UEFA Champions League Group F preview: Bayern favoured to win group

4 December 2012 10:06

German giants Bayern Munich are on track to finish top of Group F ahead of Valencia on Wednesday.

Last season’s UEFA Champions League finalists are level on points with the La Liga club but their superior head-to-head record means they will advance from the group as winners with victory at home to BATE Borisov.

Bayern have only lost two of their past 15 league and cup fixtures, one of those defeats coming against BATE in October.

The Bundesliga leaders have been close to faultless this season as they look to end Borussia Dortmund’s domination of German football and avenge their heartbreaking loss to Chelsea in May’s Champions League decider.

Bayern’s attacking displays this season have wowed the football world, with a whopping 51 goals scored in 20 Bundesliga and European games this season.

And while the likes of Mario Mandzukic (nine goals), Thomas Mueller (eight goals) and Toni Kroos (six goals) have caught the eye, it’s Bayern’s defence that deserves plenty of praise.

Philipp Lahm, Jerome Boateng, Dante and Holger Badstuber have formed Bundesliga’s best defence, conceding just six goals, while shipping six in the Champions League.

Wednesday’s opponents BATE got off to a flying start in Europe, beating Lille and Bayern in their opening two games but it has been slim pickings since, losing three on the bounce.

The nine-time Belarusian champions sit three points clear of Lille in Group F however they are still guaranteed European football in the New Year regardless of Wednesday’s result because of their super head-to-head record against the Ligue 1 club.

Valencia have secured a place in the knockout phase but could still pip Bayern into top spot if results go their way.

The scenario is simple for Valencia they must beat Lille and hope Bayern fail to win in Belarus.

Assistant coach Voro takes temporary charge of first-team duties following the sacking of Mauricio Pellegrino after their hefty 5-2 defeat to Real Sociedad at the weekend.

And he will hope for another strong performance from leading marksman Roberto Soldado, who has 14 goals in his past 14 Champions League games.

Lille have already been eliminated and are facing their worst-ever performance in the Champions League but they will be buoyed by Valencia’s away record in Europe which has resulted in just two wins in 11 games.

UEFA Champions League Group E preview: Chelsea exit looms

4 December 2012 10:05

Chelsea’s hopes of qualifying from the Champions League group stage hang by a thread as Juventus look to progress to the knockout rounds.

In what promises to be another dramatic night in Group E, title holders Chelsea head into their clash with Norsjaelland knowing their future in the competition depends on Juventus losing to group leaders Shakhtar Donetsk on Wednesday.

Chelsea’s 3-0 loss to Juve in the last round ended up costing Roberto Di Matteo his job, despite him taking the club through to their Champions League triumph over Bayern Munich last May after Andre Villas-Boas was sacked.

And, Di Matteo’s replacement, Rafael Benitez, already finds himself under some pressure. Unpopular with many Chelsea supporters due to his time at Liverpool, Benitez’s stock has already taken more of a dive as a creditable 0-0 draw with Manchester City was followed by a 3-1 loss to West Ham last weekend.

If the Blues were to bow out of the Champions League on Wednesday, it is unlikely it would be Benitez’s fault, although that may not save him from further scrutiny.

With seven points to their name and a weaker head-to-head record against the Italian champions, Chelsea can advance to the next stage only if they defeat Nordsjaelland and Juve (nine points) lose to Shakhtar (10).

Chelsea’s bid to do that would have been greatly helped by the leadership of John Terry and Frank Lampard, but while the pair will reportedly train this week, Benitez looks likely to take a cautious approach with their return from knee and calf injuries respectively.

Juventus, meanwhile, head to Ukraine following a tougher than expected battle with derby rivals Torino on the weekend.

Although the final scoreline of 3-0 looks like an emphatic result for Juve, all three of those goals came in the second half as the Serie A giants struggled to break down their resilient opponents until Kamil Glik’s dismissal gave Juventus an edge.

Up to that point in time, Juve looked like a side with bigger things on their mind as they went through the motions somewhat against Torino, especially as the club have generally opted to play a similar line-up in Serie A as they do in Europe.

But Juve will have to be far better in Wednesday’s game as Shakhtar boast one of the more imposing home records in world football.

The Ukrainian side have not been beaten at the Donbass Arena since June 24 when Rubin Kazan edged them out 3-2 and have a 100 percent record at the venue in this season’s edition of the Champions League.

Valencia deny Gago exit talk

4 December 2012 10:02

Fernando Gago has not demanded to leave Valencia, the president of the La Liga club has said.

Manuel Llorente insists that reports suggesting that the Argentine midfielder had demanded a January transfer following the firing of coach Mauricio Pellegrino are inaccurate.

While the club supremo is unaware of such a request, he has admitted that the former Real Madrid man was not happy with the decision to sack countryman Pellegrino.

“Gago has not told me he wants to leave in the past 24 hours. When Pellegrino was fired he was one of the angriest players, but what he said should stay in the dressing room,” Llorente told AS.

“At no moment did I ever interpret it as him wanting to leave the club. He was definitely angry and affected by the news, as were other players.

“If anyone does want to leave, the door is open, but if both sides are willing, we will carry on as before.”

The 26-year-old Gago joined Valencia from Real in the close-season transfer window and has made 14 official appearances for the club.

Mosimane calls for patience

4 December 2012 09:54

New Mamelodi Sundowns coach Pitso Mosimane believes the club needs time to get out of their slump and has refused to set short-term goals.

In his first press conference since taking over from Johan Neeskens, who was sacked earlier this week, Mosimane said: “I am here to help Sundowns and to stabilise the team. I would also like to see Sundowns in a better position (in the league standings).

“I think we all know that Sundowns deserve to be in a better position and I think the family of Mamelodi Sundowns deserves that respect.

“I need time to turn things in the team around. Rome was not built in one day and if you look at the last five years, it has been a little bit difficult for Downs.”

Mosimane has not worked since the South African national team fired him in June and said he is honoured to return to top-flight management.

“I feel very humbled and privileged,” Mosimane said.

The Sundowns, second from bottom in the Premier Soccer League standings, have managed only two victories from their 12 league encounters this season, their worst start in the league.

“When you sign a contract at this level, we all know that it is a hot seat,” Mosimane said.

“We all know that there is pressure and stress. We always find a lot of hurdles in football and, yes, I agree that we may stumble a bit, but I believe that I have experience and knowledge of the local game.

“I believe that I inherited a very good team of individuals, the personnel is good, but as they say in football, numbers don’t lie.

“The amount of points Sundowns have won, the amount of goals scored and conceded … don’t lie. It reflects the current situation.”

Nani in United calendar snub

4 December 2012 09:46

Manchester United’s Nani faces renewed speculation over his Old Trafford future after being omitted from the club’s official 2013 calendar.

The 25-year-old’s contract negotiations at Old Trafford have been stalling for a number of months and the close-season arrivals of Shinji Kagawa and Robin van Persie have only intensified the competition for attacking places in Sir Alex Ferguson’s side.

The latest development also comes in the wake of recent reports which revealed interest being shown in the winger from Italian giants AC Milan and Juventus.

The Portuguese international has made just 11 appearances in all competitions this term, with the likes of Ashley Young, Danny Welbeck and Wayne Rooney often preferred.