Matchday 2 of the UEFA Champions League features a veritable classic as Real Madrid take on Ajax - the two teams boasting no fewer than 13 wins between them in Europe's premier club competition. Also on the agenda are some mouth-watering clashes involving clubs with realistic aspirations of lifting the coveted trophy, such as Valencia-Chelsea and Bayern Munich-Manchester City.
No less important are the fixtures facing some highly-fancied sides that slipped up on their first outing, such as Inter Milan and Villarreal, who will both be looking to redeem themselves on away trips to CSKA Moscow and Napoli respectively.
The big game
Bayern Munich-Manchester City, Group A, Tuesday 27 September, Allianz Arena, Munich
Bayern Munich, whose stadium will provide the stage for the Champions League final on 19 May 2012, have bounced back from a shock 1-0 defeat to Borussia Monchengladbach on the opening day of the season to hit top gear in the Bundesliga. In fact the Bavarians have racked up six consecutive victories without conceding a single goal, and scored an impressive 21 times in the process. Rarely troubled in their 2-0 win at Villarreal two weeks ago, the German side welcome back Arjen Robben and Mario Gomez, who should provide further options for an attack that is already excelling.
Opponents Manchester City have not exactly been slow out of the starting blocks either. Still unbeaten, Roberto Mancini’s charges currently share the lead of the English Premier League with their more illustrious city rivals, due in part to the re-emergence of Italian star Mario Balotelli, who is faced with the not insignificant task of displacing either Sergio Aguero or Edin Dzeko up front. This rich array of attacking talent will likely find Bayern’s defence a tough barrier to break down.
Group A (Tuesday 27 September)
After having brought back a precious point from their duel with Manchester City on Matchday 1, Napoli welcome a Villarreal side to the San Paolo that has yet to find its feet this year. With just one win in five La Liga matches, and a home defeat in their opening Group A match, the Yellow Submarine have fallen some way short of their fans’ pre-season expectations thus far. The two teams know each other well, the Spaniards having eliminated the Italians from last year’s UEFA Europa League.
Group B (Tuesday 27 September)
CSKA Moscow-Inter Milan
Surprisingly beaten at home by Trabzonspor, Inter Milan find themselves with very little margin for error, even at this early stage. Under the guidance of new coach Claudio Ranieri, the Nerazzurri got back to winning ways in Serie A over the weekend, and will be keen to confirm their return to form in Russia. In four previous meetings, the Italian club has always emerged victorious from meetings with CSKA Moscow, and will turn to a strikeforce of Giampaolo Pazzini and Diego Milito to keep that sequence going.
Trabzonspor, meanwhile, will aim to consolidate their lofty position at the top of the group by defeating French champions Lille. The Turks are a force to be reckoned with at home, having suffered just two losses in 11 matches.
Group C (Tuesday 27 September)
Deprived of the services of talismanic goal machine Wayne Rooney through injury, Manchester United dropped their first points of the season in a 1-1 draw away to Stoke on Saturday. Champions League opponents Basel, early section leaders after a 2-1 win over Otelul Galati, would be delighted with a similar result against Sir Alex Ferguson’s men, especially their German coach Thorsten Fink, who was part of the Bayern team beaten in injury time by United in the memorable 1999 final. In the pool’s other fixture, Benfica will travel to Romania to face Otelul Galati, in a match that sees the two clubs lock horns for the very first time.
Group D (Tuesday 27 September)
The Santiago Bernabeu will play host to a classic European encounter between Real Madrid and Ajax on Tuesday evening, a repeat of last season’s group clashes from which the Spaniards emerged triumphant on both occasions (2-0 and 4-0). Madrid, blowing hot and cold in La Liga, look likely to be without their first-choice centre-back pairing, which could lead to a European debut for Raphael Varane, the 18-year-old French defender whose acrobatic back-heeled goal against Rayo Vallecano had the Madrid fans on their feet on Saturday. Lyon, who secured a deserved point in Amsterdam last time out, will welcome Croatian opposition, in the form of Dinamo Zagreb, for the first time to the Stade Gerland.
Group E (Wednesday 28 September)
Bayer Leverkusen-Racing Genk
Valencia’s showdown with Chelsea will be the fifth time that these clubs have met in the Champions League since 2007, and on their previous two visits to the La Mestalla, the Blues have come away with 2-1 victories. Elsewhere, Bayer Leverkusen will hope to take advantage of the aforementioned Anglo-Spanish clash by forcing themselves back into the qualifying picture via a home win over Belgian champions Genk.
Group F (Wednesday 28 September)
Arsenal, who appear to have rediscovered their scoring touch in the Premier League, and Marseille, who are still struggling to string results together in Ligue 1, have a chance to put some distance between themselves and Group F’s other two participants on Wednesday. Borussia Dortmund, who held Arsene Wenger’s side to a draw two weeks ago and pulled off a last-gasp win over Mainz at the weekend, will be intent on getting their European campaign properly up-and-running at the Stade Velodrome.
Group G (Wednesday 28 September)
Zenit St Petersburg-Porto
Shakhtar Donetsk-APOEL Nicosia
Cypriot outfit APOEL Nicosia, who pulled off one of the results of the tournament’s opening matchday by seeing off Zenit St Petersburg 2-1, will head to Ukraine to take on Shakhtar Donetsk in good spirits. Zenit, meanwhile, have a tough task ahead of them in the shape of visitors Porto, who have won all four of their lasts fixtures in Russia.
Group H (Wednesday 28 September)
AC Milan-Viktoria Plzen
Having dropped two points late on at the Camp Nou in their last European test, Barcelona will look to Lionel Messi, scorer of a recent hat-trick against Atletico Madrid, to inspire them to victory against BATE Borisov in Belarus. AC Milan, hit by a number of injuries, will doubtless be satisfied with simply obtaining three points against Champions League newcomers Viktoria Plzen, irrespective of the manner of victory.
Player to watch
Juan Mata returns to Valencia on Wednesday just a few weeks after his big-money move to Chelsea. A warm welcome at the Mestalla stadium is not assured for the FIFA World Cup™ winner, despite a record of 51 goals in 174 encounters during his four seasons with Los Che.
100 – The number of goals scored by Robin van Persie in 238 Arsenal appearances since 2004, all competitions combined. The Dutchman, the Gunners’ new captain, has a total of 17 Champions League goals to his name, and has hit the net 26 times in 31 games since the beginning of 2011.
“This team will sort itself out on its own. It’ll soon be back to its best,” Claudio Ranieri, Inter Milan’s fifth coach in 15 months.
Have your say
Will Bayern Munich reach the final of the tournament, scheduled to be held at their own stadium?