Champions League preview: Top spot at stake as Arsenal host PSG
AFP Sports looks ahead to Wednesday’s Champions League action with Arsenal v Paris Saint-Germain the plum tie while Barcelona, Manchester City and Bayern Munich all face challenging away games (kick-offs 1945 GMT unless stated):
Arsenal (ENG) v Paris Saint-Germain (FRA)
The Gunners will be out to put one over the French champions, whom they held 1-1 in Paris, as both struggle for top spot in Group A, the pair having already booked passage to the knockout phase. The Londoners could look to Olivier Giroud, who rescued a point from the bench at Old Trafford, to spearhead their attack after Alexis Sanchez played through hamstring trouble. As Arsenal drew with Manchester United to leave them fourth in the Premier League, PSG warmed up for Wednesday with a fourth straight win, 2-0 over Nantes, as they chase down French leaders Nice. PSG’s Old Trafford misfit Angel Di Maria scored against Nantes but came off in the first half with a thigh injury, albeit not one expected to keep him out. Argentine playmaker Javier Pastore is set to miss the trip to London with a knee problem.
Ludogorets (BUL) v Basel (SUI)
Bulgarians Ludogorets and Basel have proved the makeweights in Group A with both garnering a solitary point to date. A Europa League spot is the consolation prize that awaits the side that can cement third place. The two parted 1-1 in the first meeting in Switzerland. Previous encounters saw the Swiss win handsomely in a two-leg playoff three years ago. Ludogorets will be slight favourites, courtesy of home advantage, and they gave Arsenal a brief scare in their last outing, but let slip a two-goal lead to succumb 3-2.
Napoli (ITA) v Dynamo Kiev (UKR)
Napoli might just about top the group but they are locked in a three-way struggle with Benfica and Besiktas for two places in the last 16. They came from behind to see off Kiev in Ukraine in the reverse fixture and badly need three points here. Their weekend 2-1 win at Udinese kept them in touch with the top four in Serie A, though prolific striker Arkadiusz Milik is still out injured. Lorenzo Insigne grabbed a brace at Udinese and the Italians will be looking to him and Jose Callejon to fire them past Dynamo, the whipping boys of the group with just one point.
Besiktas (TUR) v Benfica (POR)
at Istanbul (Kick-off at 1745 GMT)
Benfica, level on points with Napoli, travel to Turkey’s still-unbeaten Besiktas, who are just a point adrift of the top pair. A Benfica victory will take the two-time champions, top in the Portuguese league, through to the knock-out phase. But they cannot afford to be complacent against a Besiktas side which held them to a draw in Lisbon. The Turkish champions are looking to get out of the pool phase for the first time in six attempts and their fans are sure to give Benfica a hostile reception.
Celtic (SCO) v Barcelona (ESP)
Top spot is still up for grabs in Group C as Barcelona, two points clear of Manchester City, travel to a Celtic side they squashed 7-0 at the Camp Nou. A win for Lionel Messi and Co. — he is set to return after a sickness bug at the weekend — will see the Spanish champions into the last 16, though a draw might also do it depending on the other game. Luis Suarez will be back from suspension, which is bad news for a Celtic side who are two points adrift at the bottom of the group. The Scottish giants warmed up for Barca with a 1-0 win over Kilmarnock which left them 13 points clear in their domestic league.
Borussia Moenchengladbach (GER) v Manchester City (ENG)
at Moenchengladbach, Germany
City’s Yaya Toure-inspired weekend win at Crystal Palace keeps them a point off leaders Chelsea in the Premier League. But it is at the back that they have worries, particularly the fitness of talisman centre-back Vincent Kompany, who suffered a head injury in a collision with keeper Claudio Bravo at Palace. Victory in Germany for Pep Guardiola’s side will see them into the next round. The home side look on course for a Europa League slot and need to pull off a surprise win if they are to have any hope of making further progress in this competition. On current form that looks a tall order after successive domestic losses, to Cologne and Hertha Berlin, sent them into the bottom six in the Bundesliga.
Rostov (RUS) v Bayern Munich (GER)
at Rostov, Russia (Kick-off 1700 GMT)
Five-time European champions Bayern head to Russia’s Rostov for their Group D clash licking their wounds after being knocked from the top of the Bundesliga. Their 1-0 defeat at Dortmund on Saturday allowed RB Leipzig to finish the weekend top of the German league table. Bayern are already into the last 16 but need a win at Rostov to stay in touch with group leaders Atletico Madrid, who they host on December 6 for a potential top-spot decider. Bayern will be without injured keeper Manuel Neuer, meaning Sven Ulreich will deputise. Rock-bottom Rostov and PSV have a single point each so are locked in a struggle for a Europa League place only. The Russians have a solid home record and held Rubin Kazan to a goalless draw on Friday.
Atletico Madrid (ESP) v PSV Eindhoven (NED)
Atletico might already be through and top of the group, but they are on a poor run in the Spanish league. Beaten finalists in two of the last three editions of the Champions League, the Spaniards will qualify as group winners if they win and Bayern do worse. Coach Diego Simeone seems to be losing his iron grip a tad and success built on a rock-solid defence appears to be slipping. Phillip Cocu’s PSV will be massive underdogs nonetheless and they only drew 0-0 at lowly Willem II at the weekend in domestic action, with their Dutch championship hopes evaporating slowly.
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