Five clubs head into Champions League Matchday 3 without a point in the competition so far, making this something of a last-chance saloon for them.
Arsenal, Borussia Monchengladbach, Malmo, Maccabi Tel Aviv and Shakhtar Donetsk are all extremely unlikely to progress without getting something from their forthcoming matches, but it isn’t just those clubs with their reputations on the line.
Tuesday, October 20
BATE vs. Barcelona, Borisov Arena, 7.45 p.m. BST / 2.45 p.m. ET
Four years may have passed since Barcelona’s last visit to Belarus to face BATE, when they won 5-0, but it would be surprising if we didn’t to see a similar result this time around.
BATE’s shock 3-2 victory over Roma last time out ensured Luis Enrique would be right to make his side wary of the threat that their hosts can pose, but the stunning four-goal display from Neymar in Saturday’s 5-2 victory over Rayo Vallecano means it will quite rightly be the Belarusians who are worrying about their visitors and not the other way around.
After the draw in Rome and the come-from-behind victory over Bayer Leverkusen, Barca will be targeting the double-header with BATE as an opportunity to take control of the group, and they are likely to do just that.
Prediction: BATE 1-3 Barcelona
Bayer Leverkusen vs. Roma, BayArena, 7.45 p.m. BST / 2.45 p.m. ET
One of the more intriguing clashes comes in Leverkusen, where Roma won’t have to look far for advice on just how tough it will be.
Bayer Leverkusen knocked Roma’s neighbours Lazio out of the competition in the playoff stages, and following that shock defeat in Belarus for the Italians, they might end up doing the same thing here with a victory.
But the Germans have drawn both of their Bundesliga matches following their spirited defeat at Camp Nou and will be up against a Roma side that has notched 14 times in its last four matches.
Whatever happens, expect goals.
Prediction: Bayer Leverkusen 2-2 Roma
Arsenal vs. Bayern Munich, Emirates Stadium, 7.45 p.m. BST / 2.45 p.m. ET
Champions League crunch time for Arsenal usually comes a little later in the competition, but following the shambolic 3-2 home loss to Olympiakos last time out, they now find themselves facing what is surely the most daunting prospect in world football right now: getting something from Bayern Munich.
Pep Guardiola’s men became the first side in history to win their opening nine matches of a Bundesliga season with their 1-0 victory at Werder Bremen on Saturday, and thoughts will now be turning to whether they can actually win every league match this season as they continue to look unstoppable.
Arsenal are in good form too, scoring at least three times in three consecutive Premier League games for the first time in 16 months as a title challenge looms. However, Bayern are Bayern, and a 16th successive qualification from the Champions League group stage looks set to elude Arsene Wenger.
Prediction: Arsenal 1-2 Bayern Munich
Dinamo Zagreb vs. Olympiakos, Stadion Maksimir, 7.45 p.m. BST / 2.45 p.m. ET
In a meeting of the unexpected beneficiaries of Arsenal’s sloppiness in Group F, both Dinamo Zagreb and Olympiakos know that a victory—perhaps coupled with a Bayern win in London—will give them an excellent chance of qualification for the knockout stages.
Although both teams beat the Gunners, it was the Greeks who impressed more, as they triumphed 3-2 at the Emirates Stadium thanks in part to a composed midfield display from the experienced Esteban Cambiasso. The Argentinian is again going to be crucial in Croatia.
If he can get hold of the centre of the pitch and start to dictate things, then the stage will be set for his more attacking team-mates to get forward and earn another impressive away victory.
Prediction: Dinamo Zagreb 0-2 Olympiakos
Porto vs. Maccabi Tel-Aviv, Estadio do Dragao, 7.45 p.m. BST / 2.45 p.m. ET
Having beaten Chelsea at home last time out, it would be particularly sloppy of Porto if they were to drop points against the worst side in the group. Julen Lopetegui’s men still haven’t tasted defeat since the 6-1 hammering by Bayern Munich in quarter-finals of this competition last season, and that won’t change here.
Instead, they’ll be seeing the two matches against Maccabi as the perfect opportunities to take control of the group as Chelsea slug it out against Dynamo Kiev, with the Israeli club’s manager, Slavisa Jokanovic, requiring something of a miracle after two defeats in which they failed to score a goal.
Make that three.
Prediction: Porto 3-0 Maccabi Tel-Aviv
Dynamo Kiev vs. Chelsea, NSK Olimpiyskiy, 7.45 p.m. BST / 2.45 p.m. ET
English teams have historically found playing in Ukraine to be tough, but then again, Chelsea have found playing anywhere to be difficult this season.
They at least gave their fans something to cheer about with a workmanlike 2-0 home victory over Aston Villa on Saturday, but it is clear all is not running as it should be for Jose Mourinho’s men, who are under pressure following their loss at Porto on Matchday 2.
Substitute Vitaliy Buyalskiy arguably changed the whole complexion of Dynamo’s European campaign with his late equaliser at home to Porto on Group G’s opening night. Following the 2-0 win in Tel Aviv, the hosts will feel quietly confident they can take something from this one despite coming into the game off the back of a 3-0 loss at home to Shakhtar Donetsk on Friday.
Prediction: Dynamo Kiev 1-1 Chelsea
Zenit Saint Petersburg vs. Lyon, Petrovsky Stadium, 7.45 p.m. BST / 2.45 p.m. ET
Zenit Saint Petersburg have never won their first three matches of a Champions League group phase, and they may never get a better chance to.
That’s because Lyon are stuttering at their moment—their 1-1 draw at a 10-man Monaco on Friday means they’ve now won just two of their last eight matches in all competitions, and they are winless in Europe.
A Zenit win would virtually ensure qualification given the points that they’ve already taken off the other sides in the group, and with Andre Villas-Boas determined to make a mark on this competition before moving on again in the summer, this looks to be a home banker.
Prediction: Zenit St. Petersburg 2-0 Lyon
Valencia vs. Gent, Mestalla, 7.45 p.m. BST / 2.45 p.m. ET
A flashback to Valencia and Gent’s only previous meeting in Spain serves to remind us that Patrick Kluivert once appeared for Los Che—his season with the Primera Division side taking in a 2005 Intertoto Cup tie, during which the Dutchman and a freshly signed David Villa found the net in a 2-0 win.
The current incarnation of Valencia could probably do with a couple of forwards of that calibre given Alvaro Negredo and Paco Alcacer have found the net just once each this season, but anyone believing the visit of Belgian Champions League debutants Gent will herald a goal fest is likely to be disappointed.
They battled well in Saint Petersburg last time out and are likely to do so again, but you feel as though Valencia will have enough quality to earn the three points, even without Kluivert and Villa.
Prediction: Valencia 2-1 Gent
Wednesday, October 21
Malmo vs. Shakhtar Donetsk, Swedbank Stadion, 7.45 p.m BST / 2.45 p.m. ET
At least one of these two knows they can’t both end the evening still pointless at the foot of Group A.
Of the pair—neither of whom have scored in the competition so far—it has been Malmo who have impressed more during 2-0 defeats to Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid. The Swedes will be targeting this game as the perfect chance to end a run of six straight Champions League defeats, which stretches back to last season.
Although fairly hopeless in Europe, Shakhtar Donetsk can at least point to impressive domestic form, which has seen them win their last six Ukrainian Premier League matches, but it could just be the desire for both to get some points on the board leads to this one ending in a draw.
Prediction: Malmo 1-1 Shakhtar Donetsk
Paris Saint-Germain vs. Real Madrid, Parc des Princes, 7.45 p.m. BST / 2.45 p.m. ET
The heavyweight meeting of the gameweek comes at the Parc des Princes, where Paris Saint-Germain will sense a chance to make a huge statement about their Champions League chances this season.
For Angel Di Maria, the motivation will be even greater as he eyes revenge against the club that offloaded him to Manchester United last summer. With PSG unbeaten in 2015/16, confidence will be high that they can earn a victory that is likely to prove crucial their hopes of finishing above Real in top spot.
However, with a certain Cristiano Ronaldo fresh from breaking the Real Madrid scoring record and looking to impress against one of the very few clubs in world football that could probably afford to buy him, Rafael Benitez could use all of his continental experience to earn the draw that would keep Real at the head of Group A.
Either way, let’s just hope for a cracker.
Prediction: Paris Saint-Germain 2-2 Real Madrid
CSKA Moscow vs. Manchester United, Arena Khimki, 7.45 p.m. BST / 2.45 p.m. ET
Following opening-night defeats, both CSKA Moscow and Manchester United desperately needed their victories last time out—with the football played by CSKA in going 3-0 up after 36 minutes against PSV Eindhoven arguably the best produced by anyone in this group so far.
United will be buoyed by a terrific win at Everton, though, and back in the city where they clinched Champions League glory in 2008, they’ll see this as a perfect chance to take control of a congested group ahead of two home matches in the final three.
They might just have to settle for a point from this one, though.
Prediction: CSKA Moscow 0-0 Manchester United
Wolfsburg vs. PSV Eindhoven, Volkswagen Arena, 7.45 p.m. BST / 2.45 p.m. ET
Conversely to the match mentioned above, this Germany-Netherlands battle could be seen as a chance to stop the rot before one sets in.
Both teams were beaten last time out in the Champions League, and it is Wolfsburg who’ll enter this clash in the greater heart following a 4-2 win at home to Hoffenheim on Saturday, which featured a first career hat-trick for Max Kruse.
Home advantage, too, could be the telling factor here given it is 38 years and 14 fixtures since PSV Eindhoven last won a match in Germany, but far more concerning is the defending that allowed CSKA Moscow to assemble a three-goal lead in their fixture on Matchday 2.
Any more of that and qualification hopes could slip away.
Prediction: Wolfsburg 2-1 PSV Eindhoven
Atletico Madrid vs. Astana, Estadio Vicente Calderon, 7.45 p.m. BST / 2.45 p.m. ET
If the home defeat to Benfica on Matchday 2 really was a blip, then Atletico Madrid couldn’t have asked for a better chance to put things right.
Kazakhstan’s Astana face the biggest test of their maiden Champions League season at the Vicente Calderon, and they do with fresh memories of picking up their first point in the competition last time out when they drew 2-2 with Galatasaray.
This, however, is a much sterner test. And with Antoine Griezmann in fine form, judging by his stunning goal at former club Real Sociedad on Sunday afternoon, the Frenchman will fancy his chances of spearheading a performance that will make Atletico supporters forget all about that Benfica loss as they target qualification from Group C.
Prediction: Atletico Madrid 3-0 Astana
Galatasaray vs. Benfica, Turk Telekom Arena, 7.45 p.m. BST / 2.45 p.m. ET
As a result of that win in Madrid, Benfica find themselves a couple of results away from heading into the last 16 and avoiding dropping into the Europa League, as they have done so many times before.
The key to keeping their 100 per cent record going in Istanbul will surely be to block out all thoughts of the big league game against Sporting Clube de Portugal on Sunday and instead focus on what earned them victory at the Calderon, namely staying compact and not panicking when they went 1-0 down.
For their part, Galatasaray will know a victory, coupled with Atletico’s likely win, will see them hauled back into the race as the group tightens up, but they are on a horrendous Champions League run, and a first win in 11 in the competition could elude them.
Prediction: Galatasaray 1-1 Benfica
Juventus vs. Borussia Monchengladbach, Juventus Stadium, 7.45 p.m. BST / 2.45 p.m. ET
The Champions League continues to see the best of a Juventus side that remains mired in the bottom half of Serie A. And as one of six teams with two wins from two going into Matchday 3, Juve have every right to feel confident of maintaining their perfect start.
A goalless draw at Internazionale on Sunday means they’ve now only conceded once in their last three games, and although that form will come under threat against a Borussia Monchengladbach side that has scored 14 times in winning its last four Bundesliga matches, the knowledge that a victory would put them on the cusp of qualification for the knockout stages should be enough for last season’s runners-up to go on.
Prediction: Juventus 3-1 Borussia Monchengladbach
Manchester City vs. Sevilla, Etihad Stadium, 7.45 p.m. BST / 2.45 p.m. ET
As Newcastle United and Bournemouth know only too well, Sevilla are visiting Manchester City at a time when the hosts are in terrific form at home.
City have scored 11 goals in their last two Premier League victories at the Etihad Stadium, and although they are going to be without Sergio Aguero and David Silva here, the form of Kevin De Bruyne and recent hat-trick hero Raheem Sterling means they might not even be missed.
Jesus Navas will also be eyeing a start against his former club. Sevilla, despite a recent home win over Barcelona, haven’t won a competitive away match outside of Seville since May—the 3-2 victory over Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk in Warsaw in last season’s Europa League final.
That isn’t going to change here.
Prediction: Manchester City 3-1 Sevilla