London: Captain John Terry will be back to plug Chelsea’s porous rearguard on Wednesday when the holders bid to avenge last month’s defeat by Shakhtar Donetsk and wrest back control of Champions League Group E.
The Londoners shipped 10 goals in the four games that centre half Terry missed after he was suspended for racially abusing Queens Park Rangers defender Anton Ferdinand.
“John is an important player for us for sure and a fantastic defender and when he plays he always does very well,” coach Roberto Di Matteo told reporters last week.
“The other players have done fantastic jobs when they have come in but certainly JT is a player that we miss.”
Terry and his fellow defenders will need to be at their best against a classy Shakhtar side who gave Chelsea the run-around for long spells to win 2-1 in Ukraine two weeks ago.
Spanish playmaker Mata has been in good form this season alongside midfield newcomers Oscar and Eden Hazard and he is the club’s leading scorer with seven goals.
Manchester United can secure a berth in the knockout stages with two games to spare when they take on Braga. Alex Ferguson’s team has three wins from three and is top of Group H. A win or even a draw in northern Portugal could be enough to put the Red Devils into the knockout stage.
Braga have only one win so far but will be no pushover. The Portuguese team took a 2-0 lead at Old Trafford before losing 3-2 in the last round. Braga also has a strong home record against English clubs, having in the past five years beaten Arsenal and Liverpool. Cluj host Galatasaray in the other group game.
Elsewhere, Bayern Munich are brimming with confidence ahead of their Group F clash at home to France’s Lille with president Uli Hoeness labelling their current form as “football art”.
Bayern, eager to take a decisive step towards the round of 16, eased past hosts Hamburg SV 3-0 in the Bundesliga on Saturday to notch their ninth league win in 10 games, bouncing back from their first defeat a week earlier.
They also saw the return of Franck Ribery after a 10-day absence with the France international looking superb and ripping Hamburg’s defence to shreds.
With fellow winger Arjen Robben fully fit after coming back from a month out injured in their German Cup second round game last week and left back David Alaba back to his best after his own three-month injury break, the Bavarians are in good shape.
“That is almost art, football art,” beamed Hoeness after their win at Hamburg sent them seven points clear at the top of the German table. “It is so much fun just watching them play.”
In Group G, Barcelona’s early season form has been on a par with their habitually high standards but as they prepare to visit Celtic, there remains a question mark hanging over their makeshift defence.
One more win would see the Catalans into the knockout stages but fans worry whether a back four that has an increasingly stand-in look about it can win a fifth European Cup.
Javier Mascherano, a midfielder by trade, was drafted in as a centre back after signing from Liverpool but has now become a regular fixture at the back.
The opportunity to buy an established centre back in the close-season was passed up and injuries to Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol have meant August signing Alex Song — another midfielder — has been forced to provide cover at the back.
Given the celestial talents and impeccable fitness records of Barca’s current generation of midfield players, the signing of Song from Arsenal for $24.41 million raised some eyebrows when a new defender seemed more necessary.