UEFA Champions League: Real Madrid Face Shakhtar, PSG To Battle Against Malmo, 5 Points To Ponder Upon
Zlatan Ibrahimovic is set to lead the attack for Paris Saint-Germain as it begins its Champions League campaign against Swedish side Malmo, the club where he started his career.
Ibrahimovic, whose last season was curtailed by a niggling heel injury, has played only one match so far for PSG this season. He then hurt his abdominal muscle playing for Sweden during the international break, meaning that he had to sit out Friday’s 2-2 home draw against Bordeaux.
PSG coach Laurent Blanc will have his best strike force at his disposal, with new signing Angel Di Maria and Argentina midfielder Javier Pastore fit to play, and Edinson Cavani in fine form after netting four times in his past two league games.
Malmo’s defense should expect a busy night at Parc des Princes, where PSG has lost only once in European competition in the past nine years — a 3-1 home loss to Barcelona in last season’s quarterfinals.
In Group A’s other match, Ukrainian side Shakhtar Donetsk has good reason to also fear its trip to play Real Madrid.
Here are other things to watch in Group A:
Cristiano Ronaldo is primed to renew his habitual Champions League scoring race with Lionel Messi when Real Madrid hosts Shakhtar Donetsk on Tuesday.
After failing to score in four consecutive games for Madrid and Portugal — an unusually long stretch for him — Ronaldo broke loose for his second career five-goal performance in a 6-0 rout of Espanyol in the Spanish league on Saturday.
That haul gave him 231 goals in the Liga, taking him past Raul Gonzalez’s milestone and establishing him as Madrid’s all-time leading scorer in the competition.
Ronaldo and his eternal Barcelona rival Messi are level on 77 at the top of the Champions League’s scorers’ chart, having passed Raul’s tally of 71 last season.
In a small respite for Shakhtar’s defense, Madrid will be without Colombia star James Rodriguez, who is injured.
DI MARIA’S WARNING
Angel Di Maria has some advice for his new Paris Saint-Germain teammates as they battle for top spot in Group A with his former club Real Madrid.
PSG has never been beyond the semifinals in the European Cup, while Madrid has won it a record 10 times — with Di Maria part of the winning team in 2014 in his fourth and final season with the club.
Finishing in top spot usually means avoiding a tougher opponent in the second round, and that means getting the better of Madrid in the group stage.
To do so, Di Maria says, PSG has to concentrate much better than it did last year, when it lost a lopsided quarterfinal to Barcelona 5-1 on aggregate.
“You can’t make the slightest error because you’re up against very talented players who have a lot of experience,” Di Maria told Le Parisien newspaper in an interview on Monday. “That’s what happened to Paris last year against Barcelona in the quarters, with two errors that proved so costly. It’s the same thing with Madrid.”
Paris Saint-Germain coach Laurent Blanc has given his backing to under-fire goalkeeper Kevin Trapp after his two blunders on Friday cost PSG a win.
Trapp dropped the ball on a corner and then flapped wildly at the ball as it crossed the line. He then got tackled in his penalty area by a Bordeaux player as he was looking up to pass to a teammate. The match finished 2-2 and brought an end to PSG’s four-match winning streak.
Rather than admonish Trapp, Blanc has dared him to try the same thing against Malmo.
“I hope that the next time he’ll have a strong enough personality to do the same thing … with a better result,” Blanc said. “He has a certain way of playing that corresponds to how I see the game.”
Real Madrid’s defense, which has yet to concede a goal in three matches this season, will need to keep a close eye on Shakhtar Donetsk star Alex Teixeira.
The Brazilian midfielder’s two goals in last Friday’s 5-0 win away to Metalist took his tally to nine in seven league games so far this season.
The 70-year-old Shakhtar coach Mircea Lucescu is known for his love of attacking football, but he is likely to play with one center forward in Madrid, meaning that the onus will be on Teixeira to exploit any space on the counter-attack.
The lone striker’s role will go to powerful forward Oleksandr Hladkyi — who scored against Metalist and netted during the Champions League qualifiers against Fenerbahce and Rapid Vienna — with former Arsenal forward Eduardo on bench.
Lucescu has relied heavily on Brazilian players over the year, but is trying to bring through young Ukrainian talents at Shakhtar — such as 19-year-old midfielder Victor Kovalenko.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic will recognize a familiar face in Swedish side Malmo’s attack when the teams meet on Tuesday night.
Markus Rosenberg was Ibrahimovic’s strike partner in the Sweden team for several years, winning 33 caps and scoring six goals.
They share a similar club history, too, having traveled widely and having both played for Ajax and Malmo.
The 32-year-old Rosenberg, who is a year younger than Ibrahimovic, enjoyed his best club spell in Germany’s Bundesliga, where he was an effective striker for a strong Werder Bremen side, netting 53 goals in 165 league games.
After moderate success with Spanish side Racing Santander, Rosenberg failed to score in two disappointing seasons with West Bromwich Albion, before returning to Malmo last year. He has scored five goals in his past seven games during this campaign.