Champions League: Genk Returns To European Football, AC Milan Goes Without Top Two Strikers

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 28: The UEFA Champions League trophy on display ahead of the UEFA Champions League final between FC Barcelona and Manchester United FC at Wembley Stadium on May 28, 2011 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

The road to Munich and the 2012 Champions League final kicks off tomorrow with Groups E through H. Groups A through D play Wednesday (which we'll take a look at tomorrow). As with every year, there are always some clear favorites to make it out of the group stage and into the knockout rounds, and this year is no different.

For some teams it's a return to the Champions League, or even a return to European football, period. And as we all know,  if you make the Champions League, it means more money. Tough if you ask Johan Cruyff, football isn't about making money, it's about the exact opposite. I am still amazed about how out of touch he is with the modern game, but that aside, every team in groups A-H are all looking to make the finals.

And as we know, only two teams can do that. Of course, last term those two teams were FC Barcelona and Manchester United and they are the favorites to return to the final again this year. But with tournaments like this, anything can happen - and usually does.

After the jump we'll take a look at some of those match ups.

RC Genk vs Valencia

Notables:

  • Genk makes their return to the Champions League since the 2007/2008 season. They have yet to record a win in Champions League play and have only scored one home goal--a 1-1 draw with Real Madrid. They haven't had the greatest of luck against Spanish teams.
  • Speaking of bad luck with Spanish teams, they have played four games against Spanish teams and have yet to record a win against them.
  • The last time Valencia faced a Belgian team it was Anderlecht and they won both matches at home and away.
  • In their last 16 matches outside of Spain, they have only lost twice. Of those losses, one game last year was in the knock out stages, when they lost to Shalke 04 3-1 in Germany.
  • As far as tactics are concerned, Genk will either run with a traditional 4-4-2 or a 4-3-3. In the four matches they played to get into the Champions League, they used both equally. Valencia seems to favor a 4-3-2-1 formation with Roberto Soldado as the loan striker, who has already collected four goals in two matches in la Liga and could rack up more against a weak Belgium side.

Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal

Notables:

  • These two teams have met before in the CL, with each collecting a win on home soil.
  • Borussia Dortmund collected their last win against Arsenal nine years ago. The winning goal was a PK taken by Tomas Rosicky, who now plays for Arsenal.
  • With this match, Arsenal will be playing their 130th Champions League match and only need two goals to reach the 200 mark. The only other teams to reach this plateau are Real Madrid, FC Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester United. 
  • Arsenal's record on the road in CL matches and Germany isn't what one would call great. They have lost six of their last seven, which includes four of six in Germany.

Arsenal have had a rough go at the start of the new term, having been dismantled by Manchester United 8-2, and then barely getting by newly promoted Welsh side Swansea City. Their record in the Premier League stands at a not so great 1-1-2. They too run a 4-3-2-1 with newly promoted skipper Robin van Persie up top as the loan striker. Not to mention that they no longer have the likes of former skipper Cesc Fabregas (FC Barcelona), Gael Clichy and Samir Nasri (Manchester City).

FC Barcelona vs AC Milan 

What? You thought I'd write this up without mentioning FCB?

Notables:

  • AC Milan will be missing two of their top players: former Real Madrid striker Robinho and former FC Barcelona striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Both picked up knocks and will not be in the 18 for the kick off at the Nou Camp tomorrow night.
  • FCB has the edge in wins versus AC Milan in the Champions League with four wins to ACM's three and they've also played to two draws. One draw was a six goal affair, while the other was scoreless.
  • Barca striker Leo Messi has 18 tallies in 18 Champions League matches. This will be presumably his first start against the Serie A side. The other times these two teams have met, he's either started on the bench or been out with an injury.
  • AC Milan, like Genk, have had a rough time in Spain, failing to score in four of their last six matches in Spain and only winning once in seven matches.

While this isn't the knockout rounds or anything, AC Milan will surely miss both Robinho and Ibrahimovic's scoring touches. Though in their first Serie A match ACM managed to tie Lazio, that result really wasn't expected, especially with the match being at the San Siro. FC Barcelona are also coming off a draw, which allowed Real Madrid to go to the top of la Liga table.

So there you have it: three matches that I find a bit interesting. Tomorrow we will do more of the same, but this time with Groups A-D, which includes los blancos (though we'll have separate coverage for that). So now, because I like making a fool out of myself, I will predict these three matches. 

Predictions

(Winners in bold)

RC Genk vs Valencia - 0-2 Valencia

Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal 2-1 Dortmund

FC Barcelona vs AC Milan 3-1 FCB. With two of ACM's strikers out and the game taking place in Spain, I think the deck is extremely stacked against the Serie A side.

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