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Champions League Preview Part Two–Match Day 1

Yesterday we looked at the Tuesday Match Day One Champions League matches. Today we will look at the Wednesday games.

Manchester United v Villarreal – Buy Manchester United – Villarreal Tickets
The reigning Champions League champions open up defense of their crown at home to Villarreal. United are hoping to avoid a repeat when they last met Manuel Pellegrini’s men in the UEFA Champions League.

Back in 2005/2006 United and Villarreal faced off for the first time in the group stage, where Villarreal held United to two goalless draws en route to securing first place in the section.

Sir Alex Ferguson’s team have won their last 12 home games in the UEFA Champions League – the most recent against another Spanish side, FC Barcelona, in last season’s semi-final – and are unbeaten in their last 15 stretching back to March 2005.

This is a tough match for United as it comes between domestic games at Liverpool and Chelsea. With one eye on the Chelsea game next weekend, I don’t think either team will be too unhappy with a share of the points here.

Celtic v AaB – Buy Celtic – Aalborg BK Tickets
Celtic will be looking to maintain their remarkable recent home record in the UEFA Champions League when they begin their Group E campaign against Aalborg BK, who is back in the competition after a 13-year absence.

Celtic have won all their Champions League home games in the last two years and will expect to continue this streak against AaB. This is a game that Celtic should win comfortably.

Steaua v Bayern
This is the third season in a row that FC Steaua Bucureşti have taken their place on Europe’s grandest stage – matching their achievement between 1994/95 and 1996/97 – and their first aim in Group F will be to do better than finish third. That has been their concluding position in three of their five campaigns; in the others they finished fourth.

In 30 group matches over five campaigns, the Bucharest club has amassed just four wins – and ten draws – and only two of those victories have come at home. I cannot see Steaua adding to their win total here against a Bayern Munich team led by new coach Jürgen Klinsmann. I expect Bayern to win this one by a couple of goals.

Lyon v Fiorentina – Buy Olympique Lyonnais – Fiorentina Tickets
The group stage of the UEFA Champions League has proved a happy hunting ground for Olympique Lyonnais. They finished second behind FC Barcelona last season but previously had posted four successive first-place finishes. The problem for Lyon has been the knockout rounds where they never play up to their potential.

Lyon has an impressive home record in the Champions League with a record of W13 D8 L2 over their last 23 home games.

This is a tough game for a Fiorentina side that qualified for the group stages after coming through the third qualifying round. Fiorentina is probably hoping to finish third in this group and qualify for the UEFA Cup and I expect Lyon to win this game.

Porto v Fenerbahçe – Buy FC Porto – Fenerbahce Tickets
After guiding Spain to the UEFA EURO 2008 title in June, Luis Aragonés now turns his sights to Europe’s leading club prize as his Fenerbahçe SK side starts their Group G campaign with a visit to FC Porto.

Under Aragonés’s predecessor Zico, the Istanbul club reached the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals for the first time last term and a handful of their players – notably three-goal striker Semih Şentürk – subsequently helped lead Turkey’s push to the semi-finals of UEFA EURO 2008, where they lost out narrowly to Germany.

This is the sixth consecutive group-stage campaign for Porto and only once in the past five seasons have they failed to progress to the knockout phase.

Porto is another team with a great home record having lost just one of their last 20 home ties in the competition, winning ten of them. Fenerbahçe does not travel well having lost six and drawn two of their last eight UEFA Champions League away fixtures and I expect this trend to continue with a home win for Porto.

Dynamo Kyiv v Arsenal
FC Dynamo Kyiv will go into their UEFA Champions’ League Group G opener against Arsenal FC with something to prove after a hugely disappointing performance in last season’s competition.

The Ukrainian side did not pick up a single point in the 2007/08 group stage – the worst record of any of the 32 teams.

Arsenal who will be lead by England sensation Theo Walcott side will be looking to win for the first time on Ukraine soil after losing in three previous trips.

This is a really tough trip for Arsenal, who is much more comfortable playing at home than on the road, and while I think Arsenal will qualify from this group I expect them to lose this match to Kyiv.

Juventus v Zenit – Buy Juventus – Zenit St Petersburg Tickets
This is one of the premier ties of the first round. You have the 1996 winners Juventus back in the Champions League after a two-year absence versus an FC Zenit St. Petersburg side who are the reigning season’s UEFA Cup and UEFA Super Cup holders.

Juventus are really hard to beat at the Stadio delle Alpi in recent years. Between 2004 and 2006 they played ten Champions League home games, winning eight, drawing two and conceding just two goals.

Zenit who looked really impressive in defeating Manchester United in the UEFA Super Cup last month are led by Pavel Pogrebnyak, Danny and Andrei Arshavin.

This might be the toughest group with three really good teams in it. I can see Juventus just doing enough to win this game, but I would not be shocked if either Juventus or Real Madrid does not qualify from this group.

Real Madrid v BATE – Buy Real Madrid – FC BATE Borisov Tickets
This should be an easy victory for Bernd Schuster’s team as they take on Group H outsiders FC BATE Borisov, who are the first representatives from Belarus to compete in the group stage of the competition.

This is Real Madrid’s 13th campaign in the UEFA Champions League and they have not failed to progress through the initial stage in any of their 12 campaigns to date and have topped their group on no less than seven occasions.

There will be much tougher nights ahead for Real Madrid, but I expect them to win this game easily.

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