Thirty-two teams continue their journey towards the UEFA Champions League final next May at Milan’s San Siro with Matchday 5 of the group stage.
Here are five key stories to watch this week…
Buffon eyes special Juventus milestone
Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon celebrated the 20th anniversary of his Serie A debut in style, backstopping the Bianconeri to a 1-0 win over AC Milan on Saturday. In doing so, Buffon earned his 552nd career appearance for Juventus, tying legendary defender Gaetano Scirea for second all-time in club history. Buffon can move past Scirea on Wednesday when Juventus hosts Manchester City—the Italians can advance to the knockout round with a draw. Considering Juventus’ history and the long list of iconic stars who have played for the club, it speaks to Buffon’s staggering influence and status that only one player has played more games for the Italian outfit—Alessandro Del Piero leads the way with 705.
Van Gaal downplays Moreno revenge
Manchester United hosts PSV on Wednesday, and can take firm control of their group with a win. The game will also serve as a rematch—PSV won 2-1 in the Netherlands earlier in the group stage, a game that saw Hector Moreno hack down Luke Shaw with a reckless challenge and break the United defender’s leg. Moreno has since apologized—he even visited Shaw in the hospital—and Red Devils manager Louis Van Gaal has tried to downplay the revenge angle ahead of the return match, insisting all is forgiven. “That happens in football and it was very unfortunate for Luke Shaw,” Van Gaal stated.
Zlatan returns home
Wednesday’s match in Sweden between Malmo and Paris Saint-Germain represents a homecoming for striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Not only did Ibra begin his professional career at Malmo, he was also born there. The Super Swede cut his teeth with his hometown club, spending his formative years at Malmo before going on to bigger and better things. But it’s clear that Malmo still holds a special place in his heart. “It will be great. That’s where everything began. It’s where I was raised. Meeting them in the Champions League couldn’t possibly be any greater,” Ibra told UEFA.com.
MORE ON THE UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE: Zenit Saint Petersburg save their best form for Europe || Imperfection has become Arsenal’s calling card || Sportsnet panel’s Champions League picks || 5 stories to watch this week || Analytics: PSG wasting Motta’s efforts
Messi set to make European return
Lionel Messi on Tuesday is expected to make his first start in almost two months when Barcelona hosts Roma at the Camp Nou. Messi has been out with knee injury, but returned as a substitute in Barca’s 4-0 destruction of Real Madrid in El Clasico on the weekend. The Catalans have barely missed a beat without Messi, as Luis Suarez and Neymar have combined for 23 of the team’s 27 goals in all competitions. With Messi back in the starting 11, Barca looks a sure bet to clinch a 12th consecutive appearance in the knockout stage against the Italians.
Arsenal on brink of elimination
Arsenal has reached the Round of 16 for 15 consecutive seasons. That streak will be in danger of ending Tuesday when the Gunners welcome Dinamo Zagreb. Arsenal has just three points from its first four games, and sits tied with Dinamo for last place in the group, six points off the pace of Bayern Munich and Olympiacos. A loss or draw against the Croatian outfit would eliminate them. An early exit would allow Arsenal to focus on the Premier League title—they sit fourth, and are only two points out of top spot. “If you ask my deep gut feeling, I want to stay in the Champions League,” Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said. “We will give absolutely everything to stay in the Champions League. I think we still have a strong chance but it will be very tight now.”
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