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.