Arsenal begin their Champions League campaign tonight, with Borussia Dortmund the visitors to Highbury.
As the respective champions of England and Germany go head-to-head, both sides will be looking to get off to a good start. Arsenal will enter the game as favourites, following their tremendous early season form, which has propelled them to the top of the Premiership.
Dortmund’s form of late has been more solid than spectacular, with four draws from their opening five games. They come into this game on the back of a 1-1 draw with local rivals Schalke, leaving them six points adrift of Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga.
Team-wise, Arsenal will be boosted by the news that Sweden midfielder Freddie Ljungberg makes the squad. Ljungberg has not played for the first team since picking up an injury during the World Cup, but it is possiblehe may play some part tonight, more than likely from the bench. David Seaman is expected to shake off a knock to play in goal, whilst Lauren could return for Oleg Luzhny.
Dortmund will be without Czech midfielder Tomas Rosicky, so Joerg Heinrich is expected to fill in. Ewerthon and Jan Koller will continue in attack, as Marcio Amoroso is still sidelined with an injury.
Group A’s other game sees PSV Eindhoven take on Auxerre. Auxerre go into this game on the back of a good run of form, which is reflected in their league position, as they stand joint top after seven games.
However, they face a tough task at the Phillips Stadium, with PSV also in a rich vein of form. They maintained their 100 percent start to the season, with a resounding 4-0 victory over RKC at the weekend.
Auxerre are likely to be without Djibril Cisse, Khalilou Fadiga and Oliver Kapo, whilst PSV will have to do without the suspended Mark van Bommel.
Valencia and Liverpool.
The Spanish Champions reached both the 2000 and 2001 finals, and will be hoping to go one better in 2003. Their early season form has been impressive, as Valencia are one of five teams tied at the top of La Liga, with six points from the opening two games.
Liverpool havealso made a solid start to the Premiership season, but have picked up a few too many draws for Gerard Houllier’s liking. They threw away leads at Blackburn and at home to Newcastle, and their usuallysound defence has conceded eight goals from the opening six games.
They will need to tighten up at the back for the visit to Valencia, and hope that Michael Owen, who has only one goal to his name this season and that from the penalty sppot, re-discovers his scoring touch. He will need to be at his best against the Spaniards, who only conceded 27 goals on their way to the Spanish title last term.
Valencia will hope that Pablo Aimaris fit enough to start, following his absence last weekend against Recreativo. John Carew may start, after scoring twice as a substitute on Saturday, but Kily Gonzalez misses out through suspension.
Liverpool will be without Vladimir Smicer and possibly Stephane Henchoz, who was absent from the win over Bolton at the weekend. If Henchoz misses out, Djimi Traore could start at centre-back, as Marcus Babbel is still not fully-fit and Abel Xavier has an upset stomach.
If the two sides previous meeting is anything to go by, then Liverpool should be encouraged. In their 1999 UEFA Cup clash, Liverpool were victorious, eliminating Valencia courtesy of the away goals rule.
Basel, conquerers of Celtic in the qualifying round, will take on Russian giants Spartak Moscow in Group B’s other game. With Valencia and Liverpool strong favourites to progress to the next stage, this will be a vital game for both sides, as third place in the group will ensure a passage into the UEFA Cup.
Spartak are missing Ukraine defender Dmitry Parfyonov with a broken leg, while Russia striker Dmitry Sychyov is suspended by the league after refusing to honour his contract with the club. The suffered a massive blow on the eve of the tie when it was revealed that Yegor Titov will undergo an operation on a knee injury and be out until the new year.
Group C I
Real Madrid are the visitors to the Olympic Stadium, to take on Roma.
Ironically, the two sides opened their Champions League campaigns against each other last season. Real Madrid left the Italian capital the happier team, having taken all three points in a 2-1 win.
However, that defeat will provide all the motivation Roma need to make sure that they getoff to a better start this time around.
Roma come into this game off the back of a 2-1 defeat to Bologna at the weekend. It was Roma’s first game of the season, following the postponement of Serie A for two weeks due to the battle over TV rights. One league game tis not the ideal preparation for Fabio Capello’s side, but Madrid have also had a shaky build up to tonight’s game. Their league clash with Betis at the weekend ended prematurely due to floodlight failure, with Madrid a goal down.
Roma will be without forwards Francesco Totti and Gabriel Batistuta due to suspension. New signing Josep Guardiola will partner captain Damiano Tommassi in midfield, while Vincenzo Montella will play alongside Antonio Cassano in attack.
For Real, looking for their third European titlein four years, Vicente Del Bosque will not be handing Ronaldo a quick return to Italy, as he has stayed in Spain after failing to receive medical clearance from the club’s doctors.
Flavio Conceicao and Oscar Minambres are both out.
As in Group B, the game between RC Genk of Belgium and Greek side AEK Athens is going to be a crucial encounter for both sides.
It is AEK’s first Champions League appearance for eight years, and they will be looking to get something out of their trip to Belgium. It is hard to see either of these sidesprogressing ahead of Real or Roma, so both clubs will see three points tonight as a step towards third place, and ultimately the UEFA Cup.
Internazionale will look to get their Champions League season off to a good start when they travel to Rosenborg.
The Italians arrive in Norway on the back of a 1-0 win over Torino, secured through a Christian Vieri strike.
Inter will be boosted by the news that Domenico Morfeo has been cleared to play, while Rosenborg will hope to have Roar Strand available for selection.
Group D looks very open in terms of quality, and this will give encourage both Ajax and Lyon to believe that they may be able to progress to the next stage.
Like the Arsenal v Dortmund tie, this is a clash of two champions, and Ajax’s early form shows that they have carried on from where they left off llast season. The Dutch side have won each of their opening four games, leaving them joint top of the Dutch league.
Lyon are currently in sixth spot in France, having struggled early season away form thus far. They will need to improve on this if they are to get anything from their trip to the Amsterdam Arena.
Ajax will be without Rafael vander Vaart tonight but Jari Litmanen should make his Champions League return for the Amsterdam club. He was sensational for Ajax in his last spell there, and is now back after periods with Barcelona and Liverpool. Lyon coach Paul Le Guen has an injury-free squad to choose from.