And everyone said the big clubs would have it easy...
At the European Cup draw, the continent's heavyweights seemed to have a stroll through to the knockout stages. So what went wrong? Pete Jenson on five titans fighting for survival this week
Tuesday 03 November 2009
Bayern Munich: Depleted Germans face desperate match with Bordeaux (Group A)
Defeat to French champions Bordeaux in the last round of games has left Bayern Munich needing to win against them in the reverse fixture tonight. Another failure for the four-times European Cup winners and Louis van Gaal's side face crashing out of the tournament.
Bayern's last game is away to Juventus and with Bundesliga form leaving them trailing leaders Bayer Leverkusen by four points, there is a danger of too many vital games coming at once for the side who last won the Champions League in 2001. Five of Bayern's last eight home games in the competition have ended in draws and a point will not be enough tonight. "Bayern always has to win," said Van Gaal, "but tonight we really do have to win."
* Verdict: With the injured Franck Ribéry definitely out and Arjen Robben also struggling for fitness, Group A is really taking it's toll on the Germans. Meanwhile, Juventus play pointless Maccabi Haifa tonight – and may well open up a four-point gap on them.
Group A results so far: Juventus 1 Bordeaux 1, M Haifa 0 B Munich 3; B Munich 0 Juventus 0, Bordeaux 1 M Haifa 0; Bordeaux 2 B Munich 1, Juventus 1 M Haifa 0.
Remaining fixtures: Tonight: B Munich v Bordeaux, M Haifa v Juventus, 25 Nov: B Munich v M Haifa, Bordeaux v Juventus, 8 Dec: Juventus v B Munich, M Haifa v Bordeaux.
Internazionale: Mourinho needs first win in a year (Group F)
With just three points after three games Internazionale are no longer one of the favourites to qualify from Group F, especially bearing in mind trips to Ukraine tomorrow night and the Nou Camp which await them.
A seven-point lead in Serie A could allow Jose Mourinho to rest key players before crucial Champions League games and their fate could at least be decided at home in their last group game against Rubin Kazan. However, not having won in eight games in Europe is beginning to weight heavily on the shoulders of the Italian champions, as is the failure to win the tournament since 1965. "The Special One" was brought to Milan to deliver what his predecessor, Roberto Mancini, could not and his long-term future at the club will be called into doubt if he fails to get the side beyond the first hurdle.
* Verdict: Anything less than a win in Kiev tomorrow and Mourinho will go to the Nou Camp needing a victory against the club whose supporters learnt to hate him when he was Chelsea manager.
Barcelona: Holders at risk of being frozen out (Group F)
PEP Guardiola's team have taken just four points from their opening three games in Group F and the second half of their campaign promises to be much tougher. They have two sub-zero temperature trips to Russia and the Ukraine and the only home comfort comes against Jose Mourinho's Internazionale who will have Samuel Eto'o fired up in attack ready for his first game back at the Nou Camp.
Eto'o (right) has a habit of returning to haunt the clubs who have rejected him. That suited Barça all the time he was scoring on return visits to Real Madrid but it could provide them with a problem later this month especially if they defend as they did at in their La Liga draw with Osasuna on Saturday.
"If it gets cold you put a coat on you don't open the door and let the wind blow through" said Johan Cruyff of the team's naive search for a second goal leaving them exposed to the eventual equaliser at the weekend. The cold will literally be a problem tomorrow night when the reigning champions play in temperatures as low as -10C against Rubin Kazan. Their six-hour flight to Russia was delayed by two hours yesterday – not ideal preparation for such an important game. If the group remains as tight as it has been over the first three games then Guardiola's side could go to Dynamo Kiev needing a win in their final match.
* Verdict: Any slip ups tomorrow night and the home match with Inter starts looking like crucial.
Group F results so far: Dynamo Kiev 3 Rubin Kazan 1, Internazionale 0 Barcelona 0; Rubin Kazan 1 Internazionale 1, Barcelona 2 Dynamo Kiev 0; Barcelona 1 Rubin Kazan 2, Internazionale 2 Dynamo Kiev 2.
Remaining fixtures: Tomorrow: Dynamo Kiev v Internazionale, Rubin Kazan v Barcelona, 24 Nov: Barcelona v Internazionale, Rubin Kazan v Dynamo Kiev, 9 Dec: Dynamo Kiev v Barcelona, Internazionale v Rubin Kazan.
Milan: Revival depends on Ronaldinho (Group C)
A 1-0 home defeat to Group C's weakest team FC Zurich was a new low for the seven times winners of the European Cup and it is the reason why losing tonight against Real Madrid would pile the pressure back on Leonardo. Milan's young Brazilian coach was left hanging by a thread after that reverse but a dramatic 3-2 win over Real two weeks ago and four victories in Serie A have changed everything.
A resurgent Ronaldinho has had a lot to do with the turnaround. "I have adapted now," he said yesterday. "I have learned the language and I am feeling much sharper. This year has been a lot easier for me." The Brazilian looked more motivated than usual at the Bernabeu and Leonardo added: "He is closing defenders down and if he continues on the same path then he will just go from strength to strength."
But that Milan's fate depends so much on someone who has been so inconsistent in recent seasons does not bode well for Leonardo. And neither does the fact that Real go into tonight's match with so much to prove.
* Verdict: Mini-revival could come crashing down tonight leaving Milan's qualification in the balance once again.
Real Madrid: Pellegrini battles history (Group C)
When planning Real Madrid's world domination at the start of the season, the club's president, Florentino Perez, said: "What we need to work out with Uefa is a European Super League that guarantees that all the top teams play each other all the time – something that does not happen in the current Champions League."
An exclusive tournament based, not on results, but on historical standing, would certainly be one way of ensuring Real get through to the final stages of the competition, something that has not happened since 2004 when they last made it to the quarter-finals. Having lost at home to Milan in the last round of matches, they must beat them tonight, but history is not on their side. They have never won a European game against the Rossoneri at San Siro, have not scored there for 53 years and were humbled 5-0 there 20 years ago by the Ruud Gullit/Marco van Basten side. Coach Manuel Pellegrini also has to make do without the injured Cristiano Ronaldo (left). The last thing Real need is to go into the last match in the Vélodrome needing a result against Marseilles.
* Verdict: A historic win would set them on their way and make up for that 4-0 defeat to tiny Alcorcon in the Spanish Cup last week.
Group C results so far: Marseilles 1 Milan 2, Zurich 2 Real Madrid 5; Milan 0 Zurich 1, Real Madrid 3 Marseilles 0; Real Madrid 2 Milan 3, Zurich 0 Marseilles 1.
Remaining fixtures: Tonight: Milan v Real Madrid, Marseilles v Zurich; 25 Nov: Milan v Marseilles, Real Madrid v Zurich; 9 Dec: Zurich v Milan, Marseilles v Real Madrid.
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