PARIS, Oct 20, (AFP): Real Madrid travel to Paris Saint-Germain in the plum clash of Wednesday’s Champions League matches as improving Manchester City host Sevilla and Borussia Moenchengladbach desperately seek a first win at Juventus. AFP Sport runs the rule over the games being played in Champions League Groups A, B, C and D on Wednesday (kick-offs 1845 GMT):
Malmo (SWE) vs Shakhtar Donetsk (UKR)
Already this clash has the feel of a battle to qualify for the Europa League knock-out stages. With third-placed finishers in the Champions League group stage being parachuted down into the Europa League, realistically that is what is at stake for Malmo and Shakhtar. Both sides lost their opening two games against the group’s heavyweights Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid. Malmo have been in marginally better form in the Champions League but will be without suspended Peru winger Yoshimar Yotun. Shakhtar, though, come into the game on an eight-match winning domestic streak, including a 3-0 success against champions Dynamo Kiev on Friday.
Paris Saint-Germain (FRA) vs Real Madrid (ESP)
Undoubtedly the clash of the night between the big-spending Parisians and the record 10-time European champions. Both have been in fine form at home and abroad this season and are top of their respective domestic leagues, although in Real’s case, only by goal difference. This match, and the Madrid fixture two weeks later, will likely decide who wins the group and who finishes second. One man will probably be more fired up than all others — Argentina winger Angel Di Maria. He scored in Real’s 4-1 extra-time victory over neighbours Atletico Madrid to lift the 2014 Champions League but was promptly sold to Manchester United to make way for the likes of James Rodriguez. An unsuccessful year in the Premier League was ended with a move to Ligue 1, where Di Maria is flourishing. PSG will need him and Zlatan Ibrahimovic to fire on all cylinders against Cristiano Ronaldo and co.
CSKA Moscow (RUS) vs Manchester United (ENG)
It’s six years since these two last met in the group stages of this competition and the omens are good as both progressed to the knockout rounds. United actually won 1-0 on their last visit to CSKA but only goalscorer Antonio Valencia, who is unlikely to play, remains from that starting XI — although Michael Carrick did come off the bench. United have not been convincing on their return to Europe this season, losing at PSV Eindhoven and struggling to see off Wolfsburg at home. The group is neck-and-neck with all four teams level on points and goal difference. Russian leaders CSKA are unbeaten since losing in Wolfsburg while United are also in relatively good form, sitting third in the Premier League and just two points off the top following a 3-0 success at Everton.
Wolfsburg (GER) vs PSV Eindhoven (NED)
History is against the Dutch team as they prepare to travel to Wolfsburg — PSV have not won in Germany in almost 40 years. PSV’s only ever win away to a German team came back in 1977 against Eintracht Braunschweig and they have lost 12 of their 17 trips. Their away form in the Champions League also leaves a lot to be desired with one win and eight defeats from their last 10 trips. Add to that, Wolfsburg are unbeaten in 27 Bundesliga fixtures at home and all points to a likely German success. Wolfsburg will be without injured centre-back Robin Knoche but PSV have Colombian full-back Santiago Arias suspended.
Atletico Madrid (ESP) vs Astana (KAZ)
The Kazakh debutants have acquitted themselves very well so far but getting anything from a trip to the Vicente Calderon will be a tall order. Atletico lost their last European home match against group leaders Benfica but they have won 21 out of their last 24 at the Calderon in continental action. Astana did hold Galatasaray to a 2-2 home draw last time out but they were trounced 7-0 on aggregate in their only other clash with Spanish opposition against Villarreal in last season’s Europa League. Fernando Torres will be bidding for his 100th goal in Atletico colours on Wednesday night. “On paper we are the favourites, but not really knowing them can be a real danger,” Torres told UEFA.com. “In such matches we have to focus on ourselves, play our game, keep the concentration that you need in Champions League matches, and approach it with the determination to win.” Astana have won only one of their last six matches in all competitions and will be without suspended Ghanaian forward Patrick Twumasi.
Galatasaray (TUR) vs Benfica (POR)
Turkish champions Gala face a must-win game if they are to harbour hopes of reaching the knockout stages for the third time in four years. However, they come into the match on the back of a 10-game winless run in Europe and having finished bottom of their group last season. Benfica got off to a flying start in this year’s competition thanks notably to a 2-1 win at Atletico last time out. With maximum points from their two games so far, the Portuguese giants are well placed to earn only their second jaunt into the knock-out stages in their last eight Champions League campaigns. The two sides have only ever met once before, with Gala winning 2-0 in Lisbon in the 2008/09 UEFA Cup group stage.
Juventus (ITA) vs Borussia Moenchengladbach (GER)
It is last chance saloon for Gladbach as they travel to Turin where Juve are sitting pretty after winning their opening two group games. Borussia have lost their first two games but have turned the corner since a disastrous start to their season also saw them lose their first five Bundesliga matches. Four league wins in a row have restored confidence and propelled Gladbach to just three points off the Champions League qualification places in their domestic championship.
By contrast, Juventus’s Serie A form has yet to pick up after their own terrible start. They have won only two of their first eight games and sit 14th in the Italian league, just four points above the relegation zone. Yet they have been majestic in Europe, a season on from reaching the final, and coach Massimiliano Allegri will be hoping to maintain that form.
Manchester City (ENG) vs Sevilla (ESP)
Europe’s big under-achievers City have a great opportunity to set themselves on the path to knockout stage qualification against struggling Sevilla. The Europa League holders have had a tough start to their season, like Juve winning just two from eight league matches. Although they beat Gladbach at home, they were defeated 2-0 in Turin last time out in European competition and have been anything but impressive this season.
City’s European woes appeared to be continuing when they lost at home to Juve in their opening pool match and followed it up with some inconsistent Premier League form that saw them lose successive league games and drop, briefly, off top spot. But City have rebounded spectacularly since, winning 2-1 at Gladbach and plundering 11 goals in their last two Premier League matches. Against that sort of firepower, Sevilla will face a stern test of their mettle.