19.45 Paris Saint Germain v Arsenal
With Basel and Ludogrets making up the other two teams in Group A, both PSG and Arsenal must fancy their chances of progressing to the knock-out stages of the competition. The trick for Arsenal this season is to do their utmost to finish top of the group.
Previous seasons have seen them finish second and promptly get knocked out in the last 16, a cyclical fate that their supporters have become wearingly resigned to.
Not winning Ligue 1 would be as big a shock as Leicester winning the BPL and so success in the CL is PSG’s ultimate goal. In fact, it is for that reason that their wealthy owners dispensed with the services of Laurent Blanc in favour of Unai Emery, a Spanish coach who arrives with impeccable European credentials by way of leading his previous club Sevilla to consecutive Europa League titles.
The Spanish boss has an interesting season ahead of him. They have had a less than storming start to their season, summed up by their weekend 1-1 draw against Saint-Etienne. Three of their summer signings started but ex-Real Madrid man, Jese Rodriguez, is no Zlatan (nor arguably is he a proper no. 9) and without the goals and will of the giant Swede, PSG may struggle to break down stronger opposition in the CL.
Edison Cavani is not exactly a poor substitute but be it due to lack of game time, lack of form or being played out of position, the Uruguayan does not look like the player he once was.
Continuity as key?
Arsenal didn’t lose any of their top players over the summer, made a couple of good additions and look a more settled unit than their French counterparts. A disastrous start to their season looks to have been put behind them in terms of results gained if not always in terms of performance. A late, late penalty was required at the weekend to claim all three points but management and fans will take lucky draws all day long.
Keeping their powder dry?
PSG’s relatively indifferent start to the season might be down to the focus being placed on the CL. This is the competition on which they will be judged and measured by the people that matter most – the owners. However, they could have done without it being Arsenal that they faced first given how it looks as if that they are yet to get up to speed with their coach’s new instructions.
For all this, the hosts are slightly less than evens with most bookies. Arsenal should hold their own in this tie and come away with a favourable result, scored draw or win, and the prices involved are tasty. Bet365 are offering 11/4 for a draw and BetStars have an excellent 18/5 for an Arsenal win.
19.45 Barcelona v Celtic
There are only a handful of teams in the world who can reasonably entertain notions of beating the mighty Barcelona and Celtic aren’t one of them.
Having said that, not more than a handful of people in the world would have thought that lowly Alaves, newly promoted to La Liga, would have beaten Barcelona at the Camp Nou but that is just what they did at the weekend.
Granted, the team Barcelona put out had more than one eye on the tie with Celtic but even without most of their main men starting, they should have had more than enough to account for their hosts.
Celtic, by wild contrast, had a weekend for the ages. Their eternal rivals, Rangers, have finally made their way back to the top division, yin and yang had reconvened. Celtic’s new manager, Brendan Rodgers, is nothing if not a dream-weaver and the 5-1 drubbing of their foes certainly had a the whiff of fantasy off it. To say that the Bhoys will have been buoyed by the result (sorry..) is something of an understatement.
Rodgers will be spending his time telling his charges that destiny is in their hands, that the stars are aligned in their favour. Go forth and conquer.
2016 has been a strange year. All over, age-old assumptions and norms are being turned on their head. Fairytales have stolen headlines in the forms of Leicester and Iceland. Nightmares, too, have sprung forth, surrounding the fresh gleams of hope and surprise with a foreboding insistence of imminent collapse.
Cold, unfeeling reality should reassert itself here and scythe Dreams at the knees.
A predictably short price of 1/9 from BetFred is the best price you can get on the near inevitable result in Barcelona’s favour but for those whose minds have yet to be darkened by the shades of the jailhouse, a price of 33/1 for Celtic to win from BetFair would surely guarantee a peaceful night’s sleep.