Inter Milan, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and both Manchester powerhouses are in action as MatchDay Two of the Champions League roars to life Tuesday.
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Action continues Wednesday with Arsenal, Chelsea, AC Milan and defending champions Barcelona all taking the stage.
We have an early start to the action Tuesday because of the time difference in Russia, with CSKA Moscow hosting a wobbling Inter Milan side (12 p.m. ET, FoxSoccer.tv /2GO) that hopes it has turned a corner. Inter sacked manager Gian Piero Gasperini Thursday after five games without a win, quickly naming former Chelsea man Claudio Ranieri as his replacement .
Saturday, the move paid immediate dividends, with Inter picking up its first win of the season , 3-1, over Bologna in a game that often made for painful watching. President Massimo Moratti sunnily claimed that "all is back to normal" at the club, but the true test will come in notoriously unforgiving Moscow.
CSKA doesn't have a great record against Italian teams (and has a kerfuffle of its own to deal with after it came to light that Vagner Love is on the outs at the club), but if there's ever a time to take on Inter, this is it: Inter were upset by Turks Trabzonspor in their first game and sit bottom of Group B; they are missing Wesley Sneijder, Maicon, Thiago and Dejan Stankovic; and of course cannot field cup-tied Diego Forlan.
CSKA will be without top keeper Igor Akinfeev and the versatile Keisuke Honda but showed character (if not much else) in recovering from a 2-0 deficit to draw at Lille behind two from Seydou Doumbia. CSKA's problem is that they too frequently play for the counter attack; Lille's wastefulness allowed the Russian back in two weeks ago.
Trabzonspor host Lille in the other group game of the day, kicking off with the rest of the card at 2:45 p.m. ET.
Bayern can open up a big gap on Manchester City with a win at the Allianz in what should be the game of the day. The 2010 finalists downed Leverkusen Saturday in a magisterial 3-0 performance to win their sixth straight to go clear atop the Bundesliga. They didn't need any additional boost but got it when Arjen Robben returned and scored for the Bavarians, his first appearance for the team since August. Bayern haven't conceded a goal in nine games, and even though defender Holger Badstuber is expected to be a scratch (flu), they are not expected to miss a beat.
City are in similarly impressive form, sharing the Premier League lead on points with Manchester United after an unbeaten start to their campaign. They drew 1-1 with Napoli in their first game, looking tentative at times as they sought to gain their Champions League sea legs. But this hugely expensive squad has oceans of talent, and with the additions of Samir Nasri and Sergio "Kun" Aguero, City have at times looked like a uniquely fluent attacking team.
City will be without Mario Balotelli (suspended) but has Edin Dzeko, Aguero and the out-of-sorts Carlos Tevez to call upon, with David Silva and Nasri set to pull the strings. City will have to take care is in their mental game: they have shown a tendency to switch off at times, and even the aerial heroics of keeper Joe Hart and the steadiness of Vincent Kompany have not kept them from coughing up easy goals.
Napoli face Villarreal in the other group match, but American-born Giuseppi Rossi is not expected to be a participant. He suffered a knee injury their 1-1 draw with Bilbao and is doubtful for the game. Napoli also drew on the weekend, held scoreless by Fiorentina to remain a point off the pace.
Manchester United will be without seven players as they host Swiss minnows Basel but aren't expected to really suffer. Despite dropping their first points of the season in a gritty 1-1 draw at Stoke , United are heavy favorites in both this match and this group.
Defense does remain a question mark: Nemanja Vidic and Rafael are long-term casualties, but United's back line has been further weakened by the recent absences of Jonny Evans (ankle) and Chris Smalling (groin). Nominal midfielder Antonio Valencia is likely to be once again pressed into service at right back. Up top, United will also have to make do without Wayne Rooney (hamstring) and Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez (dead leg) so likely will give starts to Michael Owen and Dimitar Berbatov.
Basel are group leaders after beating Romanian makeweights Otelul Galati in their opener but don't seem to be much of a threat over the distance. They've never won in England in seven attempts, and their best known players are Scott Chipperfield, a Australian journeyman, and their 32-year old forward, Alexander Frei.
Benfica travel to Bucharest in the other game of the group, and are expected to trounce Otelul; the Romanians are off to a poor start in their title defense, sitting mid-table after eight games with three losses and two draws.
Real Madrid got a wakeup call this weekend when Rayo Vallecano scored off the kickoff thanks to Michu. They responded by putting six past them, with Cristiano Ronaldo getting a hat-trick in a 6-2 triumph . That form should give Ajax pause: Real punched six past the Dutch side last season to no reply over two legs.
Real, of course, are one of the true title contenders, with the play of Mesut Ozil, Xabi and Mr. "don't hate me because I'm beautiful" himself being a major factor. Real will be without Marcelo (suspended) and the injured Pepe and Fabio Coentrao but look to have far too much left for the one-time superpowers of Europe.
Ajax have the benefit of playing in a greatly reduced Eredivisie, with their third place standing covering up the fact that they have three draws to date, including two against rivals PSV and Twente. Siem de Jong is a player of the future for them -- if they can hold on to him -- but the rest of their squad is colorless, something that showed in their tepid 0-0 home draw against Lyon .
Lyon host Dinamo Zagreb in the other group matchup of the day, with the French side tipped as the faves. They beat up Bordeaux on the weekend , 3-1, while the Croats remain unbeaten in the league with eight wins and a draw, getting a 2-1 win over arch-rivals Lokomotiv Zagreb on Friday.