Scudetto holders AC Milan have added promising young striker Stephan El Shaarawy to their Champions League squad ahead of the visit of Arsenal to the San Siro. New signings Djamel Mesbah and Maxi Lopez will also be eligible to face the Gunners but veteran Fillipo Inzhagi has been left out by Rossoneri coach Massimiliano Allegri as the seven-times European champions begin their quest for yet another quarter-final appearance.
Manchester City’s failure to make the same impact in the Champions League as they have at home suggests the Premier League may not be as strong in comparison to other European competitions as some believe, and Roberto Mancini’s team have given themselves a mountain to climb if they are to reach the last 16.
With a tricky finale coming up against a vastly experienced Bayern Munich, Manchester City will want to wrap up qualification for the knockout stages of the Champions League as quickly as possible and that means winning in Naples this week.
Arsenal were undoubtedly a shade fortunate to take a point of German champions Borussia Dortmund at the Signal Iduna Park earlier in their Champions League campaign and, though in far better form now, face no easy task taking all three points against Jurgen Klopp’s team at the Emirates.
A lot of water seems to have flowed under the bridge since Chelsea blew away Genk in west London two weeks ago. Andre Villas-Boas’ side have lost both matches in the Premier League since, though did win a Carling Cup tie at Everton in extra-time, and captain John Terry has been at the heart of a racism row. So is the controversy that plagued Carlo Ancelotti’s reign going to de-rail Villas-Boas’ efforts to turn Chelsea back into a major force in English and European football? After back-to-back defeats, they now trail Manchester City by nine points in the Premier League and that’s a gap that, even at this stage of the season, will take some closing.
Manchester City’s hopes of progressing to the knockout stages in their first-ever Champions League campaign received a massive boost with Sergio Aguero’s last-gasp winner against Villareal at the Etihad Stadium a fortnight ago and they’ve not looked back since.
The Carlos Tevez incident in Munich has rather overshadowed Manchester City’s debut campaign in the Champions League but Roberto Mancini’s team need to rediscover their focus quickly if they aren’t to make an early exit from the competition.
Chelsea would have been disappointed to concede a late goal against Valencia in the Mestalla last month which spoiled their one hundred per cent record in Group E. But I suspect that coach Andre Villas-Boas will still be happy that his team sit at their top of their section with two games against Champions League novices Genk to come.
Unai Emery’s team are 2/1 to take all three points and that looks excellent value considering they’ve won two out of three home games in the league this season and twice led Barcelona before being forced to settle for a draw.
On being asked if he was concerned by the dropped points after his side had been held to a draw by Napoli in their Champions League opener at the Etihad Stadium, Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini replied that he wasn’t as his team would win their next game in Munich.
Brave words, or foolish optimism? Mancini has, of course, terrific firepower at his disposal and Saturday’s defeat of Everton coupled with Manchester United’s draw at Stoke put them level on points again with their great rivals at the top of the Premier League.
Arsenal’s sticky start to the new season was given some relief when they edged past Udinese to qualify for the group stages of the Champions League but the new-look Gunners face a stiff start to their campaign against Borussia Dortmund.
The Signal Iduna Park is already a sell-out for Die Borussens’ clash with the Gunners and the Bundesliga champions’ fans are expecting to make a big impression now their team is back among Europe’s elite.
There can’t have been any Champions League debutants entering the competition with as powerful a squad as Manchester City. Roberto Mancini’s 25-strong party bristles with established stars and the kind of firepower that other coaches could only dream of. The manager could even afford to leave England internationals Owen Hargreaves and Wayne Bridge to kick their heels but want-away Carlos Tevez is included, as is compatriot Sergio Aguero, who will compete for a place up front against the volatile Mario Balotelli and in-form Edin Dzeko.