5 Huge Champions League Games to Look Forward to This Week

Michael Cummings@MikeCummings37World Football Lead WriterOctober 21, 2012

5 Huge Champions League Games to Look Forward to This Week

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    The UEFA Champions League returns with a full slate of matches Tuesday and Wednesday. As the domestic leagues around Europe heat up, the Champions League group stage is set to reach its halfway point.

    That makes all of this week's matches important, but for some teams, the matches are absolutely massive.

    Keep reading for five of the biggest Champions League matches of the coming week.

Shakhtar Donetsk vs. Chelsea

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    Group E, Tuesday, 2:45 p.m. ET, Donbass Arena

    Why it's big

    These teams are tied atop Group E with four points from their opening two matches. This is the first of back-to-back matches between the two.

    That means the winner Tuesday, if there is one, will have pole position in qualifying for the knockout stage. The return leg will be played Nov. 7 in London, and if Chelsea can win both matches, the defending European champions would be all but assured of progressing to the Round of 16.

    One more factor complicates everything. The third-placed team in this group is Juventus, and up next, the Italian champions have back-to-back matches against Danish no-hopers Nordsjaelland (two losses by a combined 6-0 score so far).

    Shakhtar and Chelsea must assume that Juventus will win both of those matches.

    Chelsea, led by the creative spark of midfielders Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Oscar, are off to a hot start in the English Premier League. This is the Blues' chance to duplicate that early success in Europe.

BATE Borisov vs. Valencia

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    Group F, Tuesday, 2:45 p.m. ET, Dynamo Stadium, Minsk

    Why it's big

    Cinderella is dancing, and midnight is nowhere near.

    Unheralded BATE Borisov, the defending Belarusian champions, stunned Europe with a 3-1 away victory over Lille on Matchday 1. But that was nothing.

    Shock became utter disbelief when BATE repeated the feat on Matchday 2, beating European powerhouse Bayern Munich 3-1. So what's next for the so-called no-hopers?

    Players like Renan Bressan and Alexander Hleb might sound familiar to dedicated viewers, but the average fan probably knows little about BATE. This is another chance to meet the pluckiest underdogs in Europe this season.

    Valencia opened Group F with a 2-1 loss at Bayern, but rebounded by beating Lille 2-0 at home. Jonas scored both goals in that match, and both he and Valencia will be looking for more in Eastern Europe.

Barcelona vs. Celtic

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    Group C, Tuesday, 2:45 p.m. ET, Camp Nou

    Why it's big

    Barcelona have one of the world's best sides and a team chock-full of big names, including Lionel Messi, Xavi and Andres Iniesta, among others.

    But they're expected to be where they are.

    Celtic, the defending Scottish champions, last reached the knockout phase in 2007-08. That year, they were eliminated in the Round of 16 by (coincidentally) Barcelona.

    It's unrealistic to expect Celtic to win at Camp Nou, which is an intimidating venue for any visiting team. But if Celtic can take a point in either of the next two matches (both are against Barcelona), their chances of qualifying for the knockout round will rise considerably.

    Barca lead Group G with six points, and Celtic are second with four. Benfica (one point) and Spartak Moscow (zero points) will also play back-to-back matches in the coming weeks.

Arsenal vs. Schalke

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    Group B, Wednesday, 2:45 p.m. ET, Emirates Stadium

    Why it's big

    Arsenal played poorly in a surprising 1-0 defeat at previously winless Norwich over the weekend in league play. Schalke claimed an impressive and morale-boosting 2-1 victory at two-time defending Bundesliga champions Borussia Dortmund.

    (The latter match was marred by fan violence.)

    Arsenal lead Group B with six points from two matches, and Schalke are second with four. They play back-to-back matches in the coming weeks, and this first one is a vital contest for both.

    The Gunners have disappointed in the Premier League again, but Arsene Wenger's team is perfect so far in Europe. Considering their league form, cup competitions might be their best chance for silverware this season.

Borussia Dortmund vs. Real Madrid

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    Group D, Wednesday, 2:45 p.m. ET, Westfalenstadion, Dortmund

    Why it's big

    Real Madrid lead the Group of Death with maximum points through two matches. Now comes perhaps the biggest test yet: an away match in the cauldron-like atmosphere of Borussia Dortmund's Westfalenstadion.

    Die Schwarzgelben lost at home to Schalke in the league over the weekend, but Jurgen Klopp's team is currently second in Group D with four points.

    Of course, they haven't seen anything like Real's galaxy of stars yet. Step forward, Cristiano Ronaldo.