| A homecoming, for Ferguson, purely on business
Paris: English giants Manchester United and Chelsea face gruelling examinations of their Champions League credentials on Wednesday with coaches Alex Ferguson and Claudio Ranieri desperately trying to beat their own countrymen.
Scot Ferguson takes his United side north to Glasgow to face Rangers while Italian Ranieri welcomes Lazio to Stamford Bridge with both men needing wins after surprise defeats last time out.
United went down 1-2 at Stuttgart while Chelsea’s multi-millionaires were humbled 0-2 by Besiktas at Stamford Bridge.
Ibrox Park will be the focus of the night’s eight matches with another Battle of Britain instalment setting Rangers boss Alex McLeish up against mentor Ferguson who was his boss at Aberdeen. “There are probably a lot of things that have rubbed off from Sir Alex that I do without realising,” said McLeish.
“That’s the case with any influence in your life. I don’t think there’s any one trait I have that I could say ‘That’s what Sir Alex does’. But he’s the greatest football influence I’ve had, absolutely.”
Ferguson — whose no-nonsense approach to the game’s officialdom landed him with a two-game touchline ban and £10,000 fine on Monday — has never had the chance to lead United against Scottish opposition in a competitive game since he left Aberdeen in 1986.
“We are not the bookies’ favourites — we realise that — and we need to do a bit of work between now and tomorrow to make sure that we do a whole lot better,” admitted McLeish.
Down in London, meanwhile, Chelsea have ground to make up as they sit third on three points ahead of their encounter against Group G leaders Lazio.
Chelsea went down 1-2 to Arsenal on Saturday with goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini handing the Gunners victory with a howler of a mistake when he failed to gather a simple low cross that presented Thierry Henry with the winner.
“I have been in football a long time. A lot of good goalkeepers make mistakes. It is normal. Sometimes it can happen,” said Ranieri.
Defending European champions AC Milan host Bruges looking to edge closer to the last 16 with coach Carlo Ancelotti making no apologies for tinkering once again with his squad to keep legs fresh for challenges ahead.
“Players are not machines, they need to rest, not only their legs but their minds too,” he said.
Portuguese playmaker Manuel Rui Costa, who together with Brazilian World Cup winner Rivaldo has vented his frustrations at being left out, is expected to start on Wednesday.
But Ancelotti will find it hard to leave rising star Kaka on the sidelines after another mature performance in Sunday’s 1-0 win at home to Lazio.
Bruges must prise open a miserly defence if they are to take something from their daunting Group H clash.
Bruges, who dropped to third in the Belgian first division following their 3-1 defeat at Genk on Sunday, are bottom of the group with one point.
Elsewhere Spanish giants Real Madrid will be looking to consolidate their lead in Group F when they welcome Partizan Belgrade to the Bernabeu.
They warmed up for the match with a 2-0 win at Celta Vigo and coach Carlos Queiroz singled out England skipper David Beckham as the man who will make a major contribution to the team’s European campaign
“He’s adapting to the position in the centre of midfield. Each game he’s looking more comfortable,” said Queiroz.
In Wednesday’s other matches, VFB Stuttgart face Panathinaikos, Marseille take on FC Porto, Sparta Prague meet Besiktas while Ajax play Celta Vigo.