The four English teams move into the third round of the Champions League Group Stage this week with only Arsenal and Manchester United still on maximum points after the opening two match nights.
Arsenal head Group B on six points and play Schalke 04 at the Emirates on Wednesday looking to make it nine points from nine whilst Man Utd host Portuguese side, SC Braga, at Old Trafford on Tuesday in Group H looking to do exactly the same as the Gunners and make qualification to the knock out stage all but a formality after missing out 12 months ago.
Defending Champions Chelsea have a tough looking match as they travel to the Ukraine to take on Shakhtar Donetsk in Group E with both teams locked at the top of the Group on four points each, while Premier League Champions, Manchester City, who’ve only a point to show from their openign two matches travel to Amsterdam on Wednesday where they play Ajax in what is a “must win” game for them.
Here I take a look at each game and offer my not so expert tips…
Manchester United v SC Braga
United are the 1/3 odds on favourites to claim the three points in this game whilst the Portuguese side, who were finalists in the Europa League in 2011, are as big as 9/1 to cause an upset, with the draw a 5/2 chance.
United have never lost a home game to a Portuguese side in their history but Sir Alex Ferguson will not allow for any complacency. Indeed he will remind his players that Braga are unbeaten in their last seven matches away from home and are also unbeaten in five games against English sides. They drew recently with Liverpool and beat Birmingham City in last season’s Europa League.
It should be a closer match than the bookmakers odds suggest and it should also be noted that United only managed to beat Galatasaray 1-0 at Old Trafford whilst Braga managed to beat them 2-0 in Turkey.
United are taken to win the game though by a score of 2-0 and who else than back Robin Van Persie to be on the score-sheet with the first goal of the match?
Shakhtar Donetsk v Chelsea
The home team have been made the narrow favourite to win this first match between the two teams in Group with Betfred pricing a Braga win at 6/4 and a Chelsea victory at 15/8; the draw can be backed at 12/5.
Both sides are unbeaten in their last five games in all competitions but Chelsea has been finding the net for fun with 20 goals in those five games alone. The attacking options available to Roberto Di Matteo and his Blues side are profound, with Torres, Mata, Hazard and Oscar forging a great understanding amongst themselves. Even when that quartet is not playing together, they have Ramirez and Lampard to replace them, who are also proven in front of goal this season.
That said, Shakhtar are no slouches in front of goal either but it is their defence that has been its strength conceding only four goals in the last five games, while scoring 11. Home advantage will be an important factor as will the partisan crowd and that is why the call is for this game to end in a draw with both sides scoring at least once each. In overall terms, the draw would favour Chelsea which is why they are now worth backing to win the group with odds of 10/11.
On Wednesday night, it is the turn of Arsenal and Premier League Champions, Manchester City, to step up to the Champions League plate and strengthen their claims to reach the knock out stages of this season’s competition. Arsenal of course is well poised to qualify in Group B with maximum points from their opening two games whilst Man City on the other hand has it all to do against Ajax after losing away to Real Madrid and gaining only a point at home to Dortmund.
Arsenal v Schalke 04
Home advantage might just be enough to secure Arsenal the three points in what looks to be a very close game in prospect against Schalke 04. The German team will come to North London full of confidence as they sit in third place currently in the Bundesliga and their quality was reinforced recently with a victory over German Champions Borussia Dortmund. History however does tell us that against English opposition they under-perform with only one win in their last eight European games against Premier League sides and it is also worth noting that Schalke has failed to score against English opposition in four of their last five games against them.
Arsenal come into the match on the back of a surprise defeat against Norwich City in the league at the weekend and an ever growing injury list, which will mean that there will be no part to play in this match for the likes of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Bacary Sagna, Abou Diaby, Tomas Rosicky, Kieran Gibbs, Theo Walcott, Wojzciech Szczesny and Laurent Koscielny. They will have Jack Wilshere back in the squad at last after he returned to full time football following 17 months out injured.
Prior to the weekend’s setback, Arsenal had previously looked to be making good progress both in the league and in Europe and Arsene Wenger will see this game as an opportunity to get their season back on track and at a shade over even money (11/10), the Gunners are worth backing to make it three wins from three in the competition.
Ajax v Manchester City
Both teams come into this crucial match at the Amsterdam Arena knowing that defeat will almost certainly cost them any further Champions League hopes this season. Ajax is currently pointless having been walloped at home in their last Group D game against Real Madrid by 4-1. Before that, they lost 1-0 to Dortmund and now sit at the bottom of Group D pointless.
City meanwhile have not fared much better with defeat at Real Madrid and a home draw against Dortmund, leaving them with just one point and will be without star midfielder David Silva, who is out with injury.
Although the two teams have never met each other before, City will be heartened by the fact that Ajax has not beaten an English side on home soil since they beat Nottingham Forest in 1980, although they defeated City’s rivals, Manchester United, at Old Trafford last season in the Europa League.
City seem able to be able to “pull out the stops” when needed and are more than capable of coming away from Amsterdam with all three points. Manager, Roberto Mancini is likely to play the in form Edi Dzecko up front alongside Sergio Aguero and use a four man midfield of Yaya Toure, Gareth Barry, James Milner and Samir Nasri.
The bookmakers have made the visitors the 8/11 favourite to win the match with Ajax a 4/1 chance and the draw around 11/4. As such, a correct score on City is the way to go for a bit of value and a 2-0 win is the prediction.
Champions League Picks
Selection: United to win 2-0 @ 11/2
Donetsk and Chelsea match to end in a 1-1 draw @ 11/2
Arsenal to win @ 11/10
Ajax 0-2 Manchester City @ 8/1
If you fancy all four Premier League teams winning this week, the odds are just over 15/1 with Bet Victor.
All odds taken from champions-league.betting-directory.com