MATCHDAY: Barca, United under pressure in Champions League

National Sports

A look at what’s happening in the group stage of the Champions League on Wednesday:

GROUP E

Benfica hosts struggling Barcelona while enjoying an unbeaten start to its season with 10 wins in 12 matches overall. The draws came against PSV Eindhoven in the qualifying round of the Champions League and at Dynamo Kyiv in the group stage. Barcelona eased some of the pressure on coach Ronald Koeman with a comfortable home win against Levante in the Spanish league, halting a three-match winless streak that started with the demoralizing 3-0 loss to Bayern Munich. Bayern now has a chance to extend its lead at the top of the group when it hosts Dynamo Kyiv, which hasn’t gotten past the group stage since 2015. The challenge for Dynamo will be to stop Bayern’s run of scoring at least three goals in each of its last six games in all competitions.

GROUP F

Manchester United will be under serious pressure to qualify if it loses at home to Villarreal, having started group play with a shocking defeat at Young Boys in Switzerland. United comes into the game having been beaten 1-0 twice in the past week, both times at home, first to West Ham in the English League Cup and then to Aston Villa in the Premier League. Now it faces a team in Unai Emery’s Villarreal that defeated United in a penalty shootout in the Europa League final last season. United will be without captain Harry Maguire, who could be sidelined for a ”few weeks” – according to manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer – because of a calf injury. Villarreal, still unbeaten this season, is likely to be without striker Gerard Moreno because of an injury. Young Boys goes for a second straight win to open the group in an away match against Atalanta, which started with a 2-2 draw at Villarreal. Atalanta will be boosted by the return of Luis Muriel from injury. The 30-year-old scored once in two Serie A games this term but was injured in the match against Villarreal. Atalanta has never won at the Gewiss Stadium in the Champions League. Its only two home victories in the competition came when it was playing at San Siro in Milan.

GROUP G

Wolfsburg hosts Sevilla in a meeting of two teams hoping to qualify for the Champions League knockout stages. Wolfsburg has built its return to top-tier European soccer on a solid defense, but now it needs to bounce back from a 3-1 loss to out-of-form Hoffenheim in the Bundesliga on Saturday. Sevilla, unbeaten and coming off two straight victories in the Spanish league, will be without suspended forward Youssef En-Nesyri, one of its top players. He scored his third goal of the season last weekend before being substituted because of an injury. Salzburg hosts Lille in the other group match. There were draws in the group’s first two matches. Goals have proved hard to come by for Lille this season, with Canada forward Jonathan David on four goals and Turkey veteran Burak Yilmaz managing just three. No other player has more than one and United States forward Timothy Weah – son of Liberia President and former Ballon d’Or winner George Weah – has yet to find the net.

GROUP H

Chelsea visits Juventus in a game between teams that opened with wins and are heavily favored to advance from a group also containing Zenit St. Petersburg and Malmo. Chelsea, the defending champion, has injury concerns with Reece James, Mason Mount and Christian Pulisic out of the trip to Turin. N’Golo Kante is also missing after testing positive for the coronavirus. Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel said he does not know the percentage of his players that have been vaccinated and insisted he is in no position to urge anyone to receive COVID-19 jabs. Juventus also has injury problems and forwards Paulo Dybala and Alvaro Morata have been ruled out of the match, adding to the Bianconeri woes. Sunday’s 3-2 victory over Sampdoria was only its second in Serie A this season and the Juventus defense will face a sterner test from Romelu Lukaku and the Chelsea attack. However, Lukaku – who spent two seasons at Inter Milan – has only scored once in six games against Juventus. Zenit hosts Malmo which feels like a key game to see which team can finish in third place and get in the Europa League.

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