PARIS, France, October 23 – Defending champions Chelsea face Ukrainian opposition — in the form of high-flying Shakhtar Donetsk — for the first time as the third round of Champions League group matches gets underway on Tuesday.
Chelsea maintained their impressive start to the English Premier League on Saturday, a 4-2 victory over Tottenham and former boss Andre Villas-Boas securing a seventh win in eight matches for the west Londoners.
But Roberto di Matteo’s side face in-form opposition with Shakhtar having won all 12 league matches this campaign as well as earning a creditable point at Group E rivals Juventus three weeks ago.
John Terry could return from his domestic suspension, three days after Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck confirmed the former England defender would retain the captaincy following the fallout from the Anton Ferdinand racism case.
“The board made the decision and I respect and support that decision,” said Di Matteo.
“I would have respected the decision (regardless of the outcome) because ultimately they are the board and they make the decisions which are in the best interest of the club.”
Independent of who the Italian selects in central defence, the Blues will have their hands full with Armenian striker Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who has tallied 16 goals so far in all competitions.
Shakhtar have history on their side — unbeaten in four home ties against English opposition — but Chelsea are on a formidable run of their own having gone eight matches without defeat in Europe’s elite club competition.
Elsewhere in Group E, Danish minnows Nordsjaelland welcome defending Serie A champions Juventus to Farum Park where both sides will aim to clinch their first win of the competition.
Manchester United have started promisingly in Group H — a maximum six points from six — as they seek to exorcise the demons of last year’s embarrassing early exit.
United recovered from a goal down to beat Stoke 4-2 at Old Trafford on Saturday, but the Red Devils’ indifferent displays during the opening exchanges of several matches this season has concerned manager Alex Ferguson.
“We keep starting badly in games, in the first 20 minutes,” said the United boss following Saturday’s win.
“We conceded an early goal against Fulham, an early goal against Tottenham, an early goal against Stoke — we’re giving ourselves uphill fights.
“There’s no doubt our attacking play has been the strongest part of our game this season. But we’re letting in goals at home and that’s disappointing,” Ferguson told MUTV.
Next up for United is Portuguese outfit Braga who, after claiming an impressive away win at Galatasaray on matchday two, extended their unbeaten run away from home in Europe to seven matches.
Galatasaray, meanwhile, will look to pick up their first points of the campaign at home to Romania’s Cluj.
Celtic, Britain’s third representative in action on Tuesday, face a daunting trip to Catalonia for their Group G clash against Barcelona.
Ironically, the only other point collected on their travels came against the Catalan giants in 2004, when Lennon was a fixture in the Hoops’ midfield.
The Celtic boss holds the distinction of being undefeated in two trips as a player to Camp Nou, but the Northern Irishman knows his side will be considerable underdogs.
“I’m not saying we’re going to go there and get hammered,” he said. “We’re going to try to get something out of the game, but we know how monumentally difficult that will be.”
Spartak and Benfica will lock horns in the Russian capital in the group’s other fixture with both sides facing a pressing need for points.
Elsewhere, surprise Group F leaders BATE Borisov entertain Valencia in Belarus.
Viktor Goncharenko’s men have six points from two matches after stunning Bayern Munich last time out, but their record against Spanish opposition is deplorable, having failed to claim a single point in six attempts.
Lille’s European dreams are hanging by a thread after consecutive defeats to start Group F.
It doesn’t get any easier for Rudi Garcia’s side as Bayern Munich — who set a new Bundesliga record with their eighth straight win to start the season Saturday — make the trip to the Grand Stade Lille Metropole.