Crucial contests across the continent

Former European champions Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and Marseille are the only three teams with perfect records to defend in this week’s third round of UEFA Champions League group games.

In stark contrast, Villarreal, Otelul Galati, Dinamo Zagreb and Olympiacos are all looking for their first points after losing their opening two matches.

One team still without a win are Manchester United, who travel to Otelul in urgent need of points, while old acquaintances Real Madrid and Lyon will be squaring off for the third season running. previews those games and more, on what promises to be a crucial matchday in the group phase of Europe’s premier club competition.

Match of the day
Basel-Benfica, Group C, Tuesday 18 October, St. Jakob-Park, Basel, 8.45pm
Having each registered a win over Otelul and a draw with Manchester United, Basel and Benfica are tied at the top of Group C, two points clear of their rivals. The Swiss have been the revelations of the section so far, producing a stunning second-half comeback in a pulsating 3-3 draw at Old Trafford last month, when they were only denied victory by a last-minute United equaliser. Since then, however, coach Thorsten Fink has departed for Hamburg, to be replaced by his former assistant Heiko Vogel. Visitors Benfica are sure to provide a stern test, having gone unbeaten in their three away games in the competition so far this season and having lost just once in their last seven away outings. Two men to watch out for will be Basel’s Alexander Frei and his namesake Fabian, the goalscoring heroes of that draw in Manchester.

The other matches

Tuesday 18 October

Group A
Napoli-Bayern Munich
Manchester City-Villarreal

There is another top-of-the-table duel in store in Group A, where Bundesliga high-flyers Bayern hope to consolidate their section lead against a Napoli side who are prioritising the Champions League this season. The Italians, who no doubt had one eye on the visit of the Bavarians when they went down 2-1 at home to Parma in the league at the weekend, will be banking on star striker Edinson Cavani to outshine opposite number Mario Gomez. Meanwhile, Manchester City’s hopes of staying in touch with the leading duo depend on a positive result at home to a Villarreal side bringing up the rear in the pool and marooned in mid-table in La Liga.

Group B
CSKA Moscow-Trabzonspor
Lille-Inter Milan

Surprise frontrunners thanks in no small part to their shock 1-0 win at Inter Milan on Matchday 1, Trabzonspor are aiming for another notable away day in Moscow against a CSKA side without a win in their last five games. One place above the Russians in third, Lille will be hoping to chalk up their first victory in the section when I Nerazzurri come visiting. The crisis-stricken Italians lost 2-1 to Catania at the weekend, their fourth Serie A reverse of the season, and sit just one place above the relegation zone. To make matters worse, their Uruguayan striker Diego Forlan is facing a two-month injury lay-off.  

Group C
Otelul Galati-Manchester United
A seemingly straightforward trip to Romania could provide United with a much-needed boost following a disjointed display in last Saturday’s 1-1 league draw at Liverpool.

Group D
Real Madrid-Lyon
Dinamo Zagreb-Ajax Amsterdam

There is not much Real Madrid and Lyon do not know about each other, the two having met time and again in the competition in recent years. In 2010, the French ousted the Spanish giants in the Round of 16, an exit that Jose Mourinho’s side avenged at the same stage last season. The Portuguese coach’s biggest problem going into Tuesday evening’s meeting is whether to line up with Argentinian striker Gonzalo Higuain, the scorer of two hat-tricks for Los Blancos in the last fortnight, or French counterpart Karim Benzema, who started the season in fine form and will be keen to impress against his old club.

Wednesday 19 October

Group E
Bayer Leverkusen-Valencia

Leaders Chelsea picked up a valuable point in Spain in their last game and have a chance to break clear when they host Genk. Meanwhile, second-placed Leverkusen will be hoping the vastly experienced Michael Ballack can reprise his goalscoring performance against the Belgians when they host Valencia in the first meeting between the clubs in the competition.

Group F
Olympiacos-Borussia Dortmund

Having made poor starts to their domestic campaigns, European success has become even more important for Marseille and Arsenal, who are preparing for their first encounter in the Champions League. Way off the pace in Ligue 1 after only one win in nine games, L'OM lie two points clear of the Gunners, who are themselves well adrift of the leaders in England and are still struggling to adjust to life without Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas.

Group G
Shakhtar Donetsk-Zenit St. Petersburg
FC Porto-APOEL Nicosia

The surprise package of the entire group phase to date, pool pacesetters APOEL Nicosia face a stiff examination at Porto, while Ukrainian league leaders Shakhtar Donetsk, who drew 1-1 at home to the Cypriots at the end of September, will be out to atone when they welcome Zenit.

Group H
AC Milan-Bate Borisov
Barcelona-Viktoria Plzen

The section’s two heavyweights are already well on course for the Round of 16 and anything other than home wins here would be a major surprise.

Player to watch
Robin van Persie has been keeping the Gunners afloat this season. The scorer of both his side’s goals in the 2-1 defeat of Sunderland at the weekend, the Dutch striker has now struck 28 times in 36 games this year.

The stat
11 –
The number of consecutive Champions League away games Bayern Munich have scored in. The last team to keep a clean sheet at home to the Bavarians was Barcelona, in the quarter-finals in 2009.

What they said
“You can’t talk about who’s the first-choice when you’ve got players as good as Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuain. It’s very difficult to say which of them should start and which shouldn’t,” Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho

Have your say
Which unfancied team will spring the surprise of the round?