Manchester duo seek Champions League kickstart
Berne: Manchester rivals City and United have so far not taken their domestic form into Europe and will be among 15 teams attempting to win their first matches in the Champions League group stage this week.
While it is no surprise that the likes of Viktoria Plzen, BATE Borisov and Otelul Galati have failed to register wins as the third round of matches loom, City and United’s poor starts in the competition have raised eyebrows.
After drawing away to Benfica and at home to FC Basel, United know they must return with three points from Tuesday’s visit to Romanian champions Otelul, who have lost their opening two games in Group C.
If not, last year’s runners-up will find themselves having to play catch up with the leading pair, who have four points apiece and meet in Switzerland the same evening.
“Our Euro campaign has certainly not gone the way we’d hoped,” United manager Alex Ferguson, whose side threw away a two-goal lead at home to FC Basel and trailed 3-2 with one minute left, told English media on Sunday.
“There’s no cause for panic yet. But four games left with only two points on the board, and Basel and Benfica on four points, isn’t what I had hoped for.”
Galati, who have to play home matches in Bucharest because their own stadium is not up to Champions League standards, are coached by Romania’s most-capped international Dorinel Munteanu.
Founded in 1964, the team from the shipbuilding and steel town won their first Romanian title last season.
Basel will be playing under interim coach Heiko Vogel after Thorsten Fink decided to swap the chance of Champions League success for a Bundesliga survival battle at Hamburg SV.
The Swiss side boast the competition’s top scorer in Alexander Frei with three goals in two games, and welcome winger Xherdan Shaqiri back after a two-match suspension.
Premier League leaders Manchester City are in an even more complicated situation in Group A, where they are five points behind rampant leaders Bayern Munich and three behind Napoli.
Roberto Mancini’s team host Villarreal, who have lost their opening two games, and while they will have an eye on next weekend’s derby against United they have little room for error.
“We know this week will be hard,” Mancini said. “Villarreal in the Champions League and after that we have the derby. We must focus on Villarreal first.”
Napoli will attempt to become the first team to score against Bayern in 13 games when they entertain the Bavarians.
The Italians are unbeaten in nine home European games since 2008.
Bundesliga champions Borussia Dortmund are among the other sides looking for a first win as they visit Greek champions Olympiakos, who are pointless at the bottom of Group F.
In the same group, leaders Olympique Marseille defend their 100 percent record at home to second-placed Arsenal in a meeting of two sides whose European form is a contrast to their poor starts to their domestic seasons.
The biggest surprise so far has been provided by Group B leaders Trabzonspor, who were only included after Fenerbahce were withdrawn from the competition over a match-fixing scandal in Turkey.
Trabzonspor, who have four points, visit winless CSKA Moscow while second-placed Inter Milan need to put their dismal domestic form behind them as they travel to Lille, another side searching for their first win.
Group G leaders APOEL, the other surprise package, defend their unbeaten record away to Europa League and Portuguese champions Porto, who need to bounce back from their 3-1 defeat to Zenit St Petersburg in the previous round.
Other groups have been more predictable, especially Group H where AC Milan and Barcelona, with four points each, can take another step towards qualifying by winning at home to BATE Borisov and Viktoria Plzen respectively.
The two Eastern European sides have one point apiece.
Group E leaders Chelsea can also extend their dominance with a home win over bottom side Genk as can Group D leaders Real Madrid who host Olympique Lyon, the team they knocked out last season.
Also in Group D, four-times European champions Ajax Amsterdam visit Croatian champions Dinamo Zagreb with both hoping for their first win.