Another UEFA Champions League matchday sees Group E offer Tuesday’s biggest game. Italian champions Juventus, coming off their point at Stamford Bridge, take on group-leading Shakhtar Donetsk, both teams knowing the tournament’s holders, Chelsea, will likely claim three points when they visit Danish champions Nordsjaelland.
And that’s where we’ll start, with a team having to take over a rival’s ground in order to host the European champions.
Nordsjaelland (Denmark) vs. Chelsea (England)
Parken, Copenhagen, 2:45 p.m. Eastern
Such is the strange world of international soccer that an almost certain loss will be one of the biggest nights in the history of a club, but for Danish champions Nordsjaelland, Chelsea’s visit is not only the reward for a surprise run to last season’s title, it’s one of the only times the club, its players and fans will face a true elite of the European game. Michael Parkhurst couldn’t have expected this when he left New England Revolution or the club in 2008.
Nordsjaelland had won two consecutive Danish cups when they claimed last years’ title, but having never finished above third in the first division, the championship was a surprise, particularly given three-time defending champions Copenhagen seemed to have one hand on the crown. But the Farum-based club took the title from the heavy favorites on the season’s last day. Now, with Nordsjaelland’s Farum ground holding only 10,100, FCN will play host on Copenhagen’s home field, where Chelsea drew 0-0 in 2010-11’s Round of 16.
That result should give Nordsjaelland some hope. It should also have Chelsea on guard. It’s one thing to take a nil-nil away from the first leg of a knockout tie. But in group stage, where Juventus and Shakhtar will also be looking to claim points in Denmark, a nil-nil would represent a missed opportunity. With Chelsea having already dropped points at home on matchday one, failing to get three in at Parken could seriously damage to the Blues’ chances to finish first in Group E.
With that in mind, it will be interesting to see who Roberto Di Matteo selects in his starting XI. The game could be seen as a good chance to get the likes of Victor Moses and Cesar Azpilicueta some time. Others may see that luxury as having disappeared with Fabio Quagliarella’s equalizer at Stamford Bridge.
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Juventus (Italy) vs. Shakhtar Donetsk (Ukraine)
Juventus Stadium, Turin, 2:45 p.m. Eastern
After taking a surprise point out of Stamford Bridge, Juventus has the early lead in Group E, even if the standings say otherwise. Skakhtar’s home win over competition neophytes Nordsjaelland has them first in the group, but everybody will be expect to get full points against the Danish champions. In coming back from two down at Chelsea, Juventus earned a point they weren’t supposed to get. If they can get a result in Denmark and hold serve at home, they’ll probably win this group.
That means there are two major tests that stand in between Juventus and Group A’s crown. Chelsea, the big one, doesn’t happen until November 20th, group stage’s fifth matchday. Whether Juve’s still defending their pole position then depends on how they handle the first test: Tomorrow against Shakhtar Donetsk.
Most casual followers if Champions League will dismiss Shakhtar on name alone. They’re big enough to be known, but they’re known for not being a real problem for Europe’s big boys. Although Juventus’s recent Champions League record has been worse than Shakhtar’s, they’re still considered a big boy. Shakhtar is just a good team from a lower-level league that only makes the knockout round when the draw’s pulled in their favor.
Except they’re not just a good team from a lower league. Shakhtar is clearly the best team outside of Europe’s Big Six and, with a team that might be the best in the history of the club, could be set to surprise in Group E. As they’ve shown in their recent wins over Dynamo Kiev and Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk, they’ve distanced themselves from the rest of Ukraine. The question is whether that distance puts them on Juventus’s heals.
On the pitch, the matchup is fascinating. Juventus will start 3-5-2 that will face a Shakhtar team that will play a shape similar to Chelsea’s, albeit with a completely different style. Shakhtar may not be as talented as Chelsea, but they’ll bring a speed, fluidity and energy the Blues rarely replicate. They’re not traits Juventus is well-equipped to match, as will be apparent if Shakhtar attackers Willian and Ilsinho can isolate Juventus’s defenders.
The teams will be matched three-on-three in midfield, a battle Juventus;s trio of Andrea Pirlo, Arturo Vidal and Claudio Maschisio to win. Vidal may be asked to help slow down Henrikh Mkhitarayan, he of 15 goals in 11 all-competition appearances. If Juve’s midfield can do that and create chances for Mirko Vucinic and Sebastian Giovinco to take on central defenders Oleksandr Kuchar and Yaroslav Rakitskiy, Shakhtar should remain just a good team from a lower-level league.
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