Europe’s best team, sinking Lille – UEFA Champions League Group F preview

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Group F in UEFA Champions League is quickly becoming anti-climatic. When originally drawn, it looked like there was going to be a fight for second, with Bayern Munich being the group’s clear favorite. Now, after Lille was shocked at home on matchday one, Valencia looks like the clear No. 2, a status they’ll have a chance to solidify Tuesday at the Mestalla.

Valencia (Spain) vs. Lille (France)
Estadio Mestalla, Valencia, 2:45 p.m. Eastern

We may be witnessing the end of Lille’s run. Or, unaware at the time, we may have already witnessed it. Perhaps it has happened during LOSC’s five match winless run in Ligue 1, but more likely, it was two weeks ago. That’s when Belarussian champions BATE opened the new Stade Grand Lille’s European history by embarrassing their hosts.

Matches like that are either wakeup calls or white flags. They can shock a team’s system, forcing them to realize all they ways in which they’re slipping, or they bring the bear the new state of the world: Your team is no longer that good. Accept it.

For Lille, the accept it notion fits a larger narrative. They’ve lost Eden Hazard. People know that, but they’ve also lost Moussa Sow, Gervinho, Yoann Cabaye and Adil Rami from the team Rudi Garcia guided to the title two years ago. They haven’t just lost six players. They’ve last their six best players.

If Lille were going to look anywhere for guidance, they should look across the pitch tomorrow at the Mestalla. Valencia has also had their set of high-profile defections over the last few seasons. David Villa and Jordi Alba are now in Barcelona. David Silva’s in Manchester. Juan Mata is in London. Joaquin was scooped up by Málaga. Aritz Aduriz moved to Bilbão this offseason. Pablo Hernández has moved on to Swansea (of all places). Even their coach that held them together, Unai Emery, moved to Spartak Moscow this summer.

Despite those defections, Valencia hasn’t missed a beat. They’re not back to the level of Rafa Benítez’s heyday (when they won two league titles in the early oughts), but nobody’s expecting that. Expectations are Los Che qualify for Champions League and continue to bring in the income they need to keep them above water until the Nou Mestalla opens.

Based on how they performed at Real Madrid (draw), Barcelona (one goal loss), and Bayern Munich (one goal loss), Valencia may again be the class of La Liga’s second tier.

Now if only they could get that new stadium build.

More: Group E Group F Group G Group H

BATE versus Bayern Munich
Dinamo Stadion, Minsk, 2:45 p.m. Eastern

Like Nordsjaelland, BATE is having to take up residence in a temporary home, their home matches to be played in Minsk instead of Borisov. Last season, BATE lost to Barcelona and the Czech Republic’s Viktoria Plzen in Minsk while getting a surprising draw against AC Milan.

So will Bayern be more Barcelona, who rolled through Minsk with a 5-0 victory? Or Milan, a titan that was bitten (lightly) by the Belarussians? While it’s tempting to say Milan after BATE won 3-1 in Lille, we’ve since gotten context on Lille’s troubles. The victory was historic, but it doesn’t say much about how they’ll fair against arguably the best team in the world (right now).

It’s traditional preview style to play things a little more even-handed: Spread the mood evenly on both sides of the matchup. But you’re smart enough to know Bayern are heavy favorites to win this match. Any preview that says otherwise is trying to occupy a middle ground that doesn’t exist. Better to be fair about the state of affairs so that, if an upset does happen, we’ll know how remarkable it is.

We’ve gone on (and on) about Bayern’s strong start, one which continued this weekend with an impressive win at Werder Bremen. They also posted a similar, 2-0 result at Schalke earlier this year. While the trip through Poland to Minsk presents more challenges than the ride to Gelsenkirchen, it’s nothing that should trouble the Bavarians.

More: Group E Group F Group G Group H