Team-by-team guide

September 12, 2003
(Archive)

Group G: Lazio - Chelsea - Sparta Prague - Besiktas

Group A | Group B | Group C | Group D | Group E | Group F | Group H


Lazio

Star Turn: Dejan Stankovic

Probably Lazio's most influential player last season, the Serb international has matured into one of Europe's most complete central midfielders tactically-aware, industrious, inventive and a goalscoring threat as well.

A former boy wonder with Red Star Belgrade, he joined Lazio in a £8 million transfer back in 1998 and did not take long to find his feet in the unforgiving world of Serie A football, earning a regular spot in the starting line-up of then coach Sven Goran Eriksson and helping the Sky Blues capture the League title in 2000.

With Lazio suffering from huge financial problems, he was rumoured to be on his way out in the summer. But to the relief of all connected with Lazio, the rumours proved false.

New Face Demetrio Albertini

After eleven seasons with Milan and then a loan spell at Atletico Madrid, the former Italian international midfielder was said to be contemplating retirement. But Lazio boss Roberto Mancini was convinced the 32-year-old still had much to offer and snapped him up.

Not the most spectacular of players but he is highly-effective, rarely wasting possession and able to dicate the tempo of a game.

At MIlan, where he made his debut as a 17-year-old, he won a clutch of honours, notably the Champions League in 1994 and five Serie A titles (1992, 1993 1994, 1996 and 1999).

One to Watch Ousmane Dabo

The last few months have been kind to the French midfielder. In June he earned a move from Atalanta to the bright lights of Lazio and days later he was called up by French coach Jacques Santini for the Confederations Cup, where he made two appearances.

A defensive midfielder of great stamina and strength in the tackle, he is tactically very astute and extremely consistent.

A football wanderer, having played for French outfits, Rennes and Monaco plus Internazionale, Vicenza, Parma, Atalanta and now Lazio in Italy.

Tactics

As a former assistant at Lazio to Sven Goran Eriksson, Lazio coach Roberto Mancini could not be anything else than a 4-4-2 man, though it is fair to say he has been experimenting in the close season with a 4-2-3-1 and 4-5-1, with Bernardo Corradi as the lone striker.

In the 4-4-2, Mancini is likely to use a back-four made up of central defenders Jaap Stam amd Sinisa Mihajlovic plus Massimo Oddo and Giuseppe Favalli at full-back. In midfield Stefano Fiore and the Brazilian Cesar occupy the right and left flanks respectively; Demetrio Albertini and Dejan Stankovic organise the play; while Bernardo Corradi teams up in attack with the Argentine Claudio Lopez.

Verdict: Mancini is doing a fine job. Lazio for the second round.


  • Besiktas
  • Star Turn: Sergen Yalcin

    Gifted but always controversial playmaker who has the unique record of having played for all the Big Three Istanbul clubs: Fenerbahce, Galatasaray and now Besiktas.

    Often accused of being out of shape and only playing for himself, he has had countless clashes with coaches in the past. But Besiktas boss Mircea Lucescu seems to know how to get the best of him.

    Great left-foot and full of flair and improvisation.

    New Face: Okan Koc

    A very talented right-winger of blistering pace and no little trickery, he was signed from Genclerbirligi in the summer for £1 million plus the rights to three Besiktas fringe team players.

    The transfer of the 20-yaer-old did not go down well with arch-rivals Galatasary. They thought they had Okan signed, sealed and delivered, only to be beaten to the punch at the eleventh-hour.

    A regular for Turkey's Under 21s, he started his career at Second Division Dardanelspor.Yet to receive a call up to the Turkish squad but it should only be a matter of time.

    One to Watch: Daniel Pancu

    With one-time Besiktas atacking golden boy Ilhan Mansiz beset by injury worries, the Romanian stepped into the breach last season, providing the firepower which took the Istanbul club to the Turkish League in their centenary year.

    Pancu is at his most dangerous in a free role behind the strikers, making life uncomfortable for defenders with his intelligent movement, imagination and potent right-footed shooting. He is not the quickest over the ground but is an expert at stealing into the box unnoticed.

    Joined Besiktas at the start of last season from Rapid Bucharest and has also played in Italy for Cesena.

    Tactics:

    Normally using a 3-4-1-2, coach Mircea Lucescu's first priority is a watertight defence and he certainly achieved that last season, with his team only conceding 21 goals in 34 League matches. His back-three is built around the solid Brazilian duo of Zago and Ronaldo Giuaro.

    If Ilhan Mansiz is not fit, Lucescu wil probably go with Ahmet Dursun and new signing from Altay, Sinan Kaloglu up front, with Daniel Pancu in the hole. The midfield quartet should feature Sergen, Okan Koc, the Egyptian Ahmed Hassan and the Italian Federico Giunti.

    Verdict: Will be competing with Sparta Prague to avoid the wooden spoon.


  • Sparta Prague
  • Star Turn: Karel Poborsky

    Bought from Benfica at the start of last season, the 30-year-old wide-man continues to torment full-backs with his speed and magical dribbling skills.

    Once with Manchester United (1996-97), he is now reunited at Sparta with coach Jiri Kotrba, the man who who gave his his first taste of first team football at Ceske Budejovice.

    Sparta's captain, Poborsky has won 90 caps for the Czech Republic and was in excellent form in their successful Euro 2004 qualifying programme.

    New Face: Igor Gluscevic

    Potent Montenegrin striker signed from Dutch club Utrecht this summer. Sparta obviously wanted him badly. They will be paying the 29-year-old £500,000 per season, making him the highest-paid player in the Czech League.

    Has been something of a globetrotter, begining his career with Vovodina in Yugoslavia, then starring for Seviila and Aris Salonika in Greece before moving to Utrecht in 2000. His parting gift to the latter was the Dutch Cup, scoring in their shock Final victory over Feyenoord.

    A good target man, he holds the ball up well and is especially strong in the air.

    One to Watch: Tomas Hubschman

    A capable young defender able to perform at full-back or in central defence, he was one of Sparta's most reliable performers last season as they claimed another Czech League title.

    Sturdy and with lots of bite in the tackle, he joined Sparta in the summer of 2001 and settled in so quickly that by November he was in the full Czech squad.

    Mainly on the bench during their Euro 2004 qualifying campaign.

    Tactics:

    In the 4-4-2 used by coach Jiri Kotrba, the watchwords are good organisation and physical strength. But with Sparta bringing in eight new players this summer, he is not surprisingly finding it difficult to forge a cohesive unit.

    In front of keeper Jaromir Blazek, the back-four will feature Tomas Hubsschmann and fellow Czech international Petr Johana, who recently arrived from Liberec. The midfield ought to be manned by the veteran ball-winner Jiri Nemec, Jiri Rosicky - the brother of Czech and Dortmund star Tomas Rosicky - Patrick Jezek and Karel Poborsky. Up front, Igor Gluscevic and Libor Sionko should start.

    Verdict: They might have the Czech League buttoned down tight but Europe's premier competition is another matter entirely.


  • Chelsea
  • Star Turn: Adrian Mutu

    Some two years ago his agent Giovanni Becali described the Romanian attacker as a future European Footballer of the Year and while his representative was bound to be more than slightly biased, it could yet prove to be a good call.

    A recent £15.8 million signing from Parma, the 24-year-old Mutu is indeed a gem, a brilliant combination of inventiveness, pace, elegance and goalscoring abiity. Once upon a time, the planet's outstanding players set up home in Serie A; now thanks to the Abramovich billions, they head for the Premiership.

    With Arges Pitesti, Dinamo Bucharest, Internazionale, and Verona before moving to Parma for a £8 million fee in August 2002.

    New Face: Damien Duff

    Lured away from Blackbirn Rovers for £17 million, the arrival at Stamford Bridge of the left-sided Republic of Ireland midfielder was the first sign that Chelsea and their new Russian backer meant business.

    Outstanding for the Republic at the last World Cup and throughout the 2002-03 Premiership campaign, Duff is one of a dying breed, wing wizards who can a beat full-back with sheer skill and deliver an accurate cross.

    Unfazed by all the hype surrounding him these days, he already seems to be settling in well at Chelsea.

    One to Watch: Glen Johnson

    The young right-back wil go down in history as the first signing of the Abramovich era, joining from West Ham for £6 million.

    One of the few players at West Ham to come away with any credit from their relegation campaign of last season, the 19-year-old tackles and covers ably, is excelent going forward and is mature beyond his years.

    Only last year, the Hammers sent him on loan to Millwall in the Nationwide First Division. From The Den to the Champions League is some journey.

    Tactics:

    Favouring 4-4-2, Chelsea's Italian boss Claudio Ranieri is often criticised for rotating his first-team personnel too much, for tinkering with a winning team. But he would argue that he was only refeshing the line-up and, anyway, how can anyone argue with someone who took Chelsea into the Champions League via a fourth-place Premiership finish.

    Ranieri has the luxury of two high-class alternatives for every position and such squad depth goes a long way in the Champions League.

    Verdict: Any team wth the likes of Desailly, Makelele, Duff, Mutu and Crespo has a lot going for it. A spot in the last-eight is the minimum requirement.