Gameweek 2 of the Champions League and Europa League: Preview and predictions
We’re already entering the second gameweek of European football, and there are a lot of matches for Portuguese football fans to keep their eyes on.
With five Portuguese teams in action, in addition to Nuno’s Wolves and their heavy Portuguese contingent, there are many mouthwatering prospects for fans to look forward to.
Meanwhile, Pedro Martins’ Olympiakos clash with Red Star Belgrade in Serbia on Tuesday. They will be expecting a very difficult match in hostile conditions, but will be hoping to build on their strong 2-2 draw vs Tottenham in the first match of the group stage.
Another Portuguese manager involved in the Champions League group stage is Luis Castro. His Shakhtar Donetsk side will be hoping to put their 0-3 loss to Manchester City behind them, taking on Atalanta in Italy on Tuesday. A loss could make it very difficult for them to make it to the first knockout round.
In the Europa League, Paulo Fonseca’s Roma take on Wolfsberger in Austria, having won their first match vs Turkish runners-up Istanbul Basaksehir 4-0 two weeks ago. They will be expecting a tricky game, with Wolfsberger having earned a shock 0-4 victory over German outfit Borussia Monchengladbach.
Zenit St Petersburg vs Benfica
The first big match for fans of Portuguese football to look forward to this week, though, is Zenit vs Benfica. A huge match for both sides, it already feels like a game that neither side can afford to lose.
In a group as tight as this, with Leipzig and Lyon the other two members battling it out to make it to the round of 16, no side can really afford any major slip-ups. And, after losing at home to RB Leipzig in their first match of the group stage, another defeat today for Benfica will make even the most optimistic of supporters doubt that they can make it out of the group.
Zenit were, officially, the pot 1 side in the group and therefore, on paper, this should be the hardest match Benfica will play. In reality, that’s probably not the case, and this is a match that Benfica will really be looking to get all three points to put them in a good position to secure a top 2 finish in the group.
Predicted score: Zenit 1-1 Benfica.
Feyenoord vs FC Porto
Porto earned a narrow 2-1 victory over Swiss champions Young Boys in their first Europa League match of the campaign. It was tense towards the end and, bar three or four sparks of real quality, wasn’t particularly pretty, but the 3 points was what mattered the most.
They now come up against Dutch outfit Feyenoord, who suffered a narrow 1-0 defeat to Rangers in their first Europa League game of the group stage, and are therefore going to be keen to earn something against FC Porto.
However, Porto are firm favourites to finish 1st and progress to the next round of the Europa League out of the four sides, being the only genuine Champions League calibre outfit in the group, and Feyenoord are therefore likely going to be quite defensive in this one, looking to earn a very respectable point from the game.
The question is therefore whether Porto will have enough about them to unlock Feyenoord and earn a vital victory that will put them in pole position to make it out of the group. And you have to think that they will, boasting a squad containing a wealth of attacking talent.
Feynoord do come into the match on a high though, having beaten FC Twente 5-1 in their last Eredivisie match, which saw them go to 6th place in the league standings. They therefore shouldn’t be underestimated, and proved in that last outing that they have more than enough about them to get a goal or two.
Nevertheless, another narrow victory could well be on the cards for Porto, though being held to a draw is perceivable. Porto should not be losing this one, though, even if they are performing well in the league.
Predicted score: Feyenoord 1-2 FC Porto
Sporting CP vs LASK
LASK are a side that many across the continent won’t be familiar with - but they shouldn’t be underestimated. Having finished 2nd in Austria last season, they qualified for the Champions League qualifying rounds, and reached the play-off round, going one better than FC Porto.
Indeed, in their brief but ultimately relatively successful Champions League campaign, LASK beat Basel both home and away to reach the play-off round, securing a 5-2 aggregate win over the prestigious Swiss side.
To put that into context, the round before that, Basel actually knocked out PSV on away goals, and PSV obviously beat Sporting 3-2 in the first match of the Europa League. In a roundabout way, therefore, LASK’s recent results mean that they certainly have what it takes to beat Sporting.
A loss for Sporting, at home to their nearest rivals for 2nd place in this group, would be nothing short of disastrous. It would put LASK on 6 points from their opening two games, with Sporting 6 points behind, yet to get off the mark. It would make their chances of progressing very slim indeed.
Even a draw would make life complicated, putting a lot of pressure on them to beat Rosenborg both home and away, and then secure a result away to LASK in their final match of the group stage.
Sporting will therefore be looking to win the match and, when you have Bruno Fernandes in your side, anything is possible. Anybody expecting a comfortable victory for Sporting on Thursday, though, is likely in for a shock. LASK have proven that they are a team to fear.
Predicted score: Sporting CP 2-1 LASK.
Braga vs Slovan Bratislava
Braga have certainly eased the pressure on themselves after that spectacular victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers two weeks ago, but know that a lot of work is ahead of them if they are hoping to capitalise on their hard work.
They now take on the side from pot 4, Slovan Bratislava, at The Quarry. It’s a match that, before the tournament began, you’d have seen as a must-win match for Braga, hosting the team that are, on paper, the weakest side in the group. And, although they already have three more points on the board than many would have anticipated, not too much has changed since then.
It may have become even more important to secure a win having seen Bratislava earn a stunning 4-2 victory over Besiktas in the first round of the group stage. If Braga don’t win, then suddenly what was perceived as a three-horse race for qualification becomes 4.
From a neutral perspective, a loss for Braga would certainly make this group highly intriguing. It would see the highly unfancied Bratislava go top of the table, at least three points clear of all the other three teams in the group, and would make them favourites to progress to the next round, something that, before the tournament, seemed beyond unlikely.
Braga losing, though, seems highly unlikely, but their opponents most certainly shouldn’t be underestimated. Indeed, in a group where all of Braga, Wolves and Besiktas are all struggling domestically, it is Slovan Bratislava that have been performing best in their national league, sitting top of the Slovakian standings with 25 points ftom 10 games, an average of 2.5 points every match.
Compare that to Braga (1.15 points per game), Wolves (1.00), and Besiktas (0.83) and you can see who the in-form team in this group actually is.
Nevertheless, their win over Besiktas certainly relied on a lot of poor defending on the part of the Turkish outfit, and we know that Braga are a well-drilled compact unit when required, as seen against Wolves, so it should be a different story this time. It will be tight, but Braga should just about have enough to make this a perfect start to their European adventure.
Predicted score: Braga 2-1 Slovan Bratislava
Besiktas vs Wolves
How big this match has now become. It was always seen as a significant match, but after their results in the first round of the group stage, it has been upped a level or two.
Both sides would have fully expected to have at least a point on the board after the first gameweek and heading into this match, and yet neither have anything to show for their efforts so far this campaign, with Wolves losing 0-1 at home to a resilient and experienced Braga side, and Besiktas falling to defeat in Slovakia against Slovan Bratislava.
These two were widely seen as the top two sides in this group, expected by most football fans across the continent to be the two teams battling it out to top the group - if that is still to be the case, they’ll need to improve significantly on their previous group stage showings.
Wolves come into this match having just earned their first win of the season domestically, a huge victory that saw them jump up the table and clear of the drop zone at this very early stage. Besiktas, meanwhile, come into this match in absolute turmoil, having picked up just 5 points from their opening 6 league games, sitting in the relegation zone in the Turkish top flight. Now is as good a time as any to play them.
But of course, Besiktas, like many Turkish clubs, are difficult to predict. One week they can be spectacular, another they can be a disaster. Which Besiktas will show up will determine this result.
Nevertheless, despite it being in Turkey in what is expected to be a highly hostile environment, Wolves will fancy their chances. Their win over Watford at the weekend will have done them a great deal of good, and they will carry that into the match with Besiktas. One thing seems clear, though… This is going to be an enthralling clash.
Predicted score: Besiktas 1-2 Wolves.
Vitoria Guimaraes vs Eintracht Frankfurt
It cannot be overstated how well Guimaraes have done just to get to this point. Going through three round of qualifying, they were unseeded in the play-off round, but overcame FCSB to reach the Europa League proper. The fact they were handed such a challenging group was unfair reward for their hard work, but they will be excited to test themselves against top opposition with no pressure on them to succeed.
They are doing well in the Primeira Liga, which will now be their priority having seen the group they were handed in the Europa League, but will be looking to do the fans proud on the continental stage too. Their 2-0 loss to Standard Liege in the first game of the competition was hugely disappointing, and pretty much ended any hopes they had of reaching the Europa League Round of 32, but the score did not reflect their performance, with Guimaraes probably edging the match overall.
Nevertheless, Guimaraes now have nothing to lose against a German outfit that will be desperate for victory as they look to get some points on the board. It could certainly suit Guimaraes, who have some real flair on the wings that could work perfectly on the counter.
Some might expect a comfortable win for Eintracht Frankfurt, though Guimaraes won’t make it easy for them. I could even see the first half finishing in a stalemate, though over the course of 90 minutes, it’s impossible to look beyond a Frankfurt victory. A good performance from Guimaraes and a narrow defeat will send the fans home contented.
Predicted score: Vitoria Guimaraes 0-2 Eintracht Frankfurt.