Maccabi Haifa v Juventus
The mood around Juventus is already very different to what it was when the full time whistle blew at the Allianz Stadium at the end of last week’s match between these two sides. The Bianconeri had just beaten Bologna 3-0 and then got their first points on the board in the Champions League this season by winning 3-1 and reigniting their hopes of qualification.
At the weekend though, they put in a truly dismal display against AC Milan at San Siro and were easily beaten 2-0 by the Italian champions. It reminded all the fans of the negative approach that Massimiliano Allegri takes to so many games, despite having so many deeply talented players at his disposal.
There will be less excitement from Juve fans coming into this match in Israel, but they should still be getting the three points nonetheless. Allegri’s response to criticism is so often to double-down, and that is why he could take a very pragmatic approach to this away game in Europe.
He will likely try to pick up an early lead for his side and then sit back and allow Maccabi Haifa to see what they can do, conserving energy and resting key players in the process. That lends itself to a low-scoring game of football, even if there were four goals in the reverse fixture last week.
Borussia Dortmund v Sevilla
Quite a lot has changed at Sevilla in the six days since these sides last met. Borussia Dortmund’s dominant 4-1 victory in Seville spelled the end for coach Julen Lopetegui and he was replaced by Jorge Sampaoli, with the Argentine returning to the club he previously coached in 2016/17.
He changed a lot already as Sevilla earned a 1-1 draw against Athletic Club on Saturday, but this remains a poor Sevilla team and, most notably, one whose fitness is shockingly poor. They tired towards the end against Athletic and that’s a concern as Sevilla now travel to Dortmund. The Spanish side have the oldest average age in this year’s Champions League, while the German squad is the third-youngest, so it’s hard to see Sevilla keeping up in the cauldron of the Westfalenstadion.
Further highlighting Sevilla’s awful squad planning is the fact that their best performer of recent weeks, Óliver Torres, isn’t registered for the Champions League. He scored his third goal of the season against Athletic, playing as the No.10, but he’ll have to watch on from home this midweek, as will starting defensive midfielder Fernando Reges, who still isn’t fit.
Borussia Dortmund, meanwhile, are gradually welcoming more and more players back from injury and Edin Terzić’s side come into this one in high spirits, after Anthony Modeste’s last-gasp equaliser against Bayern Munich in Der Klassiker on Saturday. Against the same players they thrashed on the road last midweek, Borussia Dortmund should have more to celebrate this Tuesday.
PSG v Benfica
Only six teams in Europe’s top six leagues remain undefeated in all competitions: Manchester City, Real Madrid, Atalanta, Napoli, Paris Saint-Germain and Benfica. The latter two sides settled for a 1-1 draw in Lisbon and will be looking to do battle again on Tuesday at the Parc de Princes. Both sides are missing key figures in attack – Lionel Messi will be unavailable for Paris Saint-Germain due to injury after scoring the opener in the Estádio da Luz in the 22nd minute, only for Portuguese international Danilo Pereira to deflect a cross from Enzo Fernández into the back of his own net before the break. Messi ran the show in attack as PSG’s pushed Benfica deeper into their own half in the second half with Greek goalkeeper Odysseas Vlachodimos forced to make seven saves in 90 minutes as Benfica held onto a point at home, a match that would also see Portuguese left wingback Nuno Mendes exit the match for Juan Bernat – he will miss the next month with an Achilles injury. The hosts will be without Messi, Mendes, Renato Sanches, and Presnel Kimpembe as they look to welcome Roger Schmidt’s side to the French capital, whilst David Neres will be unavailable for Benfica. With Messi picking up a minor calf injury in Portugal, PSG traveled to Reims and found themselves reduced to 10 men as Sergio Ramos picked up a direct red in the 41st minute after complaining a little too loudly to the referee, and despite Christophe Galtier subbing off the booked Marco Verratti for Vitinha at halftime and bringing on Neymar for Carlos Soler in the 57th minute, PSG were forced to settle with a 0-0 draw at the Stade Auguste-Delaune II. Despite having 64% possession, Les Parisiens registered just 11 shots in comparison to Reims’ 24 as well as 3 shots on goal to Reims’ 4.
It was the fourth time in the past six games that a PSG game ended with less than 2.5 goals, the sole exceptions being a 3-1 win at Maccabi Haifa, with PSG falling behind in the 24th minute, equalizing before the break via Messi, who would set up Kylian Mbappé’s go-ahead goal in the 69th minute with Verratti finding Neymar for the third and final goal in the 88th minute, and a 2-1 win at home against Nice, with Messi breaking the deadlock within a half-hour, Gaetan Laborde equalizing after the break, and PSG taking advantage of a poor kick out of the back from Kasper Schmeichel and Nordi Mukiele finding Mbappé for the winner in the 83rd minute. In addition to their draws to Reims and Benfica, PSG have drawn Monaco 1-1 and beaten Lyon and Brest by 1-0 margins, a sign of a newfound discipline and defensive organization that is taking root at the Parc de Princes under Galtier.
A victory for either side would put them first in their group, but I’m expecting the fear of a loss that would put them second to outweigh attacking ambition in Paris. Even with several major absences, PSG still boast a team that will likely see Gianluigi Donnarumma start in goal, Sergio Ramos, Marquinhos and Danilo occupy the back three, Vitinha and Marco Verratti to play in midfield whilst Achraf Hakimi and Juan Bernt will play as the wingbacks and Pablo Sarabia is expected to partner Mbappé and Neymar in attack. The games are coming thick and fast and injuries are piling up on Les Parisiens in addition to fatigue, and without their joint-top scorer and chief playmaker in Messi, I think PSG could struggle against a Benfica side that has conceded one or fewer goals in seven of their last eight games, the sole exception being at the weekend with Rio Ave taking the lead within six minutes via Fabio Ronaldo, Gonçalo Ramos equalizing in the 13th minute, a horrendous own goal from Rio Ave goalkeeper Jhonathan giving Benfica the lead shortly after, Gonçalo Ramos completing his brace at the cusp of halftime, Petar Musa scoring his debut Benfica goal at the hour-mark, and Guga grabbing a consolation goal in the 86th minute. Benfica have had some close calls in recent weeks including a 0-0 draw at Vitória on October 1, a 1-1 draw to PSG, and 1-0 wins vs. Casa Pia and Famalicão and a 2-1 win vs. Vizela, but they will nevertheless be encouraged from their backs-to-the-wall performance in the second half as they look to emerge with a point and remain level atop the group. They will be looking to do so without David Neres, who has emerged as a vital fixture on the right wing of attack since arriving from Shakhtar in the summer.
Without Neres, Benfica’s attacking threat could suffer tremendously, but they nevertheless have enough quality to take a point in Paris – expect Odysseas Vlachodimos to start in goal, and expect fullbacks Alexander Bah and Alex Grimaldo to come back into the lineup after being rested at the weekend’s 4-2 win vs. Rio Ave alongside center backs Antonio Silva and Nicolas Otamendi. Further forward, there are more doubts – Rafa Silva will likely return to the attack at the expense of PSG loanee Julian Draxler or Diogo Gonçalves alongside João Mário and Gonçalo Ramos, whilst Enzo Fernández will keep his place in the double pivot alongside Florentino Luís, who will likely return to the line-up at the expense of Fredrik Aursnes, although Schmidt also could shift his 4-2-3-1 formation to a 4-3-3 and bring in Aurnses’ physicality and combativeness into a midfield trio alongside Florentino and Enzo. Whilst both sides are keen to come out with three points, both of them are 4 points above Juventus and will be well aware that a draw is not the end of the world – I’m expecting Galtier and Schmidt to keep their cards close to their chests in what should be an entertaining, yet low-scoring fixture.
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