Seven sides out to maintain perfect start
Matchday 3 of the UEFA Champions League will take place on Tuesday and Wednesday with seven teams aiming to make it three wins out of three in the group phase.
While it comes as no shock to see the likes of Porto, Arsenal, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Manchester United with 100 per cent records at this stage of proceedings, the appearance on the list of Malaga and BATE Borisov is less expected, even if surprises are becoming more the norm in Europe’s premier club competition
FIFA.com looks ahead to the week’s 16 games.
Match of the day
Malaga-AC Milan, Group C, La Rosaleda, Malaga
On paper this tie might look a little one-sided. After all, Malaga have only played 14 European games in their entire history, while Milan have won that number of European titles. I Rossoneri are floundering in Serie A, however, currently a whole 15 points behind leaders Juventus in 15th, and have registered a goalless home draw with Anderlecht and a narrow win in St Petersburg so far in the section. In contrast, the Spaniards were far more impressive in their two games against the same opposition, cruising to 3-0 wins at home to the Russians and away to the Belgians, becoming the first ever debutants in the competition to take maximum points from their first two games without conceding. Meanwhile, Milan have been struggling without their old guard and slumped to a 3-2 defeat at Lazio on Saturday, prompting the Milan directors to order a week-long training camp for their underperforming team.
The other matches
Tuesday 23 October
Chelsea coach Roberto di Matteo remains unbeaten in eight Champions League games (five wins and three draws), though the defending champions will face a stern test of their abilities in Donetsk. Shakhtar, who are tied with the Londoners on four points, impressed in holding Juventus to a 1-1 draw in Turin in their last game, and have won three and drawn one of their four home matches against English clubs. Riding high in Serie A, the Italians have drawn their last eight matches in European competition, a run they will be anxious to end against Danish newcomers Nordsjaelland, who are still feeling their way on the big stage.
BATE Borisov have made the best possible start to the group, winning both their games, one of them an eye-catching 3-1 defeat of Bayern Munich. Coach Viktor Goncharenko has a deadly strike duo to call on in Renan Bressan and Vitali Rodionov, who have scored six times between them from 12 efforts on goal. Opponents Valencia laboured to their third league win of the season on Saturday, a 3-2 defeat of Athletic Bilbao, and are hoping to mark their 50th Champions League match with another victory. Their record so far reads: 15 wins, 18 draws and 16 defeats. After their slip-up in Minsk, Bayern will be out to translate their perfect league form (eight wins in eight games) into three points against backmarkers Lille, who have struggled at the back, conceding five goals in their two games to date.
Shorn of four first-choice defenders because of injury, Barça have got into the habit of scoring one more than their opponents, an ability they showcased again at the weekend by beating Deportivo La Coruna by the odd goal in nine. Three of those goals came from Lionel Messi, who will be hoping to toast the birth of his son Thiago with more goals against the Scots. In the other game in the pool, neither Spartak nor Benfica can afford to lose.
Manchester United-Sporting Braga
Three points clear at the top, the Manchester side intend to celebrate their 150th home European match (104 wins, 35 draws and ten defeats) in style, which could well be the case now that Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie have struck up a telepathic understanding. In Istanbul, meanwhile, Galatasaray have the objective of climbing off the bottom of the group at the expense of second-placed Cluj.
Wednesday 24 October
Dynamo Zagreb-Paris Saint-Germain
Beaten in Porto in their last outing, PSG have the resources to atone for that setback away to a Dynamo side that has lost its last eight Champions League matches. The Portuguese, who have retained their happy knack of reinventing themselves every year, have won both their games to date and are setting their sights on securing their 100th European home win in 157 games.
Ten points off the hot pace being set by Chelsea in the Premier League, Arsenal have proved more effective in the Champions League this season, and a win over Schalke 04 would all but see them through to the last 16. The omens look good too, the Gunners’ last reverse at home to a German club coming against Borussia Moenchengladbach in 1996-97. In the battle of the bottom two at La Mosson, Montpellier and Olympiakos have little option but to go for the win.
Zenit St Petersburg-Anderlecht (18:00)
The chances of either side reaching the last 16 look remote. Bottom of the pool with zero points, the Russians have lost their last three games, while Anderlecht have not won a Champions League match since defeating Spain’s Real Betis 1-0 in December 2005.
Ajax Amsterdam-Manchester City
Borussia Dortmund-Real Madrid
There is still everything to play for in a section widely regarded as the toughest of the lot, though Manchester City are under pressure to grab three points from their visit to Ajax, who remain pointless. Meanwhile, Real Madrid will defend their lead in the section when they travel to Dortmund. The Spanish champions have been forced to make some defensive changes in response to injuries to Marcelo, Alvaro Arbeloa and Fabio Coentrao, with midfielder Michael Essien slotting into the back-line as cover.
Player to watch
Belarus’ national team captain between 2007 and 2010, the 31-year-old Aliaksandr Hleb has been bringing all his experience to bear in BATE Borisov’s remarkable start to the group phase. Recently returned to the club where he began his career, after stints with Stuttgart, Arsenal, Barcelona, Birmingham City and Wolfsburg in an 11-year exile, Hleb’s European know-how has given the Belarussian side an extra dimension.
350 - The number of European Cup/UEFA Champions League matches that Real Madrid will have played when they run out in Dortmund on Wednesday. The Madrid giants have won an impressive 204 of their games in Europe’s leading club competition, drawing 60 and losing 85.
What they said
“I went to Japan when I was 18 and was able to handle it. If you can do that, then everything else is child’s play,” Zenit St Petersburg’s Brazilian striker Hulk.
Have your say
Which teams will maintain their flawless starts to the group phase?