Group initiative up for grabs

Matchday Eight concludes with five games in the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday night.

Happy Christmas
Manchester United FC, BV Borussia Dortmund, FC Barcelona and AC Milan all have a chance to move to a maximum six points in the second group stage - a total which will put them in good spirits over Christmas and edge them closer to the quarter-finals.

Much-improved Milan
However, at least one team will be denied a full haul as Dortmund play Milan in Group C at the Westfalenstadion. The German side will be looking to repeat their emphatic 4-0 UEFA Cup victory of last season but are aware that Milan, the current Serie A leaders, are a much-improved side from last term as their domestic league position and Matchday Seven victory over Real Madrid CF testifies.

Striking options
They also possess one of Europe's form strikers in Filippo Inzaghi, who has eight Champions League goals already this season. However, with Andriy Shevchenko back among the goals, Inzaghi may have to settle for a place on the bench. Whichever forward plays, though, Dortmund will be no pushover especially after they kept up their recent good form with a 3-1 victory over 1. FC Kaiserslautern at the weekend.

Early dominance
Manchester United can maintain their early dominance of Group D with a victory against RC Deportivo La Coruña, an achievement they will feel well within their grasp given their recent run of form. Over recent weeks, they have beaten Newcastle United FC, Liverpool FC and Arsenal FC, to push themselves back into Premiership contention, and FC Basel on Matchday Seven. However, Deportivo have one of the hottest strikers around at present in Dutchman Roy Makaay, who is Spain's leading scorer this term and also has eight European goals this season.

Sitting pretty
Barcelona are the other side that can make it six points from two games when they tackle Newcastle in a game postponed yesterday because of torrential rain in the Spanish city. Louis van Gaal's side will be hoping to join Internazionale FC, 3-2 victors over Bayer 04 Leverkusen last night, at the Group A summit.

Madrid finding their form
Elsewhere, Group C's other match sees Real Madrid CF meet FC Lokomotiv Moskva at the Santiago Bernabéu. Both teams will be desperate to record their first points of the second group stage after Matchday Seven defeats, but it will be a tall order for the Russian club to restrict the attacking riches of Madrid. The holders seem to be hitting their stride with a 5-1 trouncing of RCD Mallorca at the weekend following their victory over Club Olimpia in the European/South American Cup.

Tall order for Basel
The night's remaining match sees Juventus, who drew with Deportivo on Matchday Seven, looking to return to form when they meet Basel at the Delle Alpi stadium in Group D. Juventus have lost their way a little of late with three draws preceding their Serie A defeat to Brescia Calcio at the weekend and will be dissatisfied with anything other than three points against the Swiss champions. And with the second group stage not resuming until February, there will be time aplenty for Juventus, and any other club who lets an opportunity slip tonight, to ponder their plight.