UCL Preview Matchday 5 – Groups A, B, C, and D

Group – A

Internazionale V FC Twente Enshede

This is a very crucial tie for both the teams. Defending champions Inter are currently placed at second spot in the group and they have only two points lead over Twente. Inter has not been playing well off-late. It all started with the heavy defeat at the hands of Tottenham. Inter have not won a single game in the last five outings in all competitions. It includes defeat against arch rivals Milan and a weekend loss to Chievo as well. Rumours are ripe that Rafa Benitez’s days are numbered as Inter coach. Controversy surrounding Samuel Eto’o’s head butt on Bostjan Cesar of Chievo, for which he has earned a helfty fine and three match ban notice, has not done any favor to Inter’s preparation for the game. In the first leg, Inter were forced to share honors with Twente. Losing this match could cost Inter a place in the knockout stage.

Their counterparts, Twente, kept their hopes alive by registering an important away victory over Bremen in the last European excursion. But they have lost much of their steam in the last couple of weeks. They lost two back to back league games and saw Eindhoven replace them in the top of the league. Though Inter are not playing well, Twente must be weary of a backlash. Considering the experience of both teams, Inter might just pip Twente in this tie.

Tottenham Hotspur v Inter Milan, Champions League Group A 2/11/2010 Inter Milan's Samuel Eto'o in action with Younes Kaboul of Tottenham Photo Marc Atkins Fotosports International Photo via Newscom

Get over the shame, Inter needs you!

Tottenham Hotspur V Werder Bremen

The Champions League debutants are placed at the top of their group, ahead of group favorites Inter. A mammoth comeback against Inter on matchday 3 gave them the confidence to chalk out a victory in the return leg against the Italian Champions on matchday 4. Now they face Bremen, who are not playing well at the moment. In the first leg against Bremen, Tottenham had to be content with a draw, although they were up by two goals at one point of time.  Coming fresh from a victory over archrivals Arsenal in the north London derby, that too away from home and at one point trailing by two goals, Tottenham are expected to be firm favorites to clinch this tie and take one more step towards the knockout stage.

Werder Bremen are currently placed at the bottom of the group with only two points. Losing to FC Twente in the last group game at their own backyard has not done any favor to their chances of making it to the next round. Bremen have managed only five points in their last five away games. Bremen have not been playing well domestically either. They are currently places at 12th spot with a goal difference of -12. A heavy defeat at the hands of Schalke over the weekend has not done any good to their morale prior to this tie. If Tottenham wins this match and Inter gets the better of Twente, Tottenham will seal their first ever appearance beyond the group stage of the Champions League.

Group – B

FC Schalke 04 V Olympique Lyonnais

Schalke managed a victory over Bremen in Bundesliga over the weekend, although they are not doing too well in the league. After 13 rounds, they stand at paltry 15th place. In the first leg, Schalke lost to Lyon by a solitary goal. Problem for Schalke is that they have not scored in eight of their last twelve Champions League games. If they win this game and Hapoel defeats Benfica, then Schalke will qualify for the next round.

Group leaders Lyon’s recent domestic record has not been good either. Currently placed at eighth spot in Ligue 1, Lyon have won only two of their last seven away games. The first leg’s 1-0 victory over Schalke does give them the edge. Lyon has played away at Germany seven times in the Champions League and they have won in all but three occasions in which they faced Bayern Munich. If they win this game, they will automatically qualify for the knockout stage. Schalke has a good defensive record in Champions League. They have conceded only six goals in their last eleven European appearances and have never conceded more than once in any of those games. This is going to be the game where both teams will be looking for a victory.

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The champion coach has a lot to worry

Hapoel Tel-Aviv FC V SL Benfica

Hapoel are currently placed at the bottom of this group with their Champions League dream all but over. They have improved their game in the past one month. They have won four of their last six outings and have not lost a single game. During this time they earned their first point in the group stage by playing out a goalless draw against Schalke on matchday 4. As the Israeli outfit will play only for pride, they might play spoilsport to the chances of the other three teams to make it to the knockout stage.

Benfica holds third place in this group and they trail second placed Schalke by just a point. In the first leg Benfica comfortably defeated Hapoel at home. Benfica have won four of their last five games in all competitions. But their away form has been a worry for them. The Portuguese team has lost two of its last three away games including a 5-0 drubbing at the hands of FC Porto. Though Hapoel can be a different customer at their own backyard, Benfica are still favorites to win this game and qualify for the next round.

Group – C

Rangers FC V Manchester United FC

Rangers are presently at third place in group C. They need to win both their games to automatically qualify from this group. Bad news for them is that their reliable centre half Madjid Bougherra has been ruled out along with Maurice Edu and James Beattie. The Gers have not yet lost a single game at home in Champions League. The first leg’s resilient show at Old Trafford will definitely give the Scottish champions a boost.

Manchester United, the pacesetters from this group need just a point from this match to qualify for the knockout stage. Even though the team has not played anywhere near to its potential this season, they have not lost a single game in this campaign. Moreover, United have won eight of their last nine away games in Champions League. The kind of form they are in and the way the played against Valencia at Mestalla, United look poised to seal qualification for the knockout stage in the game against the Gers. Wayne Rooney is likely to make a comback in this game. Veteran winger Ryan Giggs could also be back after a lengthy injury spell.

Manchester United's Wayne Rooney (C) challenges Ryan Giggs (R) during a training session, ahead of the Champions League soccer match against Rangers, at Carrington in Manchester, northern England, November 23, 2010.  REUTERS/Darren Staples  (BRITAIN - Tags: SPORT SOCCER)

Wazza ready for the much awaited comeback

Valencia V Bursaspor

Valencia are currently at second place in this group. A victory against hapless Bursaspor at home could propel their chances further to qualify for the next round. Valencia have lost only one game in the last five outings in all compeitions. Their recent home record has been impeccable, as the Spanish side has won three of their last four home games, drawing the other one. They started their campaign with a bang against Bursaspor in Turkey and look highly likely to do a double over the whipping boys of the group. Navarro and Miguel are set to miss out the clash due to injury.

Bursaspor has only pride to play for. They are at the bottom of the group and have so far failed to earn a single point. The Turkish champion’s 18 match unbeaten run in the league came to an end against Trabzonspor a week back, conceding the pole position in the process. This will be yet another tough game for the Turkish outfit away from home, against a team that literally toyed with them in Turkey. Ali Tandoğan is likely to miss the tie through injury and Sercan Yıldırım did not play in their weekend vicotry over Manisaspor due toa calf injury.

Group – D

Rubin Kazan V FC Copenhagen

Sitting at third place, Rubin Kazan is struggling to qualify for the knockout stage. A hard fought draw against league champions Zenit St. Petersburg over the weekend might have given them a mental edge. Their recent home record has being annoying. In the last five compeitive games, Kazan have won only a single game. Good thing is that they have not lost any games durng this spell. Their last three games ended in stalemates. It’s evident that their front men have let them down so far. In the reverse leg, they were comprehensively beaten by Copenhagen. To qualify to the next round they must win this match.

The Danish league leaders have been brilliant throughout the Champions League. They stand second in the group, trailing Barcelona by a solitary point. Copenhagen played brilliantly to deny Barcelona a victory at the Danish capital. Their away record has been sensational this season. In the last seven competitive games, Copenhagen has won six games and drew one. This is a big match for the Danish team as well. As Rubin must win this tie and Copehagen cannot afford to lose it, this one could go down to the wire to be the game of the night.

Panathinaikos FC V FC Barcelona

Prior to the start of Champions League, Panathinaikos’ coach earned the limelight for finding the secret to cause the downfall of Barcelona. Things did turn bad for his team, when the Greek champions were thrashed by Barcelona at Camp Nou. The team never seemed to have got over that result and slowly lost their way in the group stage. So far they have only managed to get two points after four games and have failed to qualify for the next round. They’ll play only for pride. With their fans behind them, they will probably dare to avenge their heavy defeat against Barcelona.

Barcelona's Lionel Messi vies for the ball against Ceuta's Juan Antonio Zamora (L) during their King's Cup soccer match at Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona November 10, 2010. REUTERS/Albert Gea (SPAIN - Tags: SPORT SOCCER IMAGES OF THE DAY)

The flying Argentinian is hungry for more

Group leaders Barcelona have been playing well off-late, scoring a staggering eight goals in their last La Liga game against Almeria. The hattrick hero, Messi has been in tremendous form. He has already scored 22 goals and knotched up 9 assists in just 17 games in all competitions this season. To keep the momentum till El Classico in the coming weekend, Barcelona will go all guns blazing against Panathinaikos. They have so far won six of their last six away games, making them a clear favorites to clinch the tie.