Marco van Bommel renews acquaintance with Xavi Hernandez in a Uefa Champions League dead rubber on Wednesday with both managers under the spotlight. The midfield pair were team mates in Frank Rijkaard’s Barcelona side that won a La Liga and Champions League double in 2005/6. As managers, both won domestic top division titles at the first time of asking with Xavi leading Blaugrana to Liga Santander and Van Bommel guiding Royal Antwerp to their first Belgian top flight title since 1957.
Inconsistent results in what is referred to in football parlance as second season syndrome has the pair under microscopic scrutiny. Barcelona’s 2-4 setback at the hands of upstarts Girona left Blaugrana with a mountainous task of overhauling the little Catalonian outfit as well as eternal rivals Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid. Just like Antwerp, Barcelona sit fourth in Liga Santander.
Though his folk hero status in Belgium has his job safe, Van Bommel is under the spotlight in Europe because Antwerp are one of five clubs along with Benfica, Sevilla, Union Berlin and Celtic that are yet to register a single victory this season. Antwerp don’t even have a point on board and will be hoping group H winners Barcelona field a weakened side to avoid the ignominy of firing a complete points blank.
Seven-time Europa League winners Sevilla are unofficially the most successful team in Europe during the past decade but they need to beat French Ligue One side Racing Lens away from their Ramon Sanchez Picjuan Stadium fortress if they are to avoid missing out on third place which guarantees a place in Europe’s second tier competition. Signs are ominous for the Andalusians who’ve only won twice in their last 15 outings in all competitions despite replacing Europa League winner Jose Luis Mendilibar with Diego Alonso.
Twice champions Benfica, who became the first team other Real Madrid to win the European Cup when they lifted consecutive titles in 1961 and 1962, must overcome Red Bull Salzburg in Austria if they are to overhaul their hosts to a place in the Europa League. 1964, 1964 and 2010 champions Inter Milan host Imanol Iguacil’s Real Sociedad for the number one slot in group D with both sides bouyed by weekend victories. Sociedad were ruthless in disposing of Villarreal 3-1 at Estadio de la Ceramica while Inter Milan clobbered Udinese 4-0 at the Giuseppe Meazza Stadium.
Manchester United boss Eric Ten Haag will be hoping for a better outing than Saturday’s 0-3 humbling at the hands of Bournemouth when the 1968, 1999 and 2008 champions host seven time winners Bayern Munich on Tuesday. Though Bayern Munich have already sealed qualification as group A winners, Thomas Tuchel will demand a response after the Bavarian giants were uncharacteristically off colour in suffering a 5-1 pummelling at the hands of Eintracht Frankfurt in the German Bundesliga.
Racing Lens v Sevilla,
PSV Eindhoven v Arsenal,
Manchester United v Bayern Munich,
FC Copenhagen v Galatasaray,
Napoli v Sporting Braga,
Union Berlin v Real Madrid,
Inter Milan v Real Sociedad,
Salzburg v Benfica
RB Leipzig v Young Boys,
Red Star Belgrade v Manchester City,
Atletico Madrid v Lazio,
Celtic v Feyenoord,
Borussia Dortmund v PSG,
Newcastle United v AC Milan,
FC Porto v Shakhtar Donetsk,
Royal Antwerp v Barcelona