DAVID SMITH - Monday, October 1, 2012
Michael Parkhurst and Nordsjaelland have the herculean task of hosting European champions Chelsea while Jermaine Jones and Schalke will try to keep pace in their group when they host Montpellier.
FC Nordsjaelland - Chelsea FC
Michael Parkhurst and Nordsjaelland will need to be at their very best on Tuesday evening, as they welcome current English Premier League leaders and reigning European champions Chelsea to Parken Stadium.
The Wild Tigers began Group E play with a 2-0 loss two weeks ago in Donetsk, and will have little respite with both Chelsea and Italian Champions Juventus still awaiting the Danish debutants.
Their final warm-up for Tuesday's game could not have gone any better, with their 3-0 win over Superliga whipping boys Esbjerg allowing them to sharpen their claws before coming up against a Blues team that is looking even stronger than they did when they hoisted the competition's trophy in Munich just over four months ago.
Chelsea's only real blemishes this season have been losses in the Community Shield and UEFA Supercup competitions - games often viewed as barely above pre-season exhibitions. Otherwise, they have been strong in winning five of six in Premier League play and drawing with Italian powerhouse Juventus in their opening group game two weeks ago.
With Daniel Sturridge the only lingering injury, Roberto Di Matteo should have a nearly full cadre of players to choose from, although whether he opts to rest any of his players with an eye towards weekend Premier League action is an open question.
Nordsjaelland are not reporting any missing players.
FC Schalke 04 - Montpellier HSC
Jermaine Jones and Schalke will be confident of picking up the win on Wednesday evening when they host Champions League newcomers Montpellier.
Schalke are joint top of Group B with English team Arsenal, and with the Gunners hosting Greek team Olympiacos also on Wednesday, the Germans will almost certainly need a victory to stay on pace for advancement to the knockout round.
The Königsblauen produced a mixed bag in their weekend league warm-up; they did earn the distinction of being the first team this season to score against Fortuna Düsseldorf, however proceeded to blow a two-goal halftime lead on Friday night in the 2-2 draw.
Still, even an underwhelming performance will likely be enough to get the job done versus a completely disappointing Montpellier team that is slowly proving that their championship run lat season was likely a one-time fluke.
Sitting 13th place in the Ligue 1 through seven rounds, they earned only their second win of the season on Saturday with a 2-0 win at Nancy, and could find themselves at the bottom of the group after Wednesday's game.
For Schalke, forwards Jefferson Farfan and Ciprian Marica are both questionable after sitting out the weekend's game, the former with an ankle problem and the latter with a lingering groin pull.
The only question mark for Montpellier is John Utaka, who missed their weekend game.
RSC Anderlecht - Malaga CF
Sacha Kljestan should be called into action while Oguchi Onyewu could be an option off the bench on Wednesday when Anderlecht host Malaga.
Onyewu has yet to feature for the team that finished a surprising fourth in La Liga last season, and will hope to hear his number called off the bench when he returns to the country where he was a dominant force in defense for several seasons.
Malaga looked strong in their opening Group C game, a 3-0 win over Zenit St. Petersburg. A road victory in Constant Vanden Stock Stadium would assure them the group lead ahead of their upcoming two games with favorites AC Milan in late-October and early-November.
Anderlecht were also surprising in their group opener, snatching an unlikely scoreless draw against Milan in the San Siro two weeks ago, and are in the midst of an eight-game unbeaten streak across all competitions.
Anderlecht might still have to wait for the returns of defenders Denis Odoi and and Jordan Lukaku, and midfielder Mehdi Tarfi, all of whom were left off the weekend roster as they work back to fitness.
Malaga have slightly bigger concerns, with the midfield trio of Jérémy Toulalan, Diego Buonanotte and Júlio Baptista all missing the trip with injuries.