Juventus v Maccabi Haifa
Juventus are in serious trouble when it comes to their Champions League campaign. They have got no points after the first two games and anything other than a win here against Maccabi Haifa would almost certainly put an end to their qualification hopes.
They returned from the international break by putting in a good performance against a poor Bologna side as they won 3-0 at the Allianz Stadium. There appeared to be a bit more attacking verve from the Bianconeri than we have come accustomed too from Massimiliano Allegri’s side.
The goals came from Serbian duo Filip Kostic and Dusan Vlahovic, before a third was rifled in by Arkadiusz Milik. They should be carrying that way of playing into this one as they are more than good enough to put a few goals past Maccabi Haifa.
Despite that, it just does not seem to be in their nature in this tournament to score a lot of goals. They are likely to take the lead and then begin conserving their advantage with the Serie A match against AC Milan on their horizon which takes place on Saturday. They would probably still do the same even if there was no game at the weekend.
Expect them to win, but don’t expect the Israeli opposition to be given a battering.
Sevilla v Borussia Dortmund
Sevilla vs Borussia Dortmund could end up being Julen Lopetegui’s last game as Sevilla coach. They’ve had a terrible start to the new season and sit 17th in LaLiga, most recently losing 2-0 at home to Atlético Madrid, a game which they could have lost by much more.
The atmosphere for that most recent loss at the Estadio Ramón Sánchez-Pizjuán was tense, angry and almost nasty, as there is a clear disconnect between the fanbase and the team right now. Sevilla really don’t have a home advantage at this moment in time, having played four home fixtures this season, with three defeats and one draw and with just one goal scored at the same time as conceding 10. The Sevilla players, therefore, might actually have preferred to have the away game at Signal Iduna Park up first. But, that’s not how the schedule falls.
Even though Borussia Dortmund still have many injury concerns, including over key pieces like Gregor Kobel, Mats Hummels, Marius Wolf, Mahmoud Dahoud and Marco Reus, they do have most of their main attacking starters available. So, they can certainly take advantage of Sevilla’s terrible defensive record, with the Spanish side set to be without centre-backs Marcão and Karim Rekik, left-back Marcos Acuña and holding midfielder Fernando Reges, all of whom would have been in line to start had they been fit.
Surely this is once again going to leave goalkeeper Bono with a lot of work to do. Sevilla have conceded an average of 1.89 goals per game this season and the only reason it isn’t more is because of the Moroccan shot-stopper, as they’ve faced an average xG against of 2.24 per game. They now face a Dortmund side that has scored 1.64 on average per game, off an xG of 1.84 per game. There’s every chance that the German side will add to Sevilla’s misery and send Lopetegui packing.
Benfica v PSG
After beginning their campaign with 13 consecutive victories under new manager Roger Schmidt, Benfica dropped points for the first time on Saturday with a 0-0 draw against Vitoria. Despite missing right back Miguel Maga and striker Andre Silva, the hosts delivered a valiant performance in Guimaraes, hitting on the counter with ease and recording 7 shots to Benfica’s 7 and 1 shot on target to Benfica’s 1, and coming close to securing two penalties only to be denied on both occasions, with Benfica being held to just one shot on target for the first time since April 2021. The attack of Goncalo Ramos, Rafa Silva, Joao Mario and David Neres was kept under wraps by a back three featuring Andre Amaro, Mikel Villanueva, and Ibrahima Bamba, a natural defensive midfielder who excelled in the middle of a back three as Benfica suffered their first hiccup of the 2022/23 campaign. Benfica’s next opponent, like Vitoria, operates in a 3-4-3 system, but unlike Vitoria, is teeming with world-class talent in midfield and attack.
Last year, Benfica, Paris Saint-Germain and Napoli entered October as the only undefeated teams remaining in Europe’s major leagues, only for Benfica to begin the month with a 1-0 defeat to Portimonense at home and quickly collapse with a draw to Estoril and defeats to Porto and Sporting seeing Jorge Jesus receive his marching orders on the cusp of the new year and be replaced by Nelson Verissimo. The 2020/21 season would see Benfica pick up five wins on the bounce to start the campaign (which began in late September) only to fall to the wayside and finish third under Jesus. It remains to be seen how Benfica respond to their draw against Vitoria, but for the moment, they are still one of the remaining undefeated teams in Europe alongside Real Madrid, Manchester City, Napoli, Atalanta, Paris Saint-Germain and Lens. Whilst Benfica enjoy a three-point advantage over Braga and Porto atop the Primeira Liga, PSG are two points above Marseille, three above Lorient and four above Lens with 25 points.
Apart from a 1-1 draw to Monaco on August 28, Les Parisiens have won each of their 11 fixtures under Christophe Galtier, including victories against Juventus and Maccabi Haifa that see them enter Wednesday’s match-up with Benfica level atop Group H with 6 points. Benfica have conceded slightly fewer (3) than Paris Saint-Germain (5), but PSG’s attack (28) blows them out of the water (19) – only Manchester City have scored more than PSG in Europe’s major leagues. PSG have finished atop their Champions League group in four of the last five seasons, the sole exception coming last season as City finished one point above them, and they’ll be looking to get another big result in Lisbon.
With Kylian Mbappe, Lionel Messi and Neymar clicking on all cylinders, and Marco Verratti expected to return to the starting line-up after suffering an injury in a 1-0 win at Lyon and play in midfield alongside Vitinha, PSG should have enough in the tank to give Benfica their first defeat of the season. Benfica have had their fair share of close calls this season against Vizela, Famalicao, Casa Pia and Pacos de Ferreira, but until now, they’ve managed to avoid danger with a defensive pairing of 18-year-old center back Antonio Silva, who made his professional debut on August 27 and has since emerged as a starter alongside 34-year-old captain Nicolas Otamendi following the injury of Morato, but this upcoming duel against Les Parisiens will prove to be a baptism of fire for the teenage defender. I’m expecting Mbappe, Messi and Neymar to come out on top in what should prove to be a captivating encounter at the Estadio da Luz.
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