As the UEFA Champions League group stage reaches the halfway point several enticing encounters catch the eye. FC Bayern München's visit to SSC Napoli represents a battle between two of Europe's in-form sides while Olympique Lyonnais and Arsenal FC have tricky assignments at Real Madrid CF and Olympique de Marseille.
Already at this early juncture in the German season a debate is raging about whether this vintage is the best FC Bayern München team ever. The Bundesliga pacesetters have won 12 of their 14 matches in all competitions, scoring 35 goals and conceding just one. Safe to assume, then, that Jupp Heynckes' side, who top UEFA Champions League Group A after 2-0 victories over Villarreal CF and Manchester City FC, travel to Italy in confident mood.
This is Napoli's first European Cup campaign in 21 years, yet that absence has hardly impeded them; a 1-1 draw at Manchester City preceding their 2-0 home win against Villarreal. Despite Saturday's 2-1 defeat at Parma FC the Partenopei remain two points off the Serie A summit, and are unlikely to be cowed by their esteemed visitors, particularly after recent 3-1 and 3-0 victories over AC Milan and FC Internazionale Milano. If the atmosphere at the Stadio San Paolo for Villarreal's visit is anything to go by, the Bundesliga giants are in for a testing evening.
Arsenal can expect a similar reception at Marseille, who will be looking to continue their perfect start in Group F after successes against Olympiacos FC and Borussia Dortmund. OM may feel this is the perfect time to host a team who have had their worst opening to a Premier League season. However, Didier Deschamps' side have hardly covered themselves in glory on the home front either, registering just one win in ten Ligue 1 games.
If Bayern and Arsenal find themselves in unfamiliar surroundings, the same cannot be said of Lyon, who grace the Santiago Bernabéu for the third time in as many campaigns. The French team held Real Madrid in the first of those encounters, but on Tuesday will seek to avenge their 3-0 round of 16 defeat of last term.
Unlike Marseille, Rémi Garde's charges have enjoyed decent results in Ligue 1, where they lie third, although recent reversals at SM Caen and Paris Saint-Germain FC may leave them vulnerable away to Madrid. The Spanish side have scored 14 goals in their last three Liga matches and in Gonzalo Higuaín possess a striker who has scored three hat-tricks in four games.
Other clubs who have made surprisingly sluggish starts to this European adventure include Manchester United FC, who squandered a 2-0 lead and required a last-gasp Ashley Young equaliser to draw 3-3 with FC Basel 1893 last time out. With two points from as many games, Sir Alex Ferguson will demand a marked improvement from United against competition debutants FC Oţelul Galaţi, who have endured back-to-back defeats.
Elsewhere, Manchester City and Dortmund aim for their first wins against Villarreal and Olympiacos respectively, while Inter will bid to continue their recovery from a matchday one loss to Trabzonspor AŞ by adding the scalp of Ligue 1 champions LOSC Lille Métropole to their 3-2 mathday two triumph at PFC CSKA Moskva.
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