The Champions League returns to action on tonight with a host of clubs looking to secure progression to the knockout phase while others are fighting for survival in Europe’s premier football competition, writes Ger McCarthy.
Tottenham Hotspur welcomes Inter Milan to White Hart Lane on Matchday 4 but could be without their midfield talisman Rafael Van Der Vaart following a pulled hamstring against Manchester United in the Premier League at the weekend. The Dutch maestro has been in terrific form and would be a major loss to Harry Redknapp’s side. Inter will secure a second round berth if they can defeat Spurs and Rafael Benitez’s side have also had an extra day to prepare following a 1-0 victory away to Genoa in Serie A last Friday night. Twente are in the Weserstadion in Bremen to take on Werder on the same evening with both sides still searching for their first Champions League win of the new campaign. Victory for either would take them above Spurs should the North Londoners lose at home to Inter so a cracking game is anticipated.
We’ll go for Tottenham Hotspur to hold Inter to a draw and Werder Bremen to get the better of Twente Enscehede.
Lyon are in Portugal to take on Benfica looking to maintain their 100% record in Group B on Tuesday evening. The French Champions have only conceded once in the tournament thus far and will qualify for the knockout phase with a fourth consecutive victory. Schalke 04 continue to struggle domestically but a third Champions League victory would see the German side solidify second place in the group. Hapoel Tel Aviv have home advantage in the Bloomfield Stadium on Matchday 4 and are desperate to get at least a draw otherwise their 2010-2011 European odyssey will be over.
Lyon should have too much firepower for Benfica so an away win is the likeliest outcome in Portugal while Schalke 04 should have enough to earn at least a point in Tel Aviv.
Manchester United are in Turkey to take on Bursaspor where an away victory would all but guarantee the Premier League side a place in the next stage of the competition. Sir Alex Ferguson’s side have only found the net twice in the Champions League this season but have yet to concede a goal suggesting Bursaspor will have their work cut out to breach a well drilled defence. Valencia welcome Rangers to Spain with the Scottish Champions reeling from a shock 1-1 draw at home to Inverness Caledonian Thistle at the weekend. Valencia can leapfrog Rangers into second spot with a home win and will take encouragement from their 1-1 draw in Ibrox on Matchday 3 despite playing well below par.
Manchester United should earn a point at the expense of Bursaspor in Turkey while Valencia will get there Champions League campaign back on track with victory at home to Rangers.
FC Copenhagen faces the daunting task of preventing an in-form Barcelona from making it through to the knockout phase of the competition when the Spanish Champions visit Denmark on Tuesday evening. Barca were in scintillating form at the weekend in their home victory over Sevilla with Lionel Messi and David Villa outstanding. The Dane’s have the opportunity to overtake Barcelona should they record the unlikeliest of home wins although they gave a fine account of themselves in the Camp Nou on Matchday 3 before eventually succumbing to the hosts. The clash of Rubin Kazan and Panathinaikos in Russia sees two sides desperate to record their maiden victory in the Champions League this season. A result for either would go a long way to increasing the possibility of making the latter stages of the Europa League as well. A 0-0 draw was the result on Matchday 3 so another tight encounter is anticipated on Tuesday.
Barcelona will seal their passage into the knockout phase away to Copenhagen while Rubin Kazan should earn a home win at the expense of the Greek side Panathinaikos.
Ger McCarthy is author of the book entitled ‘Off Centre Circle’ about a lifetime spent playing amateur football in Ireland. Follow him on Twitter by clicking here.