DAVID SMITH - Monday, September 13, 2010
Jermaine Jones and under-performing Schalke 04 will hope to escape their shambolic Bundesliga record when they visit Lyon while Maurice Edu and Rangers look to upend Manchester United in Old Trafford.
Olympique Lyonnais - FC Schalke 04
Having failed to pick up any points in Bundesliga play through their first three games, Jermaine Jones and a shaky Schalke squad will hope that Tuesday night's Group B visit to Lyon will see them beginning to turn their season around.
A third loss on the bounce over the weekend to Hoffenheim put head coach Felix Magath's squad on the brink of a crisis, leaving them without any points in league play and forming an unlikely trio at the bottom of the Bundesliga standings with recent Champions League participants Wolfsburg and Stuttgart.
The Königsblauen were responsible for several of Germany's marquee signings of the summer transfer period in bringing in Real Madrid legend Raúl, Dutch maestro Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and German international defender Christoph Metzelder, however the sale of two of the team's most important defenders in Rafinha and Heiko Westermann is beginning to look like a detrimental miscalculation.
Through three games the attack has managed to score only a pair of goals - coincidentally half the number netted by departed striker Kevin Kuranyi through his first five games with new club Dinamo Moscow - while generously allowing their opponents a total of six scores.
They can be thankful that their first Group B opponent Lyon is also having a tough start to their season, as last year's semifinalists in the competition have only managed to take one victory through their first five Ligue 1 games and occupy an uncharacteristic 16th place in the standings.
Even though the Schalke faithful can have some expectations that it is only a matter of time until all the cogs in their high-powered attacking machine begin to work in concert, they can only hope that the wait will be over on Tuesday night in Lyon's Stade de Gerland lest they also find themselves with an early deficit in European competition.
Lyon have spent the last decade tapping at the door of Champions League glory without any hardware to show for it, having come closest to the prize when they reached the semifinal stage of the competition only to be dropped unceremoniously by FC Bayern in a 4-0 aggregate loss. Nevertheless, their run of 11 straight appearances in the group stage and seven consecutive in the knockout round will give them confidence of navigating what looks to be one of the easier groups of the competition.
Third-year coach Claude Puel has several question marks from injuries, as forward Alexandre Lacazette, defender Cris, and the midfield duo of Ederson and César Delgado all missed the weekend's draw with Valenciennes due to injuries.
He was happy to see the return of midfielder Michael Bastos to the field over the weekend and does appear to have a fully healthy Lisandro López after the Argentinean missed the first three games of the season with an Achilles problem.
Schalke will look to their success in the 2007-08 edition of the competition when they made an impressive run to the quarterfinals, however are heading into the competition somewhat short-handed due to several injuries.
Most notably, the disappointingly-poor defender Metzelder has been left off the traveling squad due to a groin problem, while fellow defenders Atsuto Uchida and Christian Pander are also expected to miss the game with a respective broken toe and muscular problem.
Additionally, defender Tim Hoogland and backup forward Mario Gavranović are both sidelined with knee problems while midfielder Levan Kenia will miss with a broken ankle.
Manchester United - Glasgow Rangers
Having a perfect record through their first four league games, Maurice Edu and his Rangers teammates will hope to carry their momentum into the Theatre of Dreams on Tuesday as they face a tough match-up with English powerhouse Manchester United.
The two Group C matches between the British neighbors sees United coach Alex Ferguson take on the club which he supported as a child and spent two seasons with as a player for just the second time in during during his long coaching career.
Ferguson came out ahead in first pair of meetings in the fall of 2003 in leading his team to a pair of victories by a combined 4-0 margin, and will be confident of a repeat performance for the second go-around.
A relatively slow start in the Premier League season by the Red Devils in which they have twice given up leads to settle for disappointing draws has been somewhat overshadowed as of late by the rumored off-field antics of their most lethal weapon Wayne Rooney, however Ferguson is confident that the forward will be ready to go for Tuesday's showdown.
The team was without the England international for their shocking 3-3 draw on Saturday against Everton, an embarrassing affair in which they uncharacteristically lost a two-goal lead in injury time to throw away points for the second time in three games.
Rangers coach Walter Smith, twice an assistant alongside Ferguson, has also seen his team make a less than spectacular start to their Scottish Premier League season, albeit with a better end result to show for their efforrts.
Even though they are perfect through four games and only trail arch rivals Celtic by goal differential, they have been forced to make late rallies for their last two narrow wins against Hamilton Academical and St. Johnstone, and are showing signs that a path to the league championship might not be as direct as in the previous term where they cruised to the title with an 11-point gap over Celtic.
They will certainly be looking to improve on their embarrassing showing in last season's group stage, with a mere two points and last-place finish knocking them out of European competition well before the turn of the new year.
With Rooney back in United's lineup after being spared of a surely hostile return to Goodison Park over the weekend, the team has no fresh injuries apart from midfielder Michael Carrick who is struggling with an ankle problem, and several longer-term absences which have yet to feature in the current season.
England captain Rio Ferdinand could make his return to the starting lineup after recovering from a knee injury that kept him out of the World Cup, however Anderson is still out as he recovers from a knee injury.
Additionally, midfielder Owen Hargreaves has been left off the squad for the group stage as his recovery from persistent knee problems has hit continual snags.
Smith will be without defender Kirk Broadfoot after the Scottish international injured his ankle over the weekend, but will hope to have Steven Whittaker back in the Rangers defense as he appears to be recovered from a calf problem.
New purchase Nikica Jelavic is ineligible for the competition as he is cup-tied due to former club Rapid Vienna's progression to the Europa League group stage, putting Kenny Miller in line to get the starting nod up top.
In addition, bench options Andy Webster and John Fleck are both unavailable due to hamstring injuries suffered in preseason preparations.
Oguchi Onyewu has not been selected as a part of AC Milan's squad for group stage play, and will not participate on Wednesday evening when the Rossoneri host French team AJ Auxerre in Group G play.