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Champions League group stage matches

Posted 9th December 2009

Arsenal travel to Greece, to face Olympiakos, safe in the knowledge that they have topped Champions League Group H. Arsene Wenger will select something akin to a ‘Carling Cup’ side with supposedly very little at stake. Arsenal fans may not agree as the injury hit Gunners have been crying out for a youngster to leap out of the youth team and improve their fortunes in the league. That player can maybe steal some of the limelight tonight and claim a place in a threadbare first choice eleven. News yesterday that frozen out Tottenham striker Roman Pavlyuchenko could be about to switch North London loyalties will fill plenty of the Emirates faithful with dread. It’s hardly the big name signing that they need to replace the long-term injuries of the likes of Robin Van Persie. Talking of long-term injuries, other news suggested that Tomas Rosicky will be offered a new deal by the club, despite being on the treatment table for a huge chunk of his Arsenal career. The openings are definitely there for the Young Guns, if they are good enough – at the moment that is a big if. The away side will field a forward line most likely made up of two 20 year-olds (Theo Walcott and Carlos Vela) as well as 17 year-old Jack Wilshere. In a team full of teenagers and players in their very early twenties, it’s ironic that the weakest link could be Mikael Silvestre at 32 years of age. The former Manchester United star has experience on the biggest stages around the world but has looked a shadow of his former self when pulling on the red of his new club. Sir Alex Ferguson still might be having a wry smile at that particular trick played on old foe Wenger. Olympiakos are 17/20 favourites to secure the victory that will assure their progress into the knock-out stages, a draw will also do for the Greek club at 11/5. Arsenal have drifted out to a high of 7/2, and could continue to do so. Theo Walcott will be mindful of Michael Owen’s hat-trick in Germany last night. The unused squad member of the 2006 England World Cup squad will be hoping to play more of a part in 2010, first he has to get himself back into contention. Walcott is 12/1 to score first tonight and on our player specials he is available at 40/1 to score 2 goals, 10/1 to score in an Arsenal win and 150/1 to match Owen’s total from Tuesday night.

Liverpool have only pride to play for in their home tie with Fiorentina. The Italian side can top Group E with a win at Anfield and, although outsiders, that would not be the biggest shock. A home win is currently an Evens chance but that price may not hold up in the face of a gamble on the away side at 11/4. All four English teams in this season’s Champions League have approached their final group games with changes to be made for varying reasons. Liverpool’s journey into the Europa League, although unwanted, has no bearing on tonight’s result. We’d expect Rafa Benitez to rest stars such as Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard, if only to keep them out of harms way. A low scoring affair looks on the cards and under 2.5 goals can be backed at 7/10. I like the look of under 2 goals at a more attractive price of 2/1. The Reds have struggled to reach two goals in plenty of their recent matches. Fiorentina have only conceded one goal in their last three outings. Dirk Kuyt may be relied upon as the home side’s main threat in front of goal and the Dutchman is 12/1 to score a header, 5/1 to score Liverpool’s first and 11/1 to hit the woodwork on our extensive player specials.

Seville are unbeaten in their last twelve home games and can seal top spot in Group G with a victory over a weak Rangers side. The Spanish side are 1/3 favourites to get the job done and it’s easy to see why. Rangers are without a win in five previous group games and have a goal difference of F4 A12. A leaky defence could lead to another heavy defeat and those wishing to take advantage of those stats may want to chance a handicap bet on the home team. Seville are a potentially attractive 20/21 starting the match at -1 goal. When Group F was drawn back in the summer it looked a potential stroll in the park for Inter Milan and Barcelona. The only question looked to be ‘which way round would they finish?’. The fact that neither is assured of qualification by match six shows how well the other Group F duo, Rubin Kazan and Dynamo Kiev have performed. Inter are 1/2 favourites to beat Rubin at the San Siro and Barcelona have a slightly tougher task at 8/13 away in Kiev. A double on the two European giants currently pays just over 11/8.

Manchester United have been drifting all the time for their trip to Wolfsburg and are currently 5/2 to seal three points and table topping status in Champions League Group B. As the market suggests, United won’t have it all their own way with a number of players missing due to injury. It’s in defence where Sir Alex Ferguson’s biggest problems lie and a makeshift quartet look set to face Wolfsburg’s strong and athletic forward line. That attacking force has managed at least two goals per game in nine out of ten recent home matches. The German team are just a shade odds-against to get the win that will seal their qualification at the expense of the other Group B duo Besiktas and CSKA Moscow. In hindsight Ferguson must be kicking himself that the weakened line-up he sent out to face the Turkish team on the last matchday failed to do their job. United were one of the shortest priced match favourites of this season’s competition but succumbed to a 1-0 defeat. Fergie’s choice to rest players doesn’t feature for this match as he dips into his youth team to fill places on the bench. It’s strange to see United receiving a goal start on the handicap market and the 8/11 on offer will appeal to plenty who feel the makeshift Red Devils have been under-rated. Michael Owen could be used as a lone frontman and within our raft of player specials he is 4/1 to be United’s first scorer, 11/1 to hit the woodwork and a whopping 100/1 to bag a hat-trick.

With top spot and progress to the knock-out rounds assured Chelsea could take a chance to rest some stars later. They are still heavily odds-on at 4/11 to beat Cypriot champions Apoel Nicosia. The away side can secure a Europa Cup spot with a result (providing Atletico Madrid falter at a weakened Porto). Chelsea’s defence has been spot on in recent home matches in the Champions League group stages. Even with England pair John Terry and Ashley Cole missing the home side can afford to field an experienced back four. A clean-sheet is 4/6 and a win without conceding a goal is a potentially attractive Evens chance. Michael Ballack could feature from the start after coming on as a sub in his side’s weekend defeat at Manchester City. Apoel are the type of opposition that the German midfielder can exploit and I’d look to latch onto his ability to get forward. Balllack is 8/1 to score first (or if you like – last), 12/5 to score at anytime and a decent looking 7/2 to find the net in any Chelsea victory.

In a wide open Group C, Real Madrid and Milan aim for top spot with away trips to Zurich and Marseille respectively. The European Cup legends are just over 2/1 to pull off an away double. The game of the night is the Group A ‘winner takes all’ clash between Juventus and Bayern Munich. The Italian side, who can afford to draw, are 5/4 favourites with an away win for Bayern a 21/10 offering. A repeat of their goalless first encounter is 15/2.