Chelsea, Manchester City under Champions League scrutiny
The Ukrainian champion puts Chelsea's form to shame: 12 wins out of 12 in the league, while going back to last season it has won its last 21 matches and, in the last 12 months, picked up 79 points from a possible total of 81. Last summer Shakhtar rejected an offer from Zenit St Petersburg to buy Henrik Mkhitaryan, whose 17 goals in 19 matches this season have marked him out as a potential European star of the season. Will Chelsea's defense, fortified by the return of club captain John Terry, be able to withstand the pace, movement and dead-eye finishing of the clinical Armenian? Or will Roberto di Matteo's continued faith in "Ma-Zar-Car" -- the Juan Mata-Eden Hazard-Oscar attacking trident -- leave Shakhtar with a first home loss since November? With so much offensive talent, goals seem a certainty (so that will be 0-0, then).
With City off to Ajax and Dortmund hosting Madrid, the question is: can City be that bad for a third game running, and can Dortmund be that good? The Dortmund-Real game could be that matchup of this round, with a win putting either in the driving seat in the group. Last week also saw Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho publicly back Cristano Ronaldo to win the Ballon D'Or. "It's impossible for Lionel Messi to win the award four times and Ronaldo only once," he said. Will those comments cure Ronaldo's famous "sadness?" We might find out on Wednesday.
Fast forward three years, and this time it's Milan boss Massimiliano Allegri under pressure: five defeats in eight league games, one point off the bottom of Serie A and every game billed as potentially his final one in charge. Wednesday's opponent, Malaga, has been a revelation of the group stage: the debutant has won its first two matches 3-0 and, in Spanish winger Isco, has one of the breakout stars of the campaign. Pellegrini is far too charming to admit it, but he might just enjoy getting his own back on the Rossoneri.
"We are in a constant state of progress, whether that's our training base, stadium, squad, the development inside the team," Goncharenko told UEFA.com. "[Our success is down to] the constant hunger from the coaching staff for knowledge, plus the eagerness of the players." A place in the next round is within its grasp now.
But that's as bad as it gets: the team remains unbeaten this season, coach Tito Vilanova has equaled the best-ever debut for a La Liga boss (with Sporting Gijon coach Diaz Novoa, 1979) while Lionel Messi, scorer of his 15th career hat trick at the weekend, now has eight goals in his last four matches. It was Mother's Day in Argentina on Sunday, hence newspaper