Three teams travel tonight looking for maximum points to keep alive their hopes of progress in this season's UEFA Champions League.
If there were a list of European stadiums no football coach would want to travel to when in desperate need of points then those of Galatarasay SK, FC Bayern München and Manchester United FC would be penned somewhere near the top. And for unlucky Liverpool FC, Boavista FC and FC Nantes Atlantique away-day returns in those footballing fortresses will pretty much decide whether they can progress to the knockout stages of this year’s tournament. The odds, however, appear stacked against them.
Unstuck in Turkey
Liverpool, without a victory and bottom of Group B, failed to make the most of numerous chances at home to Galatasaray last week and now travel to the Ali Sami Yen stadium needing a win. The Reds did perform creditably to gain a point in their last Group B away game in Rome and boast an impressive record on the road both in Europe and the FA Premiership, but too many sides have come unstuck in Istanbul for anyone to bank on three points. Indeed, in Europe, Galatasaray have not lost in 19 matches there and last season enjoyed victories over the likes of Rangers FC, AS Monaco, Paris Saint-Germain FC, RC Deportivo La Coruña and Milan AC in the group stages, as well as a first-leg quarter-final win over Real Madrid CF before losing on aggregate at the Santiago Bernabéu.
Theatre of screams
Ruud van Nistelrooij’s last-gasp penalty last week has left Nantes with the unenviable task of wanting a win in Manchester to keep their Group A hopes alive. Last October two Fabien Barthez clangers gifted Deportivo a win at Old Trafford, but that was the exception rather than the rule at United's 'Theatre of Dreams' and Nantes, struggling for form in Le Championnat this season, may require their fellow countryman to have another rush of blood - or full-blown haemorrage as it was that night - if they are to have a any chance of stealing all three points. Indeed, after an inconsistent start to the season, it is business as usual for Sir Alex Ferguson’s side, top of the FA Premiership and seemingly sauntering towards another attempt on the club game’s biggest prize, a run bolstered by their impregnability at home.
Battle at Bayern
Boavista, who have been struggling on their travels in Europe, go to the Bavarian reigning champions looking for a win. But Bayern, despite having a difficult season in the 1. Bundesliga by their own sky-high standards, are formidable at home, not losing at the Olympiastadion at all in the Champions League in the last two seasons and only going down there in the Bundesliga once this term. Indeed, Ottmar Hitzfeld’s side ran out 6-0 victors over FC Energie Cottbus at the weekend and will start the game with an abundance of confidence knowing that their strikers have at last refound their touch in front of goal, a fact that could spell doom for the visitors from Portugal.
And here comes the irony: the one side who are not in desperate need of an away win tonight have the best chance of getting it. Barcelona, top of Group B and in a rich vein of European form, visit the Italian capital to take on AS Roma, who have already lost to Real Madrid in this tournament and have been held by both RSC Anderlecht and Liverpool. Barcelona have won three times away in this season’s competition, including the demolition of Liverpool at Anfield on Matchday 7, and despite a defeat at the weekend away to the Primera División’s top side Valencia CF, will fancy their chances of taking something from Fabio Capello’s side.