Match Day 2 of the 2013/14 UEFA Champions League campaign kicks off on Tuesday with another clutch of highly anticipated games ready to light up this year's Group Stage.
Arsenal play host to perhaps the pick of the matches on Tuesday as Rafa Benitez leads his high-flying Napoli to the Emirates Stadium. Elsewhere, Celtic are set to face Barcelona at Parkhead while Chelsea visit Steaua Bucharest and Ajax and Milan battle for a shot at the knockout rounds in Amsterdam.
Wednesday will see yet more choice fixtures between Manchester City and reigning European champions Bayern Munich, Shakhtar Donetsk and Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain against two-time winners Benfica.
Below is a breakdown of the key fixtures from Match Day 2 from Groups A to H along with the schedule and predictions for the latest round of fixtures.
|5:00pm||G||Zenit St Petersburg||Austria Wien||3-0|
Arsenal FC vs. SSC Napoli: October 1, 7:45 p.m. BST
Questions still linger over what effect Mesut Ozil's arrival has made on Arsenal's credentials as genuine contenders at home and abroad, with Arsenal yet to face a true test of their quality this season.
Napoli have been one of the early pace-setters in Serie A this season and are currently in second place, level on points with leaders Roma. In their opening Group F clash with Borussia Dortmund back in September, Benitez's side looked impressive as they held off last year's beaten finalists 2-1 at home.
With Gonzalo Higuain leading the attack—a player whom Arsene Wenger had led an early chase to sign during the summer months—and playmaker Marek Hamsik in form, the Italians will offer up a thorough examination of the increasingly hyped North Londoners.
Arsenal will need their in-form midfielder Aaron Ramsey to pull off another heroic display to help his team get a grip on this pivotal fixture, which could yet decide who gains control over one of this year's most competitive groups.
Celtic FC vs. FC Barcelona: October 1, 7:45 p.m. BST
Even with home advantage on his team's side, Neil Lennon faces a momentous task of taking any points off a Barcelona side who have looked rampant under new coach Gerardo Martino.
Having smashed the club's suffocating orthodoxy that had begun to turn the strengths of tiki-taka into weaknesses and dogmatic doctrine, Martino has reawakened the Catalan club's irresistible ruthlessness.
Celtic beat Kilmarnock 5-2 at the weekend with a statement of their own attacking threat, but it's unlikely that hat-trick hero Georgios Samaras will be able to repeat such feats against the La Liga champions. This Barcelona side are a different beast to the one famously outmuscled by Celtic last season.
Yet there is a sliver of hope for the SPL underdogs with the news that Lionel Messi will not be available to play through injury. Considering how reliant Barcelona have looked over the past two seasons on their diminutive star, their trip away to the intimidating atmosphere of Parkhead should be a good assessment of the mental strength and initiative of Martino's side.
Even without Messi's involvement, though, it's hard to see how Celtic can come out on top.
AFC Ajax vs. AC Milan: October 1, 7:45 p.m. BST
Frank de Boer's resurgent Ajax were undone by Barcelona 4-0 in their opening match of the Group Stage away at Camp Nou. It was an expectedly heavy defeat but one that no less knocked the reigning Dutch champions' confidence.
By contrast, Milan dispatched their own visitors Celtic with a comfortable 2-0 home victory back in September, but Massimiliano Allegri's men are struggling to keep up with the leading pack in Serie A. For the Rossoneri, their Match Day 2 clash has become a vital showdown offering more than than just a chance at qualifying for the Champions League knockout stages.
Form-fixing confidence and momentum is up for grabs for both sides, although Ajax perhaps carry an advantage going into the game both as the home team and side with the best form.
The Amsterdam outfit floundered in their last first major clash of the season, however, losing 4-0 to title rivals PSV Eindhoven. Should they lose their nerve in another showdown against Milan, Ajax's European aspirations may be limited to the Europa League for yet another season.
FC Steaua Bucharest vs. Chelsea FC: October 1, 7:45 p.m. BST
Jose Mourinho's Chelsea have so far looked neither special nor happy and, after losing 2-1 to FC Basel in their opening game of the round, the reigning Europa League champions' assumed supremacy over Group E hangs in the balance.
On paper, former European Cup winners Steaua Bucharest shouldn't offer too much trouble to Eden Hazard and Co., but English teams have so often struggled to play at their best after going the distance on their travels to Eastern Europe.
The club currently top the Romanian league and look in good shape for the visit of the Roman Abramovich-backed team from London.
It's unlikely that Mourinho will allow his side to slip into any further complacency in Europe again after their early home defeat to the Swiss champions. Expect a full-strength side set up to make a statement away, although it will be a nervy trip for the visitors.
|5:00pm||D||CSKA Moscow||Viktoria Plzen||2-0|
|7:45pm||A||Bayer Levekusen||Real Sociedad||2-1|
|7:45pm||A||Shakhtar Donetsk||Manchester United||1-1|
|7:45pm||D||Manchester City||Bayern Munich||2-3|
Manchester City FC vs. FC Bayern Munich: October 2, 7:45 p.m. BST
Are City realistic competitors for the Premier League or Champions League this season? It's hard to think of a more decisive way to measure Manuel Pellegrini's team than by facing off against Pep Guardiola's refreshed, reigning treble-winners.
Bayern sauntered to a 3-0 win over CSKA Moscow to begin the defence of their European crown, while City pulled off an assured 3-0 away victory over Viktoria Plzen, but even with home advantage the Bundesliga champions should be too much for the Premier League runners-up.
City may have beaten their bitter rivals United 4-1 in their recent derby clash, but the Pellegrini's outfit have been beaten 3-2 by both Cardiff City and Aston Villa this season, illustrating an underlying brittleness within the team.
As evidenced by that 4-1 triumph, however, Pellegrini's men remain big-game players if only on the domestic front. If they can get themselves up for the visit of Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery and Bastian Schweinsteiger, City have the ability to make a giant leap toward the knockout stages. But it is Bayern who have all the experience.
FC Shakhtar Donetsk vs. Manchester United FC: October 2, 7:45 p.m. BST
A 4-2 win over Bayer Leverkusen in David Moyes' first Champions League game at United looked to be the ideal result to jump-start the club's season, with Shinji Kagawa combining well with Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney in a highly fluid attack.
Yet that victory has proven to be something of a false dawn since, with humiliating 4-1 and 2-1 League defeats to City and West Bromwich Albion respectively, casting doubts on the club's ability to compete. Moyes himself has gone on record to say that the first team requires "one or two" world-class players to get back to the level it needs to be, per Ian Ladyman of the Daily Mail.
Shakhtar themselves look out of sorts having sold Fernandinho and Henrikh Mkhitaryan in the summer. Their replacements still need to settle down, and the team aren't currently as convincing as they have been in past seasons.
The Ukrainian champions will still be able to punish any sloppiness from United though, and Moyes must put out a strong side as the task facing his beleaguered squad is even more challenging due to the air travel involved.
Should United rediscover their resolve and revert back to the fluent style of play that shredded Leverkusen, the reigning Premier League champions will take all three points back from Donetsk. Anything less? Don't be surprised if United stumble when faced with another early season obstacle on Wednesday.
Paris Saint-Germain FC vs. SL Benfica: October 2, 7:45 p.m. BST
With PSG usurping fellow big spenders Monaco at the top of Ligue 1 at the weekend, the Parisians will be hoping to build on their imposing 4-1 away win against Olympiacos in their previous Group C match.
Last month, Benfica notched up their own opening group victory with a 2-0 win over Anderlecht. With Jorge Jesus' Portuguese and Europa League runners-up currently toiling in fifth place in the Primera Liga, they head into their clash with Laurent Blanc's French champions as the less-fancied side.
A disappointing draw with Belenenses at the weekend for Benfica also contrasted with PSG's 2-0 triumph against Toulouse. While both squads may be filled with exciting talents, it's hard to look past Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Edinson Cavani for more decisive match-winners.
For these reasons, Blanc's men should prosper against their Portuguese visitors, who will still have plenty of opportunities to reach the knockout rounds even if they do taste defeat in Paris.