PARIS, September 29 – Manchester United and Chelsea, who faced off in the 2008 Champions League final, can put a collective foot in the second phase of this season's edition on Wednesday if they add to opening day group wins.But the English Premiership giants take on Germany’s Wolfsburg and Cypriots Apoel Nicosia respectively after highly contrasting weekend fortunes.
Whereas United won at Stoke to cement their good run of form since a shock loss at Burnley, Chelsea lost the chance to go three points clear after losing at Wigan, a reverse which infuriated Blues skipper John Terry.
"The least we expect from every player is that we work hard and fight and we did not do that," Terry admitted to The Sun newspaper Monday.
Carlo Ancelotti, twice a European Cup winner as player and then also coach with AC Milan before answering the challenge to land Chelsea their first, now must rouse the team to ensure three points are brought home from Cyprus against nominally the weakest side in Group D.
"We lost one game," said Ancelotti assessing the damage of the Wigan result which left his side behind United on goal difference in the league.
"It’s important we have a good reaction against Apoel and also Liverpool" next weekend.
Chelsea already have three points under their belts after edging Porto, who Wednesday host Atletico Madrid, 1-0 at Stamford Bridge.
United were all business in swatting Stoke to continue their largely seamless adjustment in the post-Cristiano Ronaldo era.
While the Portuguese flyer chases down a win at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium against Marseille in Group C, which also contains AC Milan, Sir Alex Ferguson’s side can build on their 1-0 success at Turkey’s Besiktas.
That win was achieved courtesy of Paul Scholes but it was fellow veteran Ryan Giggs who had Ferguson waxing lyrical after setting up both goals at Stoke.
Fergie keeps the 35-year-old with 11 Premiership and two European crowns in reserve for the most part these days – yet his impact from the bench remains significant.
"Ryan is just so important to us as a player and he is so intelligent," Ferguson said. "I thought it was best to have him on the substitutes bench, but he just gives us something else when he is in the team."
Wolfsburg are making their debuts on the European game’s biggest stage but in dangerous spearheads Edin Dzeko of Bosnia and Brazilian Grafite they have strikers who scored a combined 54 league goals, a Bundesliga record, on their surprise march to the title last season.
And the side from the home of Volkswagen are looking to motor through to the second phase after a Grafite hat-trick saw them power past CSKA Moscow in their first match in Germany.
"It’s every player’s dream to play at Old Trafford against Manchester United. We’re really looking forward to it," Dzeko told UEFA.com, insisting the team will not be overawed.
CSKA will now host Besiktas as the opening match losers try not to get left behind.
After his summer switch to Real, Ronaldo will be expecting to add to his league goals tally of five against a Marseille side who lost ground in the French league title race with a surprise weekend loss at Valenciennes that left them five points adrift of Bordeaux and three behind Lyon.
The only French side to lift the European Cup shipped four goals on their last visit to the Bernabeu six years ago.
Ronaldo will be fired up after greeting his subsitution in a weekend stroll against Tenerife with a little fit of pique.
The starlet kicked out at a stray ball and did not acknowledge coach Manuel Pellegrini after leaving the fray. Pellegrini shrugged off the topic.
"I don’t see any problem. No player likes being substituted. I do what is best for the team and the result was safe," he stressed.
Real started off their campaign for a tenth title – but first since 2002 – with a 5-2 win in Zurich.
But the pressure is on with Milan set to pick up a home success over the Swiss.
As Pellegrini admits, the Spaniards must achieve something concrete this year with the final at their own stadium.
"It has been too long since Madrid had a proper run in the Champions League," he told UEFA.com.
"For Madrid to win the cup for a tenth time and at our own stadium is a great challenge, and we are all optimistic."
Group A completes Wednesday’s action with four-times champions Bayern Munich hosting two-times winners Juventus and French pacesetters Bordeaux going up against Maccabi Haifa of Israel.