With Matchday Three and the halfway point of the UEFA Champions League first group stage fast approaching, three fancied teams find themselves in urgent need of better fortunes.
While holders Real Madrid CF and 1999 winners Manchester United FC have lived up to their reputations, Newcastle United FC, Bayer 04 Leverkusen and FC Spartak Moskva are all struggling. Newcastle had spent big, Leverkusen had a proven record after reaching last season's final and Spartak had the pedigree, with no team having more Champions League appearances than their eight. Surprisingly, all three find themselves without a point.
Although Newcastle had only appeared in the Champions League once before, in 1997/98, the record of teams from the English Premiership in the tournament in recent years had suggested that Sir Bobby Robson's team, including the likes of €13m summer signing Hugo Viana, could hit the ground running. But they are now in severe danger of becoming the first English side to fail to make the Champions League second group stage for three seasons.
'A state of crisis'
Defeats against FC Dynamo Kyiv and Feyenoord have already produced the worst start for an English team since Blackburn Rovers FC in 1995/96. And with two fixtures against in-form group leaders Juventus FC to follow, Newcastle winger Laurent Robert has been moved to declare: "We're in a state of crisis. I try to give the team a lift, but I can't do it all by myself. We haven't taken a single point from two Champions League games and now we'll have to try to qualify for the UEFA Cup by finishing third in the group."
Also surprising is the position of Leverkusen. Superb in their run to last season's final against Madrid, Leverkusen had a nightmare Matchday One as they fell to a 6-2 defeat at Olympiakos Piraeus FC and subsequently lost 2-1 at home to Manchester United, their semi-final victims last season. Leverkusen have shown enough form to give themselves hope of securing two victories against Maccabi Haifa but they face injury problems that led coach Klaus Toppmöller to admit after the loss to United: "I really have no options left."
Shock for fans
Spartak may not have had the recent European success of English or German sides, but their current run of 13 Champions League matches without victory, including Wednesday's 3-0 home defeat by Valencia CF, has been surprising. It was all too much for Spartak's assistant coach, Viktor Samokhin, who said after the loss: "This was an unmotivated performance. They showed none of the will to win that was needed. Our fans must be shocked after this match."
If there is a pattern to these setbacks, it may come from what gained all three sides their Champions League places - domestic form. Both Leverkusen and Newcastle find themselves at the wrong end of their home league tables, while Spartak could concede the Russian title this year for the first time since 1995. There is still plenty of time for all three to show the form they are capable of, but perhaps it goes to show that when it comes to the Champions League, teams' results at weekends can impact on the following Tuesday or Wednesday.
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