Champions League

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Time to deliver for Manchester City

NO LAUGHING MATTER
Man City's Sergio Aguero, Pablo Zabaleta, David Silva and Carlos Tevez during training.
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Jamie Trecker

Jamie Trecker is the Senior Editor for FOXSoccer.com. A working journalist for 25 years, he covers the Champions League, European soccer and the world game. Follow him on Twitter.

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The money day of the Champions League kicks off Wednesday with a crucial must-win in the group of death.

Manchester City face German giants Borussia Dortmund (live, Wednesday, FOX Soccer, 2 p.m. ET) in a critical game for the Premier League champions. Stuck in a group entirely comprised of former European Cup winners, City must win all its home games if it has a chance of escaping the clutches of Real Madrid and Ajax. Fail here and City might as well turn their attention to catching Chelsea and biding their time for yet another long season.

Last season, the Citizens flamed out, a product of a lack of experience and European seasoning. Their opponents on Wednesday did the same, albeit with a bit more kindling. Outscored by a 2-1 ratio and blown out of the group stage with but a win to their name, Dortmund underwhelmed so completely that many thought it would crash their domestic form as well.

It did not, largely due to the Polish spine that girds their team and the individual brilliance of three German standouts.

The Poles — well known to world fans from their heroic attempts in the European Championships this year — are Lukasz Piszczek, Jakub “Kuba” Blaszczykowski and the striker Robert Lewandowski. Back to front, this triad has proven to be one of the most resilient in the world game. Piszczek is deceptively fast, a smooth tackler in the back who reliably clears away danger; Kuba cleans up the messes and starts the attack; and Lewandowski is one of the best pure forwards in the game. That trio wasn’t enough to get Poland out of the group stage, but surrounded by the likes of Neven Subotic, Mats Hummels and Ivan Perisic they make Dortmund a very solid team.

Where Dortmund becomes downright dangerous is in the German duo of Mario Gotze and Marco Reus. Gotze is the architect in midfield, collecting from Kuba, pushing the play out wide to Reus and feeding the tireless Lewandowski. Against Ajax in the opener, it was Gotze’s service and Reus’ endless running that finally wore out a resilient Dutch back line. Lewandowski could have had a hat trick in the game were it not for the play of Ajax keeper Kenneth Vermeer, but his late winner was justice in a match that saw Dortmund as the clearly superior side.

They bring a real challenge to a City side that is flashier, more expensive and under more pressure than ever before. They enter the game off a dramatic late win on the weekend over Fulham thanks to Edin Dzeko’s late goal. They remain one of only three unbeaten teams in the Premiership (alongside Chelsea and unlikely Sunderland) but are four points off the pace after six games.

HEADS UP!

Check out the best images from the Champions League's group stage.

City looked as if they were about to pull off a famous upset at the Bernabeu on the first matchday, leading Real Madrid into the 86th minute. And then, pandemonium followed.

A quick strike from Karim Benzema and a sensational 90th minute match-winner from Cristiano Ronaldo left Roberto Mancini speechless and fuming. In truth, his side had been widely outplayed, displaying none of the flair and power the team is truly capable of.

Yet a loss to Madrid in Madrid is one thing. A loss at home to a team that City has to beat if it is to stake its claim in Europe is another altogether. Key to this effort is a stable back line, something that City has had some issues providing. Vincent Kompany and Gael Clichy have been superb. After that, it’s a bit of a crapshoot. Micah Richards is out for the game and Kolo Toure cannot feature as he is unregistered.

Yaya Toure remains the spark in a year where Samir Nasri and David Silva have both lost a lot of their sheen. Silva, in particular, looks exhausted; Nasri just looks very average. Yaya, in comparison, seems to have too few problems with playing sixty top-level games a year and his dynamism has rescued City more than once.

But the keys, as always, are the performances of City deep yet mercurial strike corps. Mario Balotelli, seems to have fallen off a cliff, yet again. Carlos Tevez is very important and focused, but doesn’t seem as much of a threat this season. Dzeko is hit or miss, a striker that seems to have all the tools but never brings them all to the job at hand.

That leaves Sergio Aguero. Kun has recovered from an early injury and seems to be the one City player up top with the drive and passion to succeed. Wednesday night, it’s all on his shoulders and if City do live to fight again, expect it is because he fired home the winner.

Notable also on the day are Ajax-Real Madrid (FOX Soccer Plus, 2 p.m. ET) a meeting of two former champions that should be closer than La Liga fans expect. Expect two high-octane clashes in Arsenal vs. Olympiakos (FOX Sports Net regionals, 2 p.m. ET) and FC Porto v PSG (FOX Soccer 2Go, 2 PM ET). And of course, Massimiliano Allegri’s AC Milan face a massive test in St. Petersburg against Zenit (live, Wednesday, FOX Soccer, 12 p.m. ET).

Jamie Trecker is the senior editor for FOXSoccer.com covering the UEFA Champions League and the Barclays Premier League.

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