SportSoccer

Champions League reaches a crunch stage

SoccerBy Kevin Palmer
Mertesacker and Arsenal beat Bayern Munich two weeks ago
Mertesacker and Arsenal beat Bayern Munich two weeks ago

England's Premier League clubs have reached a key stage in their Champions League campaigns - and here is your guide to the battles that lie ahead this week.

TONIGHT

MANCHESTER UNITED v CSKA MOSCOW

United boss Louis van Gaal left Russia a couple of weeks ago lamenting a spurned chance to claim a victory that would have moved his side a giant stride closer to the last-16 of the Champions League and now they get a swift opportunity to finish off the Russians at Old Trafford.

The speedy attacking duo of Seydou Doumbia and Ahmed Musa gave United plenty of concerns on the counter attack and that same pattern is likely to develop in this return match, with the Russians capable of stinging United on the counter attack. United lack the pace to break down teams with a defensive mindset.

One to watch: Anthony Martial

He scored a fine equalising goal for United in Moscow a couple of weeks ago and will need to be given a chance to end United's scoring problems in this tie. Play him up front Van Gaal!

VERDICT: United to win, but only just.

SEVILLA v MANCHESTER CITY

Have City finally found a way to win in the Champions League? The jury is still out as their victories against Borussia Monchengladbach and Sevilla have come with last minute goals that hardly suggest they are ready to serve up dominant displays against Europe’s elite.

Sevilla were unfortunate to lose at the Etihad Stadium and with striker Kevin Gameiro finding some scoring form in recent weeks, they will fancy their chances of getting back into contention in Group D by securing a home win. However, all the pressure is now on Unai Emery’s side in a game they know they dare not lose.

One to watch: Yevhen Konoplyanka

So close to joining Liverpool not so long ago, much is expected of this Ukrainian who has a reported €40m release clause in his contract. He needs to deliver in the Champions League to prove his worth.

VERDICT: A draw will do for City and they are good enough to get it.

WEDNESDAY

BAYERN MUNICH v ARSENAL

It remains to be seen whether Arsenal’s 2-0 win against Bayern in the last round of Champions League matches was a freak result or tangible evidence that the Gunners are closing the gap on Europe’s elite, with the statistics from the game suggesting Arsene Wenger’s men still behind the pack despite their fine win.

Bayern completed 765 passes at Emirates Stadium compared to Arsenal’s 278 and their 73 per-cent possession backed up Pep Guardiola’s suggestion that his team need not be concerned about their shock defeat. The German winning machine gets a swift chance to set the record straight this week.

One to watch: Douglas Costa

Some of the top Premier League clubs considered a move for this attacking magician last summer, but he ended up at Bayern and looks like a superstar in the making.

VERDICT: Bayern to get revenge on the Gunners.

CHELSEA v DYNAMO KIEV

The Champions League could yet turn Chelsea’s season of despair into something remarkable and under-pressure boss Jose Mourinho (below) will need to confirm his side are still contenders for Europe’s top prize in front of their Stamford Bridge congregation.

Dynamo Kiev coach are coached by the former Tottenham striker Sergei Rebrov, who was more than happy to collect a point in a first match that Chelsea could and should have won. They will set up with a conservative formation in a bid to secure another point in London on a night when Mourinho’s side dare not slip up again.

One to watch: Oleg Gusev

This experienced operator will pull the strings for Dynamo in the midfield and he has the ability to give Chelsea some problems.

VERDICT: Chelsea are not certain to beat any opponent right now. Lose again and surely Mourinho's time is up.