Big guns looking to knockout stages in Europe

European giants Barcelona, Manchester United and Arsenal can all take a huge step towards qualifying for the Champions League knockout phase if they win their respective matches on Tuesday.

All three have a perfect six points from their first two matches and another victory will leave them virtually assured of progression.

United face arguably the toughest task with a trip to the Ukraine capital to face Dynamo Kiev, a task made all the more difficult due to a host of injury problems that sees the likes of Gary Neville, Owen Hargreaves and Louis Saha certain to miss out and Nemanja Vidic doubtful.

Manager Sir Alex Ferguson did get the chance to rest key winger Cristiano Ronaldo, though, during Saturday’s 4-1 thrashing of Aston Villa, meaning the mercurial talent should be fresh and raring to go in Kiev.

United also have England striker Wayne Rooney in fine form following his double strike against Villa and a spectacular goal in England’s 2-1 defeat in Russia in a Euro 2008 qualifier.

Most worrying for United is Vidic’s absence as he is still struggling from a blow to the head he received against Wigan two weeks ago.

Ferguson admitted: “Vidic is a doubt for Tuesday. He is still feeling some reaction to the knock he got against Wigan and in that situation you can’t take a chance.

“He will be close but I’m not so sure he will be ready to play in Kiev.”

Kiev are bottom of Group F after losing their first two games—2-0 at Roma and 2-1 at home to Sporting Lisbon, teams United beat 1-0.

In London, Arsenal take on Slavia Prague with manager Arsene Wenger admitting that last year’s painful defeat to PSV Eindhoven in the knockout stages is motivating his team this time around.

“The big frustration in our throats is how we went out last year against PSV Eindhoven,” Wenger said. “That frustration is still very lively.

“To get that out, I do not think we will have any chance to relax against teams like Slavia Prague because we have been knocked out last season by PSV.

“We have a year’s more experience now and have a squad that is really of a very good level, where everybody can play.”

Arsenal lead Group H by three points from Slavia and Sevilla, meaning a victory for them would almost certainly be enough to progress.

They have Robin van Persie currently sidelined through injury, meaning Wenger may turn to English teenager Theo Walcott for some attacking spark following the forward’s star showing against Bolton as a substitute at the weekend.

“He has found the injection of pace he had before and he uses his body better,” Wenger said.
“When you see what he brings when he came on, you are very excited.”

In Group E Barcelona travel to Glasgow to face Rangers, who like the Catalans, boast a perfect record from their first two matches.

Barca are missing some key players such as Samuel Eto’o, Deco, Yaya Toure and Gianluca Zambrotta and are heading into the game off the back of a disappointing 3-1 defeat to Villarreal while Rangers dominated their big rivals Celtic 3-0 on Saturday.

Barcelona left back Eric Abidal knows his team are in for a battle.

“I’ve played against Scotland with France and we lost twice. Their football is very aggressive and very physical,” he said.

“Barca has to develop its play and not fall into playing their style of game, based on the counter-attack and physical battles.”

In other games Serie A leaders and champions Inter Milan travel to CSKA Moscow in group G.—AFP

Fixtures:

Group E

Stuttgart vs Lyon

Rangers vs Barcelona

Group F

Dynamo Kiev vs Manchester United

Roma vs Sporting Lisbon

Group G

CSKA Moscow vs Inter Milan

PSV Eindhoven vs Fenerbahce

Group H

Sevilla vs Steaua Bucharest

Arsenal vs Slavia Prague

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