Pontus Wernbloom vs Henrikh Mkhitaryan and other key battles as Man United face CSKA Moscow

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Manchester United will look to stretch their unbeaten record against CSKA Moscow this week, having won two and drawn two in their previous four meetings against Wednesday night’s opposition.

The two sides are level on points atop Group A, having won their opening fixtures, and with Benfica playing Basel in the other group game, the clash offers a good opportunity for either side to move one step closer towards qualifying for the knockout stage.

Here’s a look at three key battles which will shape the game’s outcome.

ALEKSEI BEREZUTSKI VS ROMELU LUKAKU

The 35-year-old Aleksei Berezutski, who plays alongside his identical twin brother Vasili in a three-man backline, remains one of CSKA’s most accomplished defenders, and will provide a tough challenge for United striker Romelu Lukaku.

Berezutski is strong in the air and an adept tackler, both of which will be vital traits against the Belgian who has made a phenomenal start to his United career, scoring eight times in eight games.

United manager Jose Mourinho’s preference for tight defensive displays in European away fixtures means Lukaku’s duel with Berezutski will be crucial to the final result, as the Belgian could be the difference between a 0-0 draw and a narrow win – although Mourinho would no doubt be happy with the former, or any result that isn’t a loss.

PONTUS WERNBLOOM VS HENRIKH MKHITARYAN

The 31-year-old Wernbloom will have his hands full with Manchester United’s central playmaker, especially given Mkhitaryan’s excellent start to the season and his displays in Europe last year.

Wernbloom has made a name for himself as a fearless defensive midfielder, with his hard tackling and general playing style endearing him to fans.

Those attributes will make for an intriguing battle with Mkhitaryan, whose trickery, pace, and elusiveness set up the perfect contrast to his midfield counterpart.

VITINHO VS ERIC BAILLY

Eric Bailly is coming off an excellent defensive display for United at the weekend, starring alongside colleague Phil Jones to help his side weather the storm at Southampton. It was a performance that added to his growing reputation as one of the Premier League’s toughest defenders, and yet again showed how the Ivorian has by and large been United’s best defender since he joined the side last summer.

In-form Brazilian striker Vitinho has been one of the bright sparks of CSKA’s season, tallying four goals and three assists so far. He scored on Matchday 1 against Benfica to earn the Russian side a crucial away win, and he’ll be relied upon again on Wednesday.

Bailly, who will be making his Champions League debut, will fancy his chances against Vitinho in an aerial battle, but once the ball is on the ground the duel should be a little more even. The CSKA striker’s dribbling, passing, and penchant for long-range shots will keep Bailly on his toes throughout.

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Who is Antoine Griezmann's temporary strike partner and other talking points as Atletico Madrid host Chelsea

Andy West 26/09/2017
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Antonio Conte will take his Chelsea side to Atletico Madrid as the pair clash for their second Champions League fixture in Group C.

Here we look at three key talking points ahead of the game.

WILL CHELSEA STRIKE AT THE METROPOLITANO?

Considering their consistently awesome defensive record, it’s tempting to conclude that Atletico Madrid will never concede a goal at their new Metropolitano Stadium.

The first two visitors have come away empty-handed, as Malaga and Sevilla were beaten 1-0 and 2-0 respectively with Antoine Griezmann getting on target in both games.

Chelsea, of course, are a different kettle of fish and with a glittering array of expensive attacking talent within their ranks, the London club will strongly fancy their chances of becoming the first visiting scorers at Atletico’s new home.

Given Atletico’s almost tragic troubles in this competition against Real Madrid, however, surely the best bet is that former Los Blancos star Alvaro Morata will be the man to get his name on the scoresheet as he returns to his home city. And that, you can be sure, would go down particularly badly with the locals…

Alvaro Morata

Alvaro Morata

WHO IS GRIEZMANN’S TEMPORARY PARTNER?

In January, Atletico fans will be able to enjoy the sight of returning hero Diego Costa lining up with shining star Griezmann in attack, and the potential of their silk and steel partnership will make Diego Simeone’s men a force to be very much feared in the latter stages of the competition.

For now, however, Costa will be watching from the sidelines as the club complete their FIFA transfer ban, and Simeone must decide who will be his first-choice back-up to support the undroppable Griezmann up front.

He’s certainly not short of options, with veteran Fernando Torres joined by pacy Frenchman Kevin Gameiro and a pair of elusive Argentines, Luciano Vietto and Angel Correa, and Simeone’s team selection will probably tell us who, in his mind, is his preferred choice right now.

So far this season, none of those players have really made the position their own, although Correa has been the most convincing claimant by registering three goals in his four league appearances – Torres, Gameiro and Vietto, by contrast, are all waiting to break their duck for the campaign.

Antoine Griezmann (L), Angel Correa (R).

Antoine Griezmann (L), Angel Correa (R).

GABI NO LONGER JOINING THE PARTEY?

A key component of Atletico’s success in the last few years has been understated central midfielder Gabi, who is extremely unlucky never to have earned international recognition with Spain after captaining Los Rojiblancos to one La Liga title and two Champions League finals.

Now, though, Gabi is 34 years old and it appears his influence is gradually starting to wane. He has played fewer minutes so far this season than four other midfielders, with Thomas Partey being promoted to team up with Koke, Saul and Yannick Carrasco in the centre of the field.

Ghana international Partey has taken a while to reach maturity since he progressed through the club’s youth system. After spending full seasons on loan with Mallorca and then Almeria, he returned to Atletico and made a handful of appearances in the last couple of years.

This term, however, he has taken a big step forward with starts in five of Atletico’s six games, playing the full 90 minutes in the opening group game at Roma. If he is selected ahead of Gabi on Wednesday, it could mark a symbolic passing of the torch.

Gabi

Gabi

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Ander Herrera to stake a claim and other talking points as Man United face CSKA Moscow

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Following a convincing 3-0 win over FC Basel at Old Trafford, Manchester United look for their second win in Group A of the Champions League when they face CSKA Moscow on Wednesday night.

Jose Mourinho’s side travel to Moscow on the back of a hard fought away win at Southampton on Saturday.

CSKA meanwhile, are looking for their second win in the group stages as well after opening with a 2-1 win over Benfica a fortnight ago.

Here’s a look at some key talking points ahead of the encounter.

HERRERA TO STAKE A CLAIM

One of the more talked about exclusions from United’s first team this season has been that of Ander Herrera’s. After being voted the club’s Player of the Year, the Spaniard had seemingly been frozen out by Mourinho.

The Portuguese claims it’s clearly a product of the form shown by Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matic but following the former’s injury, Herrera has still failed to get the nod with Marouane Fellaini being preferred instead.

With the Belgian ruled out for this fixture with an ankle injury, Herrera appears set to make a rare start this season and must take full advantage in order to force himself back into the starting eleven.

There’s no question about what he brings to the team. His energy, tenacity, passing and work ethic featured prominently last term. As United came under pressure at Southampton, Herrera was the man who stepped up and weathered the storm.

In fact, he made seven tackles, more than any other player in the league this weekend, despite only being on the pitch for 28 minutes.

Ander Herrera

Ander Herrera

ANOTHER AUDITION FOR LINDELOF-BAILLY PAIRING

In terms of a central defensive partnership, all eyes were on Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof ahead of the season. They were seen by many as the first choice pairing after Bailly enjoyed a hugely impressive first season at Old Trafford while Lindelof came highly rated from Benfica.

However, it’s the forgotten man Phil Jones who has come to fore and shone for United this season. Mourinho appears to be handling the injury prone defender with care though, starting him in every Premier League fixture so far while resting him in cup competitions, as he has again for their trip to Moscow.

Lindelof didn’t come to United to warm the bench and will be taking every start seriously. Bailly has a point to prove as well after looking a little shaky in recent weeks with Jones having to sweep up behind him.

CSKA will pose a serious threat to the visitors and a solid performance against the Russian Premier League runners-up will force Mourinho to take notice.

Victor Lindelof

Victor Lindelof

UNITED’S CSKA HANGOVER

The Premier League race has gotten off to a tight start with the Manchester clubs neck and neck in the lead. Mourinho will know that every point dropped could prove costly and will have that in mind while his side is away in Moscow.

United have never lost against CSKA but trips to the VEB Arena have cost them in the league. In 2009, they secured a 1-0 win at the venue but then suffered a 2-0 defeat at Anfield four days later.

In 2015, they drew 1-1 in Russia but then had to settle for a 0-0 draw against Manchester City at home. Of course, Crystal Palace, who United face on Saturday, are hardly the same level of opposition. But it’s clear that this particular fixture does manage to take a bit out of United.

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