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Dublin: 9°C Friday 7 May 2021

5 things to look out for in tonight's Champions League games

Chelsea, Arsenal, Celtic and Barcelona all get their group campaigns going this evening.

Mourinho taking questions during the week.
Mourinho taking questions during the week.
Image: Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP/Press Association Images

1. Mourinho has unfinished business

HE MAY ALREADY have two Champions League medals to his name, but Jose Mourinho was unable to secure a coveted European Cup during his previous spell at Chelsea.

While it is undoubtedly brimming talent, the current squad is less experienced than the one which lost out to Liverpool in the semi-finals when Mourinho last held the reigns at the London club back in 2007.

The Europa League champions would appear to have a relatively straightforward group in tonight’s opponents Basel, Schalke and Steaua Bucharest but, as Saturday’s defeat to Everton showed, Chelsea are far from the finished article.

Solving their striker issue is vital. Samuel Eto’o has been brought in to lead the line but the Cameroonian was wasteful at Goodison Park and may need time to rediscover his form. Time that Cheslea don’t have.

3. Group of Death for Gunners

In last year’s beaten finalists Borussia Dortmund, Serie A leaders Napoli and French outfit Marseille, Arsenal make up arguably the most intriguing group of this year’s competition.

If you look at the group, I would say yes it is the hardest group because all the four teams have a chance to qualify,” said Wenger. “That means that every game is basically a very important one.

“On average you need 10 points to qualify so that gives you the task. Ten points in a group as difficult as that could be a reasonable number to get through.”

The Gunners recovered well from their loss to Aston Villa on the first day of the season and sit second in the Premier League table at this early stage. That said, Mesut Ozil might be a genuine world class signing, but getting out of the group will be testing as they remain short at the back and are heavily reliant on the in-form Olivier Giroud staying fit.

3. Celtic facing uphill battle

They may have made heavy work of the third round qualifier against Kazakhstan’s Shakhter Karagandy but the main objective for Celtic was to make the group stages and here they are.

Neil Lennon’s reaction when Celtic were drawn Barcelona, AC Milan and Ajax said it all and the Hoops face a huge task to earn a Europa League spot, never mind finishing in the top two. Tonight, they are back at the San Siro for the first time since 2007 when they lost 1-0 to the Rossoneri.

Milan aren’t the force they once were and go into the group opener with several key players missing including the returning Kaka, who suffered a muscle tear over the weekend.

4. Can Benitez bring European glory to Naples?

Life in Italy has begun extremely well for Rafa Benitez. A 100% record in the opening three games means Napoli lead Serie A.

Funds from the sale of Edison Cavani to PSG went on Real Madrid trio Gonzalo Higuain, Raul Albiol and Jose Callejon while Pepe Reina has also linked up with his old Liverpool boss. Add that to a team which already possesses the likes of Gokhan Inler and Marek Hamsik and it’s no wonder that they are being tipped to progress to the knockout stages with the former winner at the helm.

5. Barca look to make amends

When Bayern Munich pulled Barcelona apart in a 7-0 aggregate win in the semi-finals earlier this year, many saw it as a shift in power away from Catalunya.

Under new boss Gerardo Martino, Barca will be desperate to bounce back with a strong showing but it is uncharted territory for the the Argentine coach, who has no previous experience managing in Europe’s elite competition.

The Camp Nou hosts a ‘Cruyff Derby’ of sorts this evening with the meeting of two traditional heavyweights linked by the Dutch great who made an enormous impact at both clubs during his time as a player and manager.

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About the author:

Ben Blake

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