The middle two rounds of fixtures in the Champions League group phase are a double-header in which almost every group will become a lot clearer. Three, four or even six points will prove definitive in the race for the last 16 – anything less can spell disaster, or worse still a place in the Europa League.
Three British sides – Chelsea, Manchester United and Celtic – are in action on Wednesday evening, and while the former two will be looking to claim maximum points to continue their perfect starts to the competition, Celtic, you fancy, might be happy to return from Germany with anything less than a cricket score defeat.
So how can we expect that trio to fare on a definitive night of Champions League action?
Chelsea vs Roma
The Blues are really singing the blues at the moment, with back-to-back league defeats seeing them face a nine-point deficit to Manchester City already in the pursuit of defending their Premier League crown.
Consolation comes in the form of the Champions League, where they have won two from two including a sublime 2-1 victory at Atletico Madrid; as tough an away day as you could hope to experience.
So they at least have some breathing space, although their double-header opponents Roma come to London in fine fettle. They have won four of their last five in Serie A, and were arguably the better side in a 0-0 stalemate with Atleti.
But they were defeated 0-1 by Napoli at the weekend, and the conclusion we can perhaps draw is that they struggle against elite level opposition (they lost to Inter Milan earlier in the campaign as well).
Chelsea welcome back Alvaro Morata, which will aid their bid for the three points, although clearly the absence of N’Golo Kante and Victor Moses hits hard.
Of all the Champions League matches on Wednesday, this is arguably the toughest to predict. Perhaps sitting on the fence is the smartest strategy here.
Benfica vs Manchester United
Can you imagine the smugness of Jose Mourinho getting ready for bed on Saturday night? He went to Anfield with his Manchester United side aiming for a point, and that’s exactly what he got: just imagine his face as he looked at himself in the mirror while brushing his teeth.
That confidence will presumably extent to Wednesday’s tie against Benfica, with United already stretching clear at the top of Group A. A decent pair of performances against the Portuguese outfit could secure last 16 qualification with two games to spare.
It’s hard to analyse the efforts of Benfica in the Champions League so far; especially considering that they have done okay in the Primeira Liga so far. But there are fundamental issues with any team beaten 5-0 by Basel, and they could well be without Eliseu, Jonas and Julio Cesar on Wednesday.
Mourinho will want to get qualification wrapped up as soon as possible, and he will sense an opportunity abounds in Portugal. At 5/6, the Rd Devils are well worth supporting.
Bayern Munich vs Celtic
Travelling to play Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena is tricky at the best of times, but now is amongst the worst moments to play the German champions given the good feeling at the club.
They sacked Carlo Ancelotti, the scapegoat for some inept performances this term, and replaced him with club legend Jupp Heynckes, whose appointment was met with widespread delight by staff and supporters alike.
Guess what? They won their first game with Heynckes in charge 5-0 at the weekend, and it’s almost as if a switch has been flicked in the players’ brains: oh yes, we are rather good at football.
Celtic aren’t bad themselves, and while their best characteristics of doggedness, resilience and sheer hard graft typically serve them well away from home, they have also suffered some rather hefty defeats in the Champions League to the likes of PSG and Barcelona in recent years (0-5, 1-6 and 0-7, to be precise).
We’re not suggesting a hammering of that kind of proportion will unfold on Wednesday, but with odds of 10/11 available on Bayern to Win to Nil punters simply have to get involved.