BERLIN: Real Madrid and Bayern Munich return to the Champions League on Tuesday in crisis mode after the latest setbacks in their domestic leagues.
Real, the three-time European defending champions, were humiliated 3-0 by Eibar in Spain on Saturday. The first defeat for new coach Santiago Solari renews debate over his team’s ability to challenge for honours in their first season without Cristiano Ronaldo in nearly a decade.
Solari, who started with four wins after replacing the fired Julen Lopetegui, next faces a stern test at AS Roma.
Bayern, who appeared without a serious rival as they clocked up six consecutive Bundesliga titles, are suddenly vulnerable in Niko Kovac’s first season in charge. Bayern were held to a 3-3 draw at home by promoted Fortuna Duesseldorf — a relegation candidate — on Saturday, and are already well behind resurgent Borussia Dortmund. A seventh straight title is appearing increasingly unlikely.
Kovac has a point to prove when his team host Benfica, though a draw will be enough to ensure progress to the next round.
Real’s early season troubles are back after the demoralising loss to Eibar. The team’s attack is under scrutiny after failing to make up for Ronaldo’s departure for Juventus, while their defence is among the worst in Spain. Real have already conceded 19 goals in 13 La Liga matches.
Real and Roma are level on nine points and seem assured of progress from Group ‘G’. The Italian club will be through with a draw, or if CSKA Moscow fail to beat Viktoria Plzen in the earlier group game.
Roma will need to bounce back swiftly from Saturday’s loss at Udinese. The 1-0 defeat was the third time this season Roma have lost to a team near the bottom of the standings.
Bayern seem to be a shadow of their former self after twice letting a two-goal lead slip against Duesseldorf.
Kovac’s position is under threat unless he can coax the side into the kind of performances they delivered at the start of the season, when they scored 19 goals in its opening seven games — all victories — including the German Supercup win over Eintracht Frankfurt.
Bayern president Uli Hoeness, who previously said he would defend Kovac “to the hilt,” appears to have changed his tune after saying on Saturday that club officials would sit down after Benfica’s visit to see “how things should continue.”
Bayern, who lead Group ‘E’ with 10 points from four games, would top the group with a win over Benfica if Ajax, on eight points, fail to beat AEK Athens away in the earlier game. Benfica, on four points, need to beat Bayern to maintain any hope of a top-two finish.
Group ‘H’ leaders Juventus host Valencia and will be through with a draw or if Manchester United lose at home to Young Boys.
United coach Jose Mourinho is again under pressure after poor results. Since beating Juventus 2-1 in Turin, United have been taken apart in the derby by fierce rivals Manchester City and then, in the first game back after the international break, held to a lacklustre 0-0 home draw by Crystal Palace in the Premier League.
United head into Tuesday’s game in second place in the group, two points behind Juve and two clear of Valencia.
Valencia, who will be out of contention if they don’t win and United do, will be wary of an even more motivated Ronaldo.
The Juve forward is still smarting from his sending off against Valencia in September — his first ever red card in the Champions League.
Ronaldo is the all-time leading scorer in the Champions League with 121 goals, and got off the mark for Juventus in the competition last time out.
Valencia appear to have finally put their struggles in the past. After winning only one of their first 13 matches, the Spanish club have won four of their last five games in all competitions.
The 22-year-old striker Santi Mina has been key for Valencia recently, having scored six goals in his last five matches.
In Group ‘F’, Manchester City can qualify for the knockout stage with a draw at Olympique Lyonnais and are aiming to avenge a 2-1 loss at home to the French team, their only loss so far in any competition this season.
Lyon’s confidence-building 1-0 derby win over St Etienne last Friday showed both the good and bad sides of Bruno Genesio’s inconsistent team.
City coach Pep Guardiola will have noted that St Etienne repeatedly breached Lyon’s lines and would have won without first-half saves from Anthony Lopes.
City have recovered well since that initial loss to Lyon, winning three straight games to move three points clear. A win in France would clinch top spot.
Lyon would be through with a win. Hoffenheim host Shakhtar Donetsk in the other group game.
Published in Dawn, November 27th, 2018