Barcelona without manager, fighting to avoid early CL exit

The main talking points ahead of the fourth round of games in the Champions League group stage:

BARCA’S PROBLEMS

Barcelona is still without a replacement for fired manager Ronald Koeman going into the Group E match at Dynamo Kyiv — and Gerard Piqué and Sergio Aguero will be missing through injury. Piqué has a right calf strain, while Aguero is expected to stay in a hospital to undergo further heart tests after feeling dizzy before halftime in the 1-1 home draw against Alavés on Saturday. Barcelona lost two in a row in the Spanish league — including to rival Real Madrid at home — after defeating Dynamo 1-0 to restore its chances of avoiding its first group-stage elimination in the Champions League in nearly two decades. Barca is third in the group.

BAYERN’S DEFENSIVE TROUBLE

Bayern Munich suddenly has defensive issues to sort out before Benfica’s visit on Tuesday. The Bavarian powerhouse conceded seven goals in its last two games, including the 5-0 drubbing it received from Borussia Mönchengladbach in the German Cup last Wednesday. That was Bayern’s biggest defeat in 43 years. The team rebounded by scoring five goals against Union Berlin on Sunday, albeit while conceding another two. Bayern goalkeeper Manuel Neuer was busy in both games, putting the blame squarely on Bayern’s defenders. But there’s nothing wrong with the attack and Robert Lewandowski will be keen to add to his 17 goals from 14 games across all competitions this season as Group E Bayern can book its place in the next round with a win against second-place Benfica.

SOLSKJAER PRESSURE

The immediate pressure eased on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer after leading Manchester United to a 3-0 victory at Tottenham in the Premier League on Saturday. The scrutiny about the manager’s future is sure to return if United can’t win at Atalanta on Tuesday, especially with a derby against Manchester City to follow on Saturday. United is at least top of Champions League Group F but with only six points from three games, one point more than Villarreal, which plays Young Boys. Solskjaer will have to figure whether to stick with the three-man defense and strike force of Cristiano Ronaldo and Edinson Cavani that ended a four-match winless run in the Premier League. On the other side of Manchester, City experienced a surprise home loss to Crystal Palace in the Premier League before hosting Brugge. Pep Guardiola’s side is a point behind leader Paris Saint-Germain in Group A.

ATLÉTICO TIGHTENS UP

After conceding seven goals in three matches, Atlético Madrid’s defense tightened up with a clean sheet in a 3-0 win against Real Betis in the Spanish league. The Spanish champions will need to stay as solid at the back heading to play Liverpool after losing 3-2 to the Group B leaders in Madrid two weeks ago.

MILAN MISERY

Inter Milan and AC Milan are looking for positive results in the Champions League not only to boost their chances of progressing to the next round but also to stand them in good stead heading into the weekend’s derby match in Serie A. In the Champions League it’s a different story for Milan, which has lost its first three games in the competition for the first time in its history and desperately needs a win at home to Porto in Group B. Inter visits surprise Group D leader Sheriff and would move above its opponent with a win. In the other Group D game, Real Madrid hosts Shakhtar Donetsk after winning 5-0 in Ukraine two weeks ago.

WOLFSBURG’S FRESH START

Wolfsburg’s new coach Florian Kohfeldt has reinvigorated the team after just one game in charge since taking over from the fired Mark van Bommel. Saturday’s 2-0 victory in Leverkusen ended the team’s eight-game winless run. Now attention turns to Salzburg’s visit on Tuesday as Wolfsburg seeks its first win in the competition — against the Group G leaders. The group remains open as Salzburg leads on seven points, followed by Sevilla on three, with both Lille and Wolfsburg on two. Sevilla hosts Lille in the other group game Tuesday.

TRAINING RETREAT

Juventus has reportedly gone into a training retreat after returning to dismal form in Serie A. After a rocky start to the season, matters appeared to have improved with a series of 1-0 wins, but Juventus has lost its past two league matches against Sassuolo and Hellas Verona. Massimiliano Allegri has already lost four of the first 11 Serie A matches at the start of his second spell in charge. Juventus has never finished higher than fourth after such a mediocre start. In the Champions League, however, it has been a different story and Juventus prepares to face Zenit St. Petersburg looking to maintain its perfect start in Group H. Juventus has its previous three matches, without conceding a goal and could qualify for the knockout stage with two matches to spare. European champion Chelsea faces Malmo, sitting three points behind Juve in second place.

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