Chelsea is the strong favorite to qualify from Group G and we would be amazed if they didn’t fulfill the bookies’ expectations. Join us as we preview this Champions League group and deliver our soccer picks.
I’ve written various articles on soccer picks for the Premier League and outlined my feelings about Chelsea, listing the players in their first team and their marvellous extended squad, their multi-trophy winning manager and so on and so on. They were my pick to win the Premier League and nothing has changed, but one of the reasons for that pick was my belief that Manchester City will be more focused on the Champions League than Jose Mourinho’s men. That’s not to say Chelsea won’t win this group, they will if the boss wants them to. That may seem strange, but Mourinho moves in mysterious ways. If he gives any indication, subtle or overt that the Champions League isn’t their priority and the players will subconsciously drop off enough to facilitate his wishes.
If you look at the first group matches they come before matches against Manchester City, Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool. Now if I’m right and the Premier League is all important, we may see weakened teams in Europe, but will they be weak enough to not win the group?
FC Schalke 04
Schalke are next in the betting, but I’m struggling to get excited by them. Yes they have Julian Drexler, Klass-Jan Huntelaar and Jefferson Farfan when he recovers from a knee operation in November. They hadn’t started the Bundesliga well, but drew their last game against Bayern Munich, when they usually always lose to the German champions.
They have been to the round of 16 twice since reaching the semi-finals and will be confident of making it out of this group again. It will come down to their results against Sporting Lisbon.
Sporting Clube de Portugal
The Portuguese club had a torrid 2012/13, but hit back last season pushing for the title before eventually losing out to Benfica, but pushing Porto out of the Champions League group stage qualification places.
Marco Silva has taken over since then and Sporting have brought in 11 players after losing Marcos Rojo and Eric Dier to the Premier League. Only two of their signings are over 23 – a sign the Lions are looking to the future once again.
Nani, one of the most noteworthy products of the famous academy which has rolled out the likes of Simão Sabrosa, Luís Figo and Cristiano Ronaldo, is back in Lisbon and although he had a bad start on his return, missing a penalty and being subbed, I’m sure he will have a new lease of life.
I watched Sporting get a 1-1 draw at Benfica, having lost on their previous six top flight trips to their neighbours without scoring a goal.
I like the make-up of this Sporting team and can see them qualifying from this group.
Finally we have Maribor. Their squad is worth a combined £10million, compared to Sporting Lisbon’s £121m of players, Schalke’s £183m worth of talent and Chelsea’ colossal £391m playing staff.
I probably don’t need to say any more really, other than a trip to Slovenia shouldn’t be taken lightly. They have some decent players of course, I like Ibraimi on the wing and Damjan Bohar has already been amongst the goals this season.
In summary, I’m going to go for a Chelsea Sporting straight forecast (12/5) in this group, because although the English side may weaken down for some games, I still think their weaker team is better than any of the other three. I’m taking Sporting over Schalke because I think their youth and talent, just edges the Germans who may be on the downslide.