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 One slight worry for Stuttgart is that Mario Gomez was withdrawn early from the weekend win over Frankfurt with chest pains and is doubtful for this game.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.
Group G features a rematch between Inter Milan and Fenerbahçe. Both clubs are looking good to make the next round though Fenerbahçe will be hoping for at least a draw in this match to make their task easier. Inter’s top scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic will return to the starting XI after being rested at the weekend. Fenerbahçe also rested some key players like right-back Gökhan Gönüland midfielder Stephen Appiah, but still managed a 4-2 triumph against Ankaraspor on Saturday. That win moved them to third in the Turkish Super Lig standings, six points behind leaders Galatasaray. Star-man Alex scored a hat-trick at the weekend to warm up for Tuesday’s clash.
PSV Eindhoven will be without captain Timmy Simons for their match against CSKA Moskva as the Belgian international is struggling with a back problem. After losing 2-0 to Fenerbahçe on the last Matchday, PSV need a win from this match to keep their hopes of making the final 16 alive. CSKA’s domestic campaign is over after finishing third, eight points behind champions FC Zenit St. Petersburg. CSKA had won back-to-back titles in 2005 and 2006 as well as the UEFA Cup in 2005. Manager Valeri Gazzaev, who took over the job in 2002, will motivate his club to try and beat PSV Eindhoven to third position in the group and earn a UEFA Cup berth.
In another matchup with potential for some lovely football, Arsenal and Sevilla will meet at the Sanchez Pizjuan. However, Sevilla will be concerned by their inconsistency up front and at the back. They suffered a second defeat in a row when they lost 2-1 at home to Real Mallorca on Saturday despite dominating most of the match. Conversely, Arsenal, put in a determined performance to come up with 2-0 win against a stubborn Wigan Athletic side. They moved three points clear at the top of the Premier League despite fielding a side without midfielders Alexandr Hleb, Cesc Fabregas and Mathieu Flamini. Hleb, Robin van Persie and Abou Diaby will definitely be missing while Theo Walcott is doubtful after going off on a stretcher against Wigan with an ankle knock so Croatian Eduardo may get a run out up front. Arsenal have nothing on the line in this match having already qualified for the next round so Fabregas may be left out in order to get Denilson and Lassana Diarra some further experience.
The last match we’ll look at today is one in which I waive any sort of objectivity about. I am looking for Slavia Prague to defeat Steaua Bucharest and lock up the UEFA Cup slot. Since suffereing a 7-0 hammering against Arsenal, Slavia have gone undefeated in 5 matches but 4 of those matches have been draws and they have let their lead atop the Gambrinus Liga to just four points over Teplice and five over arch-rivals Sparta Prague. The key for Slavia will be to get their offence kick-started as they have only produced 3 goals in their last 5 matchs. Stanislav Vl?ek needs to be the key man for Slavia and hopefully can add to his total of 7 league goals and 2 in Champions League qualifying. Another player to keep an eye on is Daniel Pudil, the young left-sided midfilder who recently scored for the Czech Republic national team.
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