DAVID SMITH - Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Maurice Edu and Rangers will have their eye on their group's top-spot as they host Turkish team Bursapor while Jermaine Jones and Schalke will try to earn their first Group C points when they host Benfica.
Rangers Glasgow - Bursaspor
Maurice Edu can expect to see extensive time on the field for Rangers on Wednesday night when they host Turkish champions Bursapor in Ibrox.
The Glasgow team is still flying high at this early stage in the season, with a perfect record through their first six league games giving them first place in the Scottish Premier League standings just ahead of arch rivals Celtic.
Beyond bullying the other non-Firm minnows of their domestic competition, they pulled off one of the shock results of the first set of group stage matches in the Champions League, holding competition heavyweights Manchester United to a scoreless draw in Old Trafford two weeks before on the strength of a bulky defensive performance.
Their ability to fight to that draw could already offer them the golden opportunity to take an early undisputed lead in Group C should they come away with a win and a much-weakened United team split the points at Valencia.
Before entertaining the idea of an unlikely lead over the the other two European stalwarts of the group, they will first need to get past the reigning Turkish champions Bursapor, who made a complete mess of their debut game in the competition's group stage in their first outing.
While they are already looking as solid contenders to come away repeat champions of the Turkish Süper Lig with a perfect record through five games, they fared less well two weeks ago, being humiliated at home by allowing Valencia a 4-0 victory.
Walter Smith's Rangers are no strangers to embarrassment on home soil, as they held the ignominious distinction of having the worst home record in the competition last season with three losses and a shocking ten goals allowed in their usual European fortress of Ibrox.
Having already found success in the road, overcoming the demons of last season's failure will go a long way in helping them to reach the knockout stage for the first time since the 2006-07 season.
Head coach Walter Smith will be missing forwards James Beattie to injury and Nikica Jelavic who is ineligible for the competition, likely making Scottish international Kenny Miller the main threat up front.
In addition, midfielder John Fleck is still out with a hamstring problem although Steven Davis should be fit and ready to participate after having his own minor hamstring tweak over the weekend.
Bursapor have been fortunate with injury, with the only question being midfielder Ivan Ergić who missed the weekend's win over Bucaspor with a slight hamstring issue.
FC Schalke 04 - SL Benfica
Jermaine Jones will hope to get the call from head coach Felix Magath on Wednesday evening when the Königsglauen host Portuguese champions Benfica.
Schalke continued to show some sign of their turnaround over the weekend by coming back from two goals down to draw even with Borussia Mönchengladbach in league play.
That was their second straight points gain after five consecutive losses over Bundesliga and Champions League play, although they still have awhile to go to escape the league cellar.
Magath's men began Group B play with a frustrating 1-0 loss at Lyon that saw them give up an early goal and play most of the game a man down. While coming away without any points on the evening, their ability to hold their own for more than 50 minutes with just ten players on the field was a good sign that they can improve over the final five games of group play.
They will hope to take advantage of a Benfica squad that is also struggling to live up to the heights of last season. The Portuguese giants are sitting a respectable fifth place in the standings, but their three losses through six games is already one more than they allowed through all of last season, and they look to be in a long struggle even to make a return to the Champions League.
They began the group with a convincing 2-0 win at home over Israeli team Hapoel Tel Aviv and have gathered some momentum in the two weeks since with a pair of straight victories in Portugal's Liga Sagres.
Magath has several absences to contend with, as defender Tim Hoogland and forward Mario Gavranović are both out with knee problems while midfielder Levan Kenia is recovering from an ankle injury. Defender Christian Pander is also a long-term injury problem for Schalke, having not suited up for the team in close to 18 months.
Benfica look to be lacking one key midfield contributor as veteran Argentinean international Pablo Aimar should miss the trip with a twisted knee. Ruben Amorim is also a doubt after sitting out the weekend's league game with knee pain, as is forward Alan Kardec who has yet to play this season due to a hamstring problem.
Oguchi Onyewu is not included in AC Milan's 25-man squad for the Champions League group stage, and did not participate in their 1-1 draw at Ajax on Tuesday.