How are the Manchester clubs faring in the Champions League?
By Joe Harker
Today's Champions League games include fixtures with the two Manchester clubs where we might learn something more about the potential favourites for the competition. Manchester City and Juventus are the home sides and tipped to go all the way this season, whereas Manchester United and Shakhtar Donetsk are hitting the road in hopes of beating the odds and breathing some life back into their campaigns. After the midweek European fixtures the English sides will meet on Saturday in the Manchester Derby.
City full back Kyle Walker believes the game against Shakhtar is every bit as big as the upcoming derby. They are top of their group despite losing the opening fixture of their European campaign whereas their opponents are rock bottom. This should be City's chance to pick up another three points and tighten their grip at the top. Lyon, who beat them in their first Champions League game of the season, are only one point behind so a slip up now could let them take control of the group.
Fans at the Etihad tend to dislike the Champions League, often booing the anthem as it plays before the game. Their stadium lacks the atmosphere associated with great European nights, though Walker insists it will not hold back the team. He suggested it is down to the players to create the atmosphere for the fans.
Shakhtar manager Paulo Fonseca believes he knows how to get a win tonight. His side were one of the few who inflicted defeat upon City last season and he revealed how his side will play. Fonseca believes he can beat City by playing high up the pitch but maintaining a compact shape to make it harder to be played through.
Juventus are another team who are favourites for the Champions League, particularly after signing Cristiano Ronaldo. They beat Man United 1-0 at Old Trafford but the performance was far better than the narrow scoreline suggested. The Italian champions schooled Jose Mourinho's side and will be expecting another win in the home fixture.
The Manchester Evening News suggests this is a game where the United manager is going to learn which players he can trust. The players who start in Italy will form the spine of the team that plays in the Manchester Derby and this is their chance to show they have what it takes in the big games.
Centre back Chris Smalling believes the confidence from United's comeback against Bournemouth will encourage the team to do better, though he acknowledged that they need to start games quicker. Too often this season United have started games on the back foot and only improved late in the first half or looked like a different team coming out in the second half. That is not good enough for a club like theirs and certainly not good enough against opponents like Juventus.
They need to get their act together as defeat puts them at risk of slipping to third place in their group and needing to get something against Valencia, who they drew 0-0 with at Old Trafford, to be sure of progressing to the next round. They are nowhere near favourites for this competition but United going out in the group stages would be a clear failure.