5 things to know about Group D of Champions League
Oct. 22, 2013
BERLIN (AP) — Here are five things to know ahead of Wednesday's Group D matches in the Champions League:
Group D leader Bayern Munich is expected to make short work of last-place Viktoria Plzen at home on Wednesday.
The defending champion is arguably even better under new coach Pep Guardiola than while claiming an unprecedented treble under Jupp Heynckes last season.
The team is unbeaten in 34 straight Bundesliga games, two away from Hamburger SV's all-time league record, but it is the manner in which the side is improving as Guardiola's ideas take hold that is so impressive, especially after a difficult start.
On Saturday, halftime substitute Mario Goetze inspired Bayern to come from behind and defeat Mainz 4-1 to maintain its one point lead in the standings.
Guardiola's influence is best illustrated by the transformation in Philipp Lahm, however. Traditionally a left back or right back, Lahm has also been employed by Guardiola in midfield to help implement his short passing style and a high defense.
Against Mainz, Lahm had 146 touches of the ball, the most for any player in the Bundesliga, while his mark of 833 for the season is also a league best. Lahm could be described as Guardiola's brains on the field.
Guardiola faces the problem of rejigging the central defense against Plzen.
Germany international Jerome Boateng is suspended following his red card in the 3-1 win at Manchester City while Dante was ruled out for up to two weeks with a left ankle injury sustained in the win over Mainz.
Guardiola tested both David Alaba and Diego Contento in the position after Dante went off, while he also has the option of the more experienced Daniel van Buyten and Jan Kirchhoff, who have least played in the position before.
Franck Ribery was fighting to be fit enough to play after sitting out Saturday's game with a left ankle injury.
Plzen lost 6-1 in the side's only previous visit to Munich in 1971 and anything other than a third straight defeat in Group D for the Czech side would be a huge surprise.
"There's no doubt Bayern's the best team in the world," Plzen goalkeeper Matus Kovacik said. "When I was watching their game against Manchester City, I was stunned by their excellent performance. We know how tough a match is ahead of us."
Defender Frantisek Rajtoral doesn't believe Bayern's issues in defense will have any impact on the game.
"Given the squad they have, they'll just replace one star with another one," Rajtoral said.
Plzen coach Pavel Vrba has all his players available, including key defender David Limbersky, who has recovered from injury.
FIGHT FOR SECOND?
The home loss to Bayern has effectively left Manchester City tussling with CSKA Moscow for second place in Group D, with both teams on three points — three behind Bayern.
After City failed to progress from the group stage under Roberto Mancini in the last two seasons, manager Manuel Pellegrini must end the 2012 English champion's misery in Europe.
"There is no priority," Pellegrini said. "For me it is very important for the team to qualify for the round of 16 in the Champions League but also the Premier League is very important."
Russian champion CSKA is enduring a slump before City's visit, winless in six league games and suffering a third consecutive loss in Friday's 2-0 loss to Zenit St. Petersburg.
There are concerns over the state of the playing surface at the Arena Khimki after CSKA moved its last home group stage match, a 3-2 win over Plzen, to St. Petersburg. Heavy rain damaged an already worn surface but conditions have improved and it was approved by UEFA two weeks ago.
Goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev is expected to play after recovering from a knee complaint but playmaker Alan Dzagoev, holding midfielder Rasmus Elm and utility man Aleksandrs Cauna are all ruled out.
"Man City has no weak points but it doesn't mean that it cannot be beaten," CSKA midfielder Rasmus Elm said.
AP Sports Writer Rob Harris in London and Associated Press writers Leonid Chizhov in Moscow and Karel Janicek in Prague contributed to this report.