United and Chelsea almost there

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PARIS, Nov 3 – Compared to the domestic and European woes of five-times European kings Liverpool, life is bliss for Manchester United and Chelsea as Premier League glory and the knockout phase of the Champions League beckon.
RAULLiverpool, six defeats in seven games, have run into a brick wall in the Premier League where a first title in 20 years already looks beyond them.

Failure to win at Lyon on Wednesday could derail their Champions League ambitions after defeats to the French side and also Fiorentina.

Meanwhile it’s been relatively plain sailing for United and Chelsea, both at home and abroad.

Sir Alex Ferguson’s 2008 European champions are just two points off the Blues in the league while in Europe both sides have posted three wins already.

Despite veterans Ryan Giggs and Rio Ferdinand both being ruled out of Tuesday’s game United will expect to polish off rivals CSKA Moscow at Old Trafford having already secured full points in Moscow.

Chelsea, having already humiliated Atletico Madrid at Stamford Bridge, will be confident they can get the point they need to advance from Group D, particularly with Didier Drogba having completed the three-match ban imposed for an on-pitch outburst after last season’s semifinal loss to Barcelona.

Frank Lampard says the Ivorian is the true ace in the pack.

"Having Didier back in the Champions League this week will be great for us. It’s a big boost, he’s a top-class player in great form," the England midfielder said, dubbing Drogba the best striker in the world.

"He’s neck and neck with Fernando Torres in the goals chart, but for me Didier is the best in the world because of his all-round game."

Nine-times champions Real Madrid should ultimately emerge from Group C even if AC Milan, with seven titles, complete the double Tuesday over the expensively reconstituted ‘Meringues’ at the San Siro.

Both sides have six points from three games but Real will again be without the world’s most expensive player Cristiano Ronaldo as he has not recovered from a nagging right ankle injury.

Veteran midfielder Guti will also miss the game after falling out with coach Manuel Pellegrini during last week’s humiliating 4-0 Spanish Cup defeat at third division Alcorcon.

Assuming Milan – already shocked at home to Zurich before redeeming themselves in Madrid – qualify along with the Spanish giants, whose last crown came in 2002, that would mean the end of the road for Marseille, the 1993 champions, who should nonetheless beat Zurich at the Stade Velodrome.

Also teetering on the brink are four-times winners Bayern Munich, who are labouring to make an impression in Group A where Bordeaux are setting the pace after beating the Bavarians in France.

With Italian former champions Juventus unbeaten in the same group and a point clear of Bayern, the latter cannot afford to drop points against Laurent Blanc’s Bordeaux as Juve will expect to pinch full points at Israel’s Maccabi Haifa.

Bayern team manager Uli Hoeness admits the struggle will be an uphill one if neither of their playmakers, Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben, can shrug off injuries in time.

"Bayern without Franck Ribery or Arjen Robben is not the same team. When they return, we will return very quickly to a higher level."

Ribery will miss out with a knee injury though Robben may make thew date at the Allianz Arena as he has recovered largely from a knee operation at the start of last month.

Bayern Munich will be without banned pair Daniel van Buyten and Thomas Mueller after their dismissals during the loss in France.

Champions League fixtures (1945 GMT)

Tuesday:

Group A

Bayern Munich (GER) v Bordeaux (FRA)

Maccabi Haifa (ISR) v Juventus (ITA)

Group B

Manchester United (ENG) CSKA Moscow (RUS)

Besiktas (TUR) v VfL Wolfsburg (GER)

Group C

AC Milan (ITA) v Real Madrid (ESP)

Marseille (FRA) v FC Zurich (SUI)

Group D

Atletico Madrid (ESP) v Chelsea

Apoel FC (CYP) v Porto (POR)

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