We're at the halfway stage of the Champions League group phase, and while some familiar names are on top (Barcelona, Manchester United) there are also surprise group leaders (among them, Malaga and BATE Borisov). If the groups stay as they are, teams from 10 countries will make up the last 16, the highest number since the Round of 16 was introduced in 2004.
Only 10 clubs cannot finish atop their groups, so it's all to play for as the fixtures from Matchday Three, a dramatic round in itself, are reversed.
"We need to win our two Champions League home games," coach Roberto di Matteo said. Shakhtar may have lost on all five of its previous trips to London, but its last away defeat in any competition was in St. Petersburg, at this stage of the Champions League 12 months ago. Juventus ended its 49-game unbeaten run of league games with a home loss to Inter Milan but is expected to beat FC Nordsjaelland at home, which means that whoever wins at Stamford Bridge will be able to take control of Group E.
In Madrid, the focus has been on the future, and specifically the role of B team RM Castilla. Is it a team in its own right, which has to do as well as it can in the Spanish second division, or should it exist only to train and provide players for the first team? After Michael Essien played at left back in Matchday Three against Dortmund -- because Mourinho felt that the different system Castilla plays would confuse any call-up from that side -- and some top-level in-house meetings, the answer came back: the latter. This is not Mourinho's fault, even though he has been criticized in the past for "lack of legacy." It's a running theme for Real Madrid, which has supplied more