The main attraction of Matchday 3 of the UEFA Champions League group phase would appear to come in the shape of Tuesday’s encounter between Real Madrid and AC Milan.
However, there will be no lack of interest elsewhere as seven other teams look to maintain their 100 per cent records along with the Spanish aristocrats. Bayern Munich, Chelsea, Arsenal, Lyon, Copenhagen, Spartak Moscow and Shakhtar Donetsk are the magnificent seven in question, although something has to give when Carlo Ancelotti’s side take on Spartak in Moscow and Arsene Wenger’s Gunners entertain Shakhtar.
In stark contrast, nine teams have yet to collect a single point, although all is not lost, as Newcastle United proved in 2003 when they qualified for the knockout phase after losing their first three group matches.
Tuesday 19 October
Group E: Roma-Basel, Bayern Munich-Cluj
Group F: Spartak Moscow-Chelsea (18.30 CET), Marseille-Zilina
Group G: Ajax Amsterdam-Auxerre, Real Madrid-AC Milan
Group H: Braga-Partizan Belgrade, Arsenal-Shakhtar Donetsk
Wednesday 20 October
Group A: Inter Milan-Tottenham, Twente-Werder Bremen
Group B: Schalke 04-Hapoel Tel Aviv, Lyon-Benfica
Group C: Glasgow Rangers-Valencia, Manchester United-Bursaspor
Group D: Panathinaikos-Rubin Kazan, Barcelona-Copenhagen
Match of the day
Real Madrid-AC Milan, Group G, Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid, 20.45 (CET)
These two giants of the world game have been crowned European champions 16 times between them and head into their 15th meeting in the competition in fine fettle. Madrid have hit their stride under Portuguese strategist Jose Mourinho, looking solid at the back and increasingly dangerous in attack, with Cristiano Ronaldo and Gonzalo Higuain both scoring braces in a 4-1 romp at Malaga at the weekend.
Meanwhile, Milan’s newly installed coach Massimiliano Allegri also seems to have hit upon a winning formula by pairing Zlatan Ibrahimovich and Alexandre Pato up front, with Ronaldinho supplying the bullets behind them. Pato, who struck twice in Saturday’s 3-1 defeat of Chievo Verona, has happy memories of the Bernabeu, having also scored a double in last October’s 3-2 win there. Can I Rossoneri serve up a repeat victory or will Mourinho’s men take charge in the section?
The other matches
Roma are slowly but surely recovering their poise following a sluggish start to the season, and will be out to tighten their hold on second place in Group E when they welcome Basle. The Italian team edged their Swiss counterparts 2-1 in the group phase of last season’s UEFA Europa League but will be well advised to keep a close eye on livewire winger Xherdan Shaqiri. Pool leaders Bayern Munich outclassed Hannover at the weekend thanks to a Mario Gomez hat-trick and should be full of confidence for the visit of Cluj.
Spartak Moscow’s miserly defence has not conceded a goal in their last three outings in the competition, a record that is sure to be tested by Group F rivals Chelsea. Both sides have six points to their name, although the Londoners, who were held to a goalless draw by Aston Villa on Saturday, will be missing several first-team regulars in the Russian capital. Still without a point, Marseille have no option but to win when they play host to Zilina, who are themselves pointless in a testing introduction to the continent’s blue riband club competition.
While Real Madrid and Milan do battle in Spain, Dutch big guns Ajax will look to boost their Group G hopes at home to an Auxerre side with injury problems up front.
Flying high in the Ukrainian league, Shakhtar Donetsk will not be lacking in ambition when they visit free-scoring Arsenal, who have scored nine goals in their opening two group games, more than any other side. The winner of that match will move to the top in Group H, while Braga take on Partizan Belgrade with a place in the UEFA Europa League their most realistic objective. Both sides are still without a point, with the Portuguese new boys yet to score and having conceded nine goals so far.
Inter Milan and Tottenham Hotspur have four points apiece in Group A and meet on Wednesday at the San Siro, where the defending champions will be without the injured Diego Milito and Esteban Cambiasso in what is Rafael Benitez’s first meeting with Premier League opposition since leaving Liverpool. Currently propping up the section, neither Twente nor Werder can afford to lose when they square off in the Netherlands.
Lyon’s troubled start to the French season bears no comparison to their Group B campaign so far. Les Gones, who reached the semis in 2009/10, have the chance to mark their 100th appearance in the competition with a third straight win when Benfica visit the Stade de Gerland. Schalke have had an even more miserable time of it in the Bundesliga and a home win against Israel’s Hapoel Tel Aviv would provide them with a timely boost.
Struggling Bursaspor’s visit to Old Trafford could hardly have come at a better time for misfiring Manchester United, who lead the way in Group C but have their fair share of problems in attack and defence, as Saturday’s 2-2 home draw with West Bromwich Albion showed. The big game in the section is at Ibrox Park, where Rangers will be anxious to maintain their momentum against a dangerous Valencia side.
Last, but by no means least, Barcelona find themselves in the unusual position of hosting Copenhagen with the Danes currently two points clear of them in Group D. Still to hit the heights of the last two seasons, the Catalans seem to be increasingly reliant on their holy trinity of Lionel Messi, Xavi and Andres Iniesta. In the other game in the pool, bottom-place Panathinaikos have no option but to go for the win against Rubin Kazan.
Players to watch
Cristiano Ronaldo and Alexandre Pato will be aiming to outgun each other at the Bernabeu. His confidence restored under compatriot Mourinho, the Portuguese star is back on form, while Pato is revelling in an out-and-out attacking role with Ronaldinho in support.
100 - The number of Champions League matches that Carlo Ancelotti will have been involved in as a coach come Tuesday evening. In charge for six games with Parma, ten with Juventus, 73 with AC Milan and 11 with Chelsea, the Italian is still some way behind the two leading coaches in the competition: Sir Alex Ferguson (165) and Arsene Wenger (129). Should the Blues prevail in Moscow, Ancelotti will join the select club of managers who have won 50 Champions League games or more, behind Louis van Gaal (51), Wenger (58) and Ferguson (88).
What they said
“With this 4-3-1-2 formation, the current team reminds me a lot of Carlo Ancelotti’s Milan. We’ve achieved some great wins with this system and I hope it will help us repeat last season’s performance at Madrid,” Andrea Pirlo, AC Milan midfielder.
Have your say
With Wayne Rooney out of form and seemingly out of favour, do Manchester United have another player capable of inspiring them to Champions League glory?