Eastern Bloc Target Champions League Upsets
Old regulars Dynamo Kiev along with their fellow Ukrainians Shakhtar Donetsk and Russian super club Zenit St Petersburg will all be looking to qualify for the second round of the Champions League this season. With a World Cup in Russia in six years time, Eastern Europe is embracing the capitalist hunger of the West with transfer fees escalating massively in the last few years. No longer is Eastern Europe a stepping stone for South Americans and African footballers, it is now a destination in its own right.
Test your Champions League knowledge by entering our free predictor game here: predictor.mrsportsbook.com/
Simply predict the scores from each round of the Champions League and you could win £500! Invite your friends and set up a private league as there will be a massive £1,500 prize for the best performing league. Find more Champions League content here: CL preview for 2012/2013
Zenit St Petersburg
Group C: RSC Anderlecht, Malaga, Zenit St Petersburg, AC Milan
Zenit’s last minute double capture of Brazilian forward Hulk and Belgian midfielder Alex Witsel set tongues wagging across Europe as some €80m was spent in just a few hours. Whilst these two are extremely impressive captures it should be noted that Zenit qualified for the second round last year and already had a very strong squad.
Going forward Zenit look exceptionally strong with Danny and Igor Denisov pulling the strings in midfield behind Hulk, Witsel and last year’s top scorer Kerzhakov. Defnesively Italian international Domenico Criscito will partner Portuguese star Bruno Alves in the centre to provide an extremely strong spine to the side.
AC Milan will no doubt fancy their chances of winning the Group but Malaga are currently struggling from the top down and Anderlecht are usually one of Europe’s whipping boys. No side will fancy going to Zenit’s small Petrovsky Stadium especially not when the Russian winter sets in. Zenit could easily cause an upset and top the Group if their attacking options can gel together in the short time they have.
1st – Zenit St Petersburg
2nd – AC Milan
Group A: Dynamo Kiev, Dinamo Zagreb, FC Porto, PSG
Long distance Kiev fans will be sad to see the likely end to Oleksandr Shovkovkiy’s club career as young keeper Maksym Koval appears to have taken his place between the sticks. He is highly regarded and will be looking to impress in his debut Champions League season. Kiev’s experienced rearguard including Taye Taiwo and Evhen Khacheridi should provide ample protection to the young goalie.
Last season Kiev were not involved in the Champions League but came second behind Shakhtar Donetsk in the Ukrainian league sharing the goals around with newcomer Ideye Brown and Andriy Yarmolenko both hitting double figures. With the talented but somewhat precocious Miguel Veloso looking to carve open defences they will not be an easy proposition on their home turf especially if Artem Milevskiy can start delivering more regularly on his own potential. The new poster boy for Ukranian football Yarmolenko will be looking to build on an impressive showing at Euro 2012.
PSG would appear to be favourites in this group following their big spending summer but Porto could seriously struggle after selling some €88m worth of talent in this latest transfer window alone. New signing Jackson Martinez looks a real handful but Kiev will certainly fancy their chances of escaping this group.
1st – PSG
2nd – Dynamo Kiev
Group E: Juventus, Shakhtar Donetsk, FC Nordsjaelland, Chelsea
Donetsk have long been the nearly boys when it comes to qualifying for the second round. Succumbing in the Group Stages every season they will perhaps fancy their chances this time around if the Donbass Stadium can be a home fortress for them. In Rakitskiy they have a fantastic reader of the game from centre back and with the dependable Dario Srna and Razvan Rat at full back and Ukrainian first choice keeper Andiry Pyatov they should be a tough team to break down.
It is going forward though that Shakhtar attract the most attention with the sought-after Willian remaining at the club for another year whilst last year’s player of the season Henrikh Mkhitaryan continues to fly under the radar of Europe’s bigger clubs. In addition to these attacking midfielders Shakhtar have poacher extraordinaire Eduardo and flying winger Douglas Costa who when they all get it right could cause problems for any defence.
Chelsea will be confident of topping the group whilst the Danes will be happy with whatever they can salvage from this tough group. It looks like being a straight shootout between Italian champions Juventus (without their manager Antonio Conte) and Shakhtar. Juventus have signed only Bendtner from Arsenal and look a little light up top for this tough group.
1st – Chelsea
2nd – Shakhtar Donetsk
Group G: Barcelona, Benfica, Spartak Moscow and Celtic
Spartak beat their domestic rivals, CSKA Moscow, to second place in the Russian League and with it claimed the final qualifying berth for the Champions League. After missing out on testing themselves amongst Europe’s elite last season, Unai Emery has led Spartak back to the Champions League and they have strengthened well this summer. They could field an entirely new midfield; having signed Brazilian Romulo, Bilyaletdinov from Everton, the tidy Kim Kallstrom and former Real Madrid man Jose Manuel Jurado on loan.
These four additions supplement a squad which already boasts Aiden McGeady and goal-machine Welliton. Spartak are referred to as the ‘people’s team’ of Moscow, owing to their trade union roots and they will be captained by their 23-year-old right back, Sergei Parshivlyuk in 2012/13. Group G looks a considerably open one. Celtic are unlikely to offer much threat to the other three, but Benfica and Spartak will be confident of matching Barcelona under their new manager. Portuguese teams have given Barcelona under Guardiola problems, AVB’s Porto gave them a real game in 2011, and if teams are confident enough in their approach the 2011 champions can be beaten.
A quick look at Benfica’s squad reveals it is dangerously thin. With the sales of Alex Witsel and Javi Garcia late on and the only summer addition of note being Ola John from Twente, fans will be hoping to avoid an injury crisis. Pablo Aimar still pulls the strings but in his absence the team will struggle in the centre of the pitch. With a bit of luck Spartak could pip them to second place.
Mr Sportsbook’s Prediction:
1st – Barcelona
2nd – Spartak Moscow