With Euro 2008 qualifying put to rest and a round of domestic games under their belts, Europe’s top clubs return their focus to the Champions League for Matchday 5. This round of games should clarify which teams will progress though who will finish first or second will come down to the last Matchday for most groups.
In Group E, a win for Rangers should see them qualify for the knockout stage but they face an away game at Stuttgart. The only thing working in Rangers’ favour is that Stuttgart have little to play for in this match. Still without a point, the German champions cannot even grab a place in the UEFA Cup. Stuttgart’s domestic form has bounced back in recent weeks including a 3-1 defeat of current league leaders Bayern Munich and a 4-1 thrashing of Frankfurt Eintracht this past Saturday. One slight worry for Stuttgart is that Mario Gomez was withdrawn early from the weekend win over Frankfurt with chest pains and is doubtful for this game. Playmaking midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger and Brazilian striker Cacau should be able to fill the void left by the absence of Gomez. For Rangers, they are likely to use their familiar 5-man midfield with Jean-Claude Darcheville operating as the lone striker.
Meanwhile, Barcelona will look to improve their away form when they visit Lyon. This could be one of the best matches of the round as both teams are in-form at the moment. Barcelona will not have Thierry Henry in the lineup as he is suffering a recurrance of his back and groin strains. This could mean a start for Bojan Krkic who has looked good in his brief appearances this season. Barca will also hope that Ronaldinho will be back in the squad after pulling out of their match against Recreativo Huelva. The club has said that he has been suffering from excessive fatigue and that it was a mutual decision between the player, medical team and coaching staff to rest him.
Lyon, who need a win to have a hope of making the last 16, might have to make do without their top striker Karim Benzema. Benzema was stretchered off the pitch in the second half of Lyons 2-0 win against Rennes on Saturday, and has been diagnosed with a right thigh injury. Brazilian striker Fred would step into Benzema’s place if he is not fit to go so Lyon are not short on options.
With four straight wins in Group F so far, United are already assured of their place in the last 16 so it’ll be interesting to see if Cristiano Ronaldo and Nemanja Vidic feature against Sporting on Tuesday. Both are recovering from minor injuries and were absent for United’s shock loss to Bolton Wanderer’s in a Saturday English Premier League fixture. The other fixture in the group features Roma travelling to Kiev to face Dynamo Kiev. Dynamo have had a very disappointing campaign so far and I don’t see the pain easing against Roma. Roma will be without Phillipe Mexes, Simone Perrotta and Francesco Totti but I still don’t see Dynamo defeating the Italian side. Mirko Vucinic will spearhead the attack for Roma and he has been in good form so far this season.