Zagreb v Manchester City
Manchester City travel to Croatia with top spot already secured in the group, however after Saturday’s disappointing defeat to Manchester United on Saturday, Pep Guardiola will be keen for a response from his side. A young side is expected to travel given the congested fixture list ahead for the Citizens, and as a result it could make this a tough one to predict, especially given the must win nature of the game for Dinamo Zagreb.
Dinamo require a win to leave themselves a chance of qualification into the knock out round, then relying upon Atalanta to either secure a win or draw away at Ukrainian side Shakhtar Donetsk. The ongoing result in that match will have a huge bearing upon the context of the match in Croatia, and if Shakhtar are to race into a comprehensive lead, it will mean this game becomes meaningless, with Zagreb sat in Third.
Even if Guardiola opts to go for a much changed eleven, it would be expected to see Zagreb sit deep and soak up the pressure, especially when considering the tactics they have shown throughout the group. Averaging 40% possession, this dropped even further when traveling to the Etihad, and the Croatian side could only complete 100 passes and muster two shots.
Zagreb will be keen to keep themselves in the game for as long as possible, and when chasing the game at the Etihad, became acutely aware of City’s threat upon the break, when Phil Foden netted a second in stoppage time for a 2-0 win. As a result, I would expect to see Zagreb sit deep and soak up pressure much the shame as in the reverse fixture, before giving themselves a 20-minute period to have a go at a possibly inexperienced City defence.
However, even if this is the case, I fancy a rotated City side will still have enough to see off the Croatian side. Phil Foden will feel he has a point to prove if starting, and returning Oleksandr Zinchenko will be keen to win his place back after Angelino’s struggles on Saturday. Places are up for grabs in City’s starting line up, and this should prove an incentive enough for many fringe players to impress, and push City to victory in Zagreb.
Verdict: Manchester City
Bayern Munich v Tottenham
Bayern Munich host Spurs in the Champions League on Wednesday night, as Jose Mourinho travels to Germany looking to avenge the 7-2 defeat inflicted upon Spurs back in October. Both sides have since sacked their managers, and with qualification already secured for both sides, it is a hard game to read too much into. The xG from the game is particularly interesting, with Bayern Munich only accumulating 1.24 to Tottenham’s 1.66, highlighting how clinical the German side were.
Bayern have already secured top spot, and Spurs second, so the game itself will be an opportunity for the two managers to experiment with their sides, and look to utilise the depth at their disposal. Fringe players will be given a chance, and it gives both Jose Mourinho and Hans-Dieter Flick a chance to have a look at some players ahead of a congested fixture list for both sides.
Goals have flown for both sides in the Champions League, racking up xx between them, however with Mourinho being keen to set up his sides to defend in games such as these in the past, it could see a tighter match up than what Mourinho’s opening games have seen. His only defeat came against Manchester United last week, and they bounced back superbly defeating Burnley 5-0, and his side will be full of confidence heading into this tie.
Bayern are struggling themselves domestically, languishing 7th in the Bundesliga, and defeat to leaders Borussia Monchengladbach has increased the pressure further on manager Flick. Their Champions League form has currently been a saving grace, however there are obvious defensive frailties at the back for the German Champions, and Spurs could be looking to exploit them as a result.
It could see Mourinho look to set his side up to defend for long periods and frustrate the German side, and it becomes an extremely tough match to call given the uncertainties around the potential line ups. Youngsters Troy Parrott and Ryan Sessegnon are expected to be given a chance to impress, but if Parrott does start over Harry Kane, it could see Tottenham to hold up the ball up front, and see Bayern exert pressure for long periods. With the likes of Philippe Coutinho, who shone in the reverse fixture, looking to impress after missing out in the defeat at Borussia Monchengladbach, it reinforces the view that Bayern will be better equipped for this dead rubber
Although two much changed sides are expected, Bayern’s poor domestic form has heaped the pressure on Flick’s side, and could force his hand in opting for a stronger line up. As a result, I’d favour a Bayern victory for this, especially with the youngsters being given a chance for Spurs.
Verdict: Bayern Munich
Bayer Leverkusen v Juventus
Maurizio Sarri’s Juventus travel to Germany on the back of a disappointing defeat against Lazio in Serie A, which saw them fall behind in the Italian title race, and the ex-Chelsea manager will be keen for his side to respond.
However, an injury crisis is raging through the Turin giants, and with top spot already secured for Juventus, it would be no surprise to see yet another side look to rest players, especially with an improvement in domestic form required. The ever-growing injury list saw midfielders Aaron Ramsey and Adrien Rabiot added, and with Emre Can not included in the Champions League squad, the choices for Sarri are reducing.
Bayer Leverkusen themselves require a win to have any chance of qualification from Group D, as well as relying upon Lokomotiv Moscow to pick up an unlikely result away at Atletico Madrid. Leverkusen have been on form in recent weeks, and followed up a smash-and-grab win away at Bayern Munich with a 2-1 win over Schalke, courtesy of a double from Lucas Alario.
Juventus showed their defensive frailties on Saturday, as they were unpicked by the impressive Luis Alberto, and Leverkusen will be relying upon German starlet Kai Havertz to unpick the Italian’s defence on Wednesday. With a domestic xG this season of 26.91 and a goals scored tally of 22, chances, and goals, haven’t been a worry, and they will be confident of breaking down a Juventus defence, one of which can be exposed out wide by Sarri’s narrow formation.
Able to welcome back Jonathan Tah after his suspension on the weekend, it is an added boost for Peter Bosz’s side, and with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Paulo Dybala expected to be rested, the signs are promising for the German side. The must-win nature does add pressure, but as they showed with a win over Atletico Madrid on matchday four, they are more than capable of taking on Europe’s giants.
Verdict: Bayer Leverkusen
Club Brugge v Real Madrid
Real Madrid travel to Belgium knowing no matter what the result is, they have secured second spot in the group, and will be heading through to the Champions League knockout round. As with many other sides, squad rotation is to be expected, and there is a lengthy injury list for Zinedine Zidane to contend with. Eden Hazard and Marcelo are out injured, whilst key men Toni Kroos and Sergio Ramos are expected to be rested. With El Classico looming next week, Zidane will not want to risk many of his top players, and a rotated side can be expected to travel to Belgium.
Brugge came within minutes of shocking the Spanish giants in Madrid, with a 2-2 draw back in October, and they will be looking for the win that is required to secure Europa League football come the New Year. Defeat would still see them into the second tier of European competition if Galatasaray are beaten by PSG, whilst a point would be enough in the Turkish side are to fail to win, however Philippe Clement’s side will be hoping to do the job themselves, without relying upon results from elsewhere.
Brugge will be missing a handful of players themselves after the ecstatic scenes following their injury time equaliser against Galatasaray. Both Diatta and Clinton Mata saw red in the aftermath of the celebrations, and both will be sorely missed. Diatta has netted four goals, plus one in the Champions League, and attacking threat will be required from elsewhere for Clement’s side.
Although Madrid are expected to rotate, they have been in impressive form themselves, and the rotated side should still have enough to beat a Brugge side missing key men. Zidane will be keen for his side to keep an impressive run of form going, and with starts such as Luka Jovic having a point to prove, and Luka Modric expected to start after being left on the bench in victory over Espanyol on the weekend, the Spanish giants should still be fancied.
Verdict: Real Madrid