The Manchester powers face major tests Tuesday as a pivotal Match Day Three kicks off in the UEFA Champions League. United, who have stumbled to two draws in their opening fixtures, now face unknowns Otlelul Galati while City host a tricky Villarreal side desperate for points. But the powerhouse match of the night is in Naples, where high-flying Napoli attempt to clip mighty Bayern Munich’s wings.
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Play continues Wednesday with Arsenal, Chelsea, Barcelona and AC Milan among those in action. On both days, every Champions League game is brought to you live in HD across the FOX family of networks and DirecTV, with real-time in-game coverage on Twitter (@FoxSoccerTrax and @FoxSoccerTrax2 and on-line at FOXSoccer.com.
Because of the Russian time zone, there is an early match Tuesday with CSKA Moscow hosting Turkish surprises Trabzonspor at 12:00 p.m. Eastern. The Turks sit atop Group B and are only in the competition because Fenerbache was thrown out on suspicions of match-fixing.
At the main kickoff time (2:45 p.m. Eastern), all eyes will be on Romania since Sir Alex Ferguson’s men have collected just two points in two games. A draw against Benfica wasn’t bad considering that the Lisbon Reds have shown they must be taken seriously this season. But when United threw away a two-goal lead against Basel and needed a last minute rescue to secure a 3-3 draw at Old Trafford? Well, that opened up some doubt.
The fact is the absences of Nemanja Vidic, the youth of Phil Jones, and the fading form of Rio Ferdinand in front of a still-callow David De Gea mean the Red Devils aren’t as solid as they might be. While they seem to be able to score if not at will then just when they need to, they need to be a more swashbuckling side than they prefer to be in European games.
To that end, Chicharito and Wayne Rooney are expected to be the focal points in a more offensive lineup. And the good news is that Vidic will return; but in a eyebrow raiser, Ferdinand was dropped. Ferdinand has yet to play in Europe this season.
Roberto Mancini’s City are under even greater pressure as they host a Villarreal team that hasn’t won a game in almost a month. The Yellow Submarine are sinking in La Liga and have yet to take a point in European play. But the Sky Blues have yet to show their Premier League-leading form in Champions league, last falling to group leaders Bayern in an emphatic 2-0 loss.
The talent is clearly there, but what City are up against is arguably the competition’s toughest group, and it’s unclear whether a team that is still gelling — and still reeling from the antics of one Mr. Carlos Tevez — can get it in gear in time. They showed some of their promise with a decisive 4-1 win over Aston Villa on the weekend but will need to show more flair and less ambivalence against a Spanish side that still has the potential to sting.
The big game is in Naples, with group leaders Bayern facing off against a high-flying Napoli side that is just two points off the Serie A lead.
Napoli were trimmed a bit on the weekend with a 2-1 loss to Parma but still look like a handful with Edinson Cavani and Premier League target Marek Hamsik beguiling defenses. Bayern, on the other hand, resemble a steamroller. They are crushing all comers in the Bundesliga — the latest being a 4-0 thumping of lowly Hertha — and while Arjen Robben is (again) a doubt for the game, they have so much talent they can cover that gap up. Expect a firefight.
Real Madrid is coasting behind the red-hot duo of Gonzalo Higuain and Cristiano Ronaldo but will be hosting bogey team Lyon in what could prove to be a trap match. Lyon have been hard chasers in Ligue 1 this year, powered by Bafetimbi Gomis and the set-piece skill of Michel Bastos. They also bring up bitter memories for Madrid: Lyon knocked the Spanish giants out in the round of 16 in 2010. But Madrid look to be a far more complete team now — even if they still can’t quite seem to catch Barcelona.
Elsewhere, Lille seek their first win of the tournament against an Inter side that is flirting with relegation; joint Group C leaders Basel and Benfica meet in Switzerland in the first of two games that could go either way. Inter aren’t as bad as they seem but Lille haven’t translated their solid French form to European play, having drawn both games.
And on paper you’d bet for Benfica, right? Don’t tell that to this Swiss team that so far seems determined to rewrite the script. A win for either in Switzerland would leave them free at the top.