UCL Preview: Schalke, Chelsea in crucial clash, Liverpool look to get back in the mix, more

IMAGE, CHELSEAFC.COM

by MATTHEW LEVINE
Staff Writer

Schalke will host Chelsea in what will be a pivotal game in Group G. The Blues can secure their berth in the Round of 16 with a win or draw, while Schalke can move to the top of the group if they grab all three points.

The sides played to a 1-1 draw earlier in the group stages, but Schalke will be under a different philosophy in Germany. Former Chelsea manager Roberto Di Matteo, who led them to their Champions League title, is now in charge.

Chelsea is always dangerous with Cesc Fabregas pulling the strings, Diego Costa leading the line and talent such as Eden Hazard on the flanks. Even on their home ground, Schalke may need to absorb pressure and look to hit on the counter.

Klass-Jan Huntelaar scored the equalizer earlier in the group stage when the sides met and he will be lurking to pounce on any opportunity.

With the strength of the Chelsea team the form they’re in, opportunities for Schalke may very well be few and far between. With Chelsea only needing a point to ensure qualification, Schalke may have to go for it, particularly late on the match if it’s level.  They will just need to be careful of getting hit on the counter and putting their own chances of advancement in a more precarious position.

What To Look For

1. Liverpool looks to get back in running with win– The Champions League return has not been kind to Liverpool. However, other than Real Madrid, a second team from the group has not risen to the surface.

With Basel FC in second and playing against Real, Liverpool can take control of their advancement chances, especially with a game still to come against Basel.

The Reds put out a weakened side last time against Real Madrid, but Brendan Rodgers must choose the strongest side available to him.

Liverpool have already beaten Ludogorets once — although it took a late penalty to do so. The Reds will have to shake off recent poor results not just in European competition, but in domestic play as well.

If they can up their performance behind experienced leaders such as Steven Gerrard, there should be no reason why the Reds don’t head back to England with a vital three points.

2. Can Arsenal solidify second?– Arsenal was minutes from securing second spot in Group D, but let a lead slip to Anderlecht at the Emirates Stadium.

The Gunners will play there once more, but look for a better result. They will play Borussia Dortmund, who have already secured their involvement in the Round of 16. Arsenal need just a point to follow them there.

That task could have been eased had Olivier Giroud been apart of the squad, but an admin error will keep the French striker out.

Dortmund have yet yet to lost on their travels in the group and can take confidence from their earlier win over the Gunners by a score of 2-0.

Arsenal were split open too easily at times last time out against Dortmund. While the Gunners like to throw numbers forward, they will be wise to start out conservatively, despite being at home.

3. Juventus, Olympiacos both need result– Juventus and Olympiacos may not be playing each other, but they certainly are battling. With both on six points, one can take full control of their destiny with a win.

Juventus will have the simpler of tasks facing Malmo, who is currently at the bottom of the group. The Italian side has already defeated Malmo once. However, to take control of second should Olympiacos lose against Atletico Madrid, Juventus has to do what they haven’t in the group so far. They will have to score away from home and thus get their first win.

Olympiacos has already beaten Atletico once so far in the first game in the group. However, Atletico has shown great improvement since that loss, winning the next three games. For Olympiacos to level on points, they will have to get their first ever win and first one away from home so far in the group. The Spanish side has been nearly perfect at home in European competition, winning 19 of their last 21. That bodes well for the home side that can secure qualification to the next round with the win.

4. Man City looks for first group stage win– Manchester City have continued to capitulate in the group stage and yet they are still not out of the running. In fact, their first win in the group will put them right in the mix for advancing as the second team.

They will have to find their first win against the staunchest of opponents. Bayern Munich is perfect so and already beat Man City 1-0 with a late Jerome Boateng goal.

The home side may take some confidence from the way they were able to repel Bayern Munich for almost a full 90 minutes in Germany, but will need to still be better in many ways to get a result this time around.

With the group already sewn up, Pep Guardiola faces a decision. Will he rest several regulars or put out his strongest team? Most likely, it could be a mix of both as Bayern is merely playing for just points at the moment.

5. PSG look to stay atop Group F– Paris St. Germain sit atop Group F, but by the slimmest of margins. Barcelona is just below them one point adrift. While PSG already has qualification into the next round completed, they will look to continue to take points and secure the top spot and avoid a much tougher match-up in the Round of 16 if they can.

They’ve already drawn Ajax early in the competition, but PSG are heavy favorites at home with a current 31 unbeaten run in UEFA competition. PSG’s attack with Zlatan Ibrahimovic spearheading it will look to trouble the Ajax backline and should find success doing so.