Spotlight on Ronaldo for European homecoming, Servilla-Juventus clash
APREVIEW of today’s Champions League action, as Cristiano Ronaldo goes back to face his first club Sporting Lisbon and Tottenham Hotspur face a crunch trip to Monaco.
Group E CSKA Moscow (RUS) vs Bayer Leverkusen (GER) Morale is rock-bottom in Moscow with CSKA at the bottom of Group E. The defending Russian champions saw their midfielder Roman Eremenko hit with a two-year ban for cocaine use this week after a positive test following these teams’ last meeting in September. Eremenko’s goal in that match brought CSKA level 2-2 after being two goals down. The Muscovites notched just their first win in their past five league games over the weekend and must win this game to keep their hopes of reaching the last 16 alive. Leverkusen can progress by avoiding defeat provided Tottenham Hotspur lose away to Monaco. The Germans are unbeaten in the group, and followed up three draws by beating Tottenham at Wembley. However, they are struggling in the Bundesliga at mid-table, having lost at home to Cindarella-story RB Leipzig on November 19.
Monaco (FRA) vs Tottenham Hotspur (ENG) Tottenham travel to Monaco after claiming their first win in eight matches on November 20, beating West Ham United 3-2 with a dramatic late surge. They’re in real trouble in the Champions League, though, having lost at home to Monaco and Bayer Leverkusen, and will be eliminated if they fail to win at the Stade Louis II and Leverkusen beat or draw CSKA Moscow. Monaco, meanwhile, need only draw the game to seal a place in the last-16, and will secure first place if they win and Leverkusen drop points. Leonardo Jardim’s side are the leading scorers in Europe’s big five leagues, averaging three goals a game in Ligue 1 including a 3-0 win at Lorient on November 18. Leading their attack is a revitalised Radamel Falcao, who has netted nine times this season. The teams drew 1-1 in the Europa League last season. Group F Borussia Dortmund (GER) vs Legia Warsaw (POL) Dortmund, the 1997 winners and 2013 runners-up, are already into the last 16, having amassed 10 points from their first four matches. Thomas Tuchel’s side are now looking to secure the top spot and a win at home to alreadyeliminated Legia will guarantee them first place as long as Real Madrid drop points at Sporting Lisbon. At the very least, a win will ensure the Bundesliga club go to Madrid next month in a position to clinch the group. Dortmund are fresh from beating Bayern Munich 1-0 in “Der Klassiker” on November 20 thanks to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s 12th league goal of the season. The Gabon star was also on target when Dortmund won 6-0 to Legia in their group opener in September. Legia, who remain in with a chance of finishing third and going into the Europa League, have improved of late, winning five of their last six games, the exception being a 3-3 draw at home to Real Madrid.
Sporting Lisbon (POR) vs Real Madrid (ESP) Cristiano Ronaldo is doubtless to receive a hero’s welcome as he returns to his first professional club Sporting a champion of Europe with Portugal and widely expected to pick up his fourth Ballon d’Or this year. Ronaldo’s hattrick this weekend, his 39th for Real, delivered a 3-0 away win at Atletico Madrid despite the visitors missing six key players in captain Sergio Ramos, Pepe, Casemiro, Toni Kroos, Alvaro Morata and Karim Benzema. Champions League-holders Real won the reverse fixture 2-1 and is unbeaten in 29 games in all competitions this year. All Zinedine Zidane’s men need is a point to advance to the next round, but with Dortmund top of the group by two points Real will be looking to hunt them down as a point of pride – and to earn an easier draw in the next round. Sporting is on an upturn and scoring regularly, and still seeking a chance at the Europa League.
Group G Leicester City (ENG) vs Club Brugge (BEL) Leicester currently top Group G with 10 points, having yet to concede a goal, and needing only a draw to progress to the last 16 with a game to spare. Conversely, Brugge are yet to notch a single point. Leicester have struggled in the domestic league to reproduce the form that delivered a surprise Premier League title last year, sitting just two points above the relegation zone after a 2-1 defeat to Watford. Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez are on the Ballon d’Or list, however, and it almost seems Claudio Ranieri’s side are prioritising success in Europe over the Premier League. FC Copenhagen (DEN) vs Porto (POR) Copenhagen bagged a 1-1 draw away to second-placed Porto in September and are fighting for survival in this game, where a win would qualify the Portuguese. But Porto are misfiring, with only two wins in their past five outings in all competitions, while Stale Solbakken’s team is unbeaten in their five games at home in Europe this season. Porto go into the clash dampened by having lost a penalty shoot-out to Chaves in the Portuguese Cup at the weekend. A win for the Danes would see them leap-frog their opponents in the group. One to watch for a potential upset.
Group H Sevilla (ESP) vs Juventus (ITA) This is arguably the match of the round, with Sevilla on top with 10 points and visitors Juve second with eight and their last meeting a tight 0-0 draw. Sevilla are flying high in Spain after a stunning comeback from 2-0 down to win 3-2 at Deportivo la Coruna. Argentine coach Jorge Sampaoli has transformed Sevilla from Europa League champions into a thrilling, free-thinking outfit. But Italian champions Juventus are also running hot on the back of a 3-0 Serie A win over Pescara. “It’s an important game for us because we have to win one of our last two games to go through,” coach Massimiliano Allegri said. Juve may have to do it the hard way with several defenders carrying knocks, but the forward line of Mario Mandzukic and Gonzalo Higuain is a frightening prospect for Sevilla.
Dinamo Zagreb (CRO) vs Lyon (FRA) Dinamo are already out of contention after a miserable campaign that has seen them fail to earn a point or even score a goal in four matches. They just about have a shot at consolation in the Europa League, but must win this game to keep the flame lit. Lyon, with four points from four games, are only slightly better off, needing a victory in Zagreb and for Juventus to fail to win to stay fighting. Lyon are fourth in Ligue 1 in France and their form has picked up after a slow start. Bafetimbi Gomis now at rivals Marseille scored four, including an eight-minute hat-trick, when Lyon won 7-1 in Zagreb in the 2011-12 group stage. –
Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo shoots to score against Atletico Madrid on November 19. Ronaldo scored a hat trick to hand Real a 3-0 win.