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Dzeko in Europe's top 10; Rooney next for drop

UEFA Nations League

Transfer Rater: Tonali to Chelsea

Football Whispers

Mexico have 'new opportunity' vs. Chile - Ferretti


Champions League 2009-10, Group B

Group B: Manchester United | CSKA Moscow | Besiktas | Wolfsburg
Group A | Group C | Group D | Group E | Group F | Group G | Group H

• Status: English league champions, Champions League runners-up
• Nickname: Red Devils

THE RECORD: Manager Sir Alex Ferguson has long been desperate to bump up United's haul of victories in this competition and back-to-back finals in the last couple of years suggests he is on the way to doing just that. United were European champions for the first time in 1968 before Ferguson led them to victories in 1999 and 2008.

HEADLINER: Wayne Rooney
This England striker is expected to fill the vast void left by the departed Cristiano Ronaldo and boss Ferguson is giving him the chance to take his career onto the next level by handing him a regular starting role at the heart of his attacking line.

Rooney has often been used in a wide position in Champions League games, but is now viewed as the focal point of the team and has been tipped to score 25 goals this season. He is already a world superstar, but this might just be the biggest year of his career.

Portuguese winger Luis Carlos Almeida da Cunha (or 'Nani' as we all know him) arrived at Old Trafford from Sporting Lisbon in 2007 and, predictably, was given the tag of 'the next Cristiano Ronaldo'. He has struggled to live up to his billing in the last couple of years and gets his chance to confirm his potential now.

It's an unfair comparison given the heights Ronaldo has scaled in the last three seasons, but Nani will have taken note of how his compatriot worked so hard to hone his raw talents in his early years at Old Trafford. Ronaldo went from being a raw talent to a world superstar, so can Nani follow his lead?

THE MAVERICK: Dimitar Berbatov
The brilliance of this Bulgarian striker is sometimes overshadowed by his laid- back, almost carefree demeanour. Few doubt he has the ability to shine in a United shirt, but when you look as uninterested as Berbatov does at times, poor performances are highlighted.

There is still a question-mark over whether he was worth his £30.75m fee United paid Tottenham to secure his services in the summer of 2008 and he is yet to win over a chunk of the Old Trafford faithful. Would the real Dimitar Berbatov please stand up?

Owen emerged from the turmoil at Newcastle to surprisingly sign for United and he seems determined to enjoy a new lease of life at Old Trafford as he attempts to rebuild a career that has fallen off the rails in recent years.

The 2001 European Footballer of the Year had suffered with more injuries than a war hero in recent years and his fitness record must be a concern, but this little hitman will score goals if he is given the right service. If he is used as a super-sub, Owen has the quality to turn tight European ties in United's favour.

COACH: Sir Alex Ferguson
Legends don't come any bigger than this 67-year-old Scot who has won more trophies than any of his Champions League rivals. His eleven Premier League title triumphs have been complemented by a host of cup successes, but it is the Champions League that gets his juices flowing more than any other competition.

"It took us a long time to get to the position where United were challenging for Europe on a regular basis, but we have shown great consistency in the last few years," says Ferguson. "Two finals in a row shows were are right there in contention and we all want to make up for the disappointment of losing in Rome last May."

CHALKBOARD: Ferguson has been flexible in the Champions League of late, often employing Cristiano Ronaldo in a central striking role and throwing Wayne Rooney out on the wing in a bid to pack his midfield.

It was a policy that worked well in the semi-final against Arsenal last season, but Barcelona had the speed and craft to work their way around United's static midfield in the Final. With Rooney leading the line, a more traditional 4-4-2 may be the order of the day.

DON'T MENTION: The ageing nature of a handful of Ferguson's most loyal and trusted comrades in battle was a concern last season, with the likes of Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville all showing signs that their best days are behind them.

The midfield is also a concern. Michael Carrick can look one-paced, while Anderson, Nani, Darren Fletcher and new signing Antonio Valencia are not guaranteed to deliver top-level performances every week. United had a horrible day at the office in last season's Champions League Final and cannot afford a repeat.

VERDICT: United should reach the last eight, but they may not go much further without that touch of Ronaldo magic.

• Status: 2nd in Russian league
• Nickname: Koni (Horses)

THE RECORD: The former Russian army club have reached the Champions League group stages four times (2004-05, 2005-06, 2006-07 and 2007-08), but have yet to qualify for the knock-out phase. Their last outing was particularly poor, yielding just one point from six ties.

HEADLINER: Igor Akinfeev
Russia's undisputed number one keeper seems to have been on the professional circuit forever, but he is still only 23. He was just 17 when he made his first team debut for CSKA back in 2003 and within a year he was treading the full international stage, becoming, at 18 years and 116 days, his country's youngest-ever player. CSKA's captain, he already has clocked up over 150 domestic league games for the club and has helped them win three Russian championships (2003, 2005 and 2006) and the 2005 UEFA Cup.

An unfussy and ultra-reliable last line of defence, he has built a wonderful career on his unshakeable self-confidence, composure under pressure, an ability to deal effectively with crosses and sound positioning.

YOUNG GUN: Alan Dzagoev
This multi-talented teenage playmaker was elected Russia's Young Player of the Year for 2008. National team boss Guus Hiddink is a big admirer of Dzagoev and had no hesitation throwing the youngster in at the deep end last October, giving him his debut in a vital World Cup qualifier away to Germany. The Russians lost 2-1 but then 18-year-old Dzagoev proved a major success.

Dzagoev took his first steps on the footballing ladder at Second Division FC Krylia-Sovetov. He impressed sufficiently there to earn a transfer in late 2007 to CSKA, where he enjoyed a simply sensational inaugural season, scoring eleven goals and making a further seven. Dzagoev is a big admirer of Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard.

With Dynamo Kyiv needing to make room on their roster for returning hero Andriy Shevchenko, the Ukrainian side allowed this Brazilian frontrunner to go out loan to CSKA. It was no surprise as Guilherme has struggled at Dynamo since joining from Cruzeiro earlier this year for a £6.3m fee.

CSKA see Guilherme as a natural successor up front to compatriot Vagner Love, who recently went on loan himself to Palmeiras in Sao Paulo. The Muscovites will be keeping their fingers crossed that their new recruit is able to quickly rediscover the dribbling skills and marksmanship he regularly displayed at Cruzeiro.

After a unhappy spell at Liverpool in 2006-07, the Chilean winger has since rediscovered his best form, shining for the past two years at Real Betis in Spain and becoming the subject of a close season bidding war. Greek champions Olympiakos put £2.7m on the table but CSKA's pockets were deeper and their £5.9m offer was too good for Betis to refuse.

Born in Durban, South Africa, this 25-year-old played in eight of Liverpool's Champions games in 2006-07 and was an unused substitute in the final against AC Milan.

COACH: Leonid Slutsky
CSKA's experiment with foreign coaches came to an end as they terminated the contract of a second chief in this eventful season when Spaniard Juande Ramos was sacked in October, just a few short weeks after he had succeeded Zico in the Russian capital city club.

Slutsky has been charged with the task of giving CSKA their identity back and he certainly started in fine manner as his side gave Manchester United an almighty scare at Old Trafford as the revived underdogs moved into a 3-1 lead in his first Champions League game. Their failure to hang onto that advantage may be crucial in the final analysis of this group. Former keeper Slutsky has enjoyed an unlikely rise to the coach pinnacle, as he started out with Olimpia Volgograd in the south zone of the Russian third flight.

THE CHALKBOARD: Zico's CSKA often used a 4-3-2-1, in which the midfield is made up of a trio of essentially holding types and wide men Dzagoev and the speedy Serb Milos Krasic on the left and right respectively. Guilherme or the young Czech Republic international Tomas Necid play up front.

Ramos tried to make a few alternations to the CSKA gameplan, but his safety first approach was unpopular and new boss Slutsky seems determined to show more ambition. The attack minded team he sent into battle against Manchester United at Old Trafford certainly seemed to rise to the challenge.

DON'T MENTION: Their problem on the left-side of midfield. The departure of Yuri Zhirkov to Chelsea has left a big hole and using Dzagoev in that role may not be the answer as the youngster lacks the required pace.

Defensively they are powerful, but not especially quick, so top Champions League sides crammed with speedy forwards will relish the chance to come up against the slow-turning Muscovite rearguard. Finally, they give away too many free-kicks too.

VERDICT: Six games, then a forced withdrawal.

• Status: Turkish league champions
• Nickname: Kara Kartallar (The Black Eagles)

THE RECORD: The Black Eagles, who won the Turkish League and Cup double last term, have played four times in the group phase of the Champions League (1997/98, 2000/01, 2003/04 and 2007/08), but they have yet to find a way out of this initial stage.

HEADLINER: Nihat Kahveci
One of Turkey's most influential performers at Euro 2008, this diminutive striker opted to return to his beloved Besiktas this summer after seven largely fruitful years in Spain with Real Sociedad and Villarreal. Fans at the Inonu Stadium were delighted at the news of his arrival, though they will be well aware of his increasingly fragile physique.

A frontrunner with superb ball-skills and an innate awareness of the time and space, he has mastered the art of the perfectly timed forward run. His versatility is also impressive as Nihat can, if required, do a good job as an attacking midfielder. He has won 62 caps for Turkey since making his debut against Sweden in October 2000. His family name Kahveci means 'coffee maker'.

YOUNG GUN: Onur Bayramoglu
Promising teenage attacking midfielder Bayramoglu signed in the close season from Second Division Bozuyukspr. This 19-year-old was pursued by every leading club in Turkey, before he signed a five-year deal to stay with the reigning champions.

Bayramoglu's main strength is his excellent running with the ball and his ability to glide past defenders. He comes from sporting stock, with his father playing table tennis for Turkey, while his mother played volleyball to a high level. After having so many difficulties with another prodigy Batuhan Karadeniz, the Besiktas management will be hoping that Onur will not allow his new-found fame to go to his head.

THE MAVERICK: Yusuf Simsek
At the age of 34, this right-sided attacking midfielder may be in the autumn of his footballing life, but he still has the rare ability to dribble past opponents at will. No matter how hemmed in he is, he invariably breaks out thanks to his inimitable shuffles and feints.

However, he can be rather selfish and is not always a first pick for coach Mustafa Denizli. A Besiktas fan since childhood, he had to wait until last year to have his wish granted to play for the Black Eagles, signing in from Bursaspor. He has had a few too many other clubs to mention, chief among them Fenerbahce, Denizlispor and Gaziantepspor.

SUMMER SIGNING: Matteo Ferrari
This Italian international centre-back was recruited from Serie A side Genoa. A graduate of the Inter Milan youth system, Ferrari's many subsequent postings include Lecce, Bari, Roma, Everton and Pama, where he arguably produced the best form of his career.

Born in Algeria 29 years ago to an Italian father and mother from the African state of Guinea, he was brought up in Tuscany and represented the Azzurri at several youth levels before making the full side for the first time in November 2002, ironically against Turkey. He has eleven caps in total but has not been in the squad for over five years.

COACH: Mustafa Denizli
After being fired by Fenerbahce in December 2001, this former Turkey boss must have feared that his career was effectively finished, only able to secure employment at Second Division Maniaspor and in Iran with Paas Tehran.

That came before his resurrection. Following the resignation of Besiktas coach Ertugrul Saglam early last season, club president Yildirim Demiroren had the inspired idea of appointing Denizli, who, seven months later guided the Eagles to their first Turkish title in six years. Now 60, Denizli has steered both Galatasaray (1988) and Fenerbahce (2001) to the domestic crown. He was Turkey manager for four years (1996-2000), notably plotting a quarter-final finish at Euro 2000.

THE CHALKBOARD: Denizli's Besiktas may not win many awards for artistry, but they are an effective winning machine, watchful and solid at the back and clinical enough to make the most of the chances they did create. Strength of character was their strong suit and this remains the case today.

In his favoured 4-4-2, the coach sets great store by width and insists that the flank players supply target man Mert Nobre with accurate crosses a plenty. The theory is that the quicksilver Nihat will feed off Nobre's knock-downs.

DON'T MENTION: A one-dimensional engine room means they may not be up to Champions League grade, with German central midfielders Fabian Ernst and new signing from Eintracht Frankfurt, Michael Fink workmanlike at best. It is said Denizli does not like working with flair players from abroad and, if true, he needs to turn over a new leaf - and fast.

Veteran keeper Rustu Recber has seen better days, as has central defender Ferrari. The latter's partner, the Czech Tomas Sivok, is no guarantor of stability either.

VERDICT: An end to their Champions League drought is hard to visualise.

• Status: German champions
• Nickname: Die Wolfe

THE RECORD: Surprise victors of last season's Bundesliga, the Volkswagen works club is on uncharted ground in the Champions League. Their European experiences last term were not enjoyable as they were thumped 5-1 by Paris Saint-Germain at the round of 32-stage in the UEFA Cup.

This 30-year-old Brazilian striker could not put a foot wrong last season, spearheading Wolfsburg's domestic dominance with an incredible 28 league goals in 25 games, finishing atop the Bundesliga scoring charts. It was no surprise when he was voted the Bundesliga's Player of the Season, only the third overseas player to claim the award (Bayern's Franck Ribery and Ailton of Werder Bremen being the others).

Despite carrying a muscular build a boxer would be proud of, he is quick to build up a head of steam and his stock-in-trade are his perfectly-timed rumbling runs from deep, making him extremely dangerous on the counter attack. He cost £7.5m from French side Le Mans back in 2007 - a bargain.

YOUNG GUN: Edin Dzeko
In the space of just one season, this 23-year-old Bosnian went from anonymity to continental hot property, scoring twenty-six goals in the 2008-09 campaign, many of them due to his wonderful ability to leap high and head home powerfully. It led to scouts from all over Europe scurrying to see him in action and at one point this summer he seemed to be on the verge of a move to AC Milan, only for Wolfsburg to play hardball and refuse to deal.

Tall, mobile and a good team man, he took some time to get into his stride last season. Before Christmas he only netted five times, but he was a man on a mission in the New Year as he bagged a stunning total of 21 more goals.

This diminutive Algerian international midfielder or winger was signed from French giants Marseille for a relatively modest price of £4.5m in the off-season. At home on the right or centrally, he extracts maximum benefit from his low centre of gravity and never relents in his quest to take on and beat defenders. However, he can be a testing character to handle, as former Marseille boss Eric Gerets will testify.

Born in France to Algerian parents, he could have played for either country but eventually plumped for the latter and to date has 41 full caps to his credit with plenty more certain to follow.

SUMMER SIGNING: Obafemi Martins
Not keen on a stint in the English second tier with Newcastle United, his employers for the past three seasons, this Nigerian striker needed little persuading to throw in his lot with the German champions, who were happy to hand over £9m for the ex-Inter Milan forward.

With Dzeko and Grafite automatic selections, Martins will be used initially as an impact substitute and is already living up to expectations, getting himself among the goals early on in at Wolfsburg.

COACH: Armin Veh
This ex-Borussia Monchengladbach midfielder was hailed a genius for masterminding Stuttgart's unexpected Bundesliga title in 2006-07. However, it all went downhill from there, with a marked decline in results bringing about his sacking 18 months later.

Now he has the chance to rebound at champions Wolfsburg, given the onerous task of replacing the inimitable Felix Magath after his summer move to Schalke. Veh will be anxious to avoid the Champions League wipe out he endured with Stuttgart in 2007-08, when his side lost five out of six group matches.

THE CHALKBOARD: In terms of formation, Veh will stick to the attack-conscious 4-4-2 which his predecessor swore by. What will change for Wolfsburg this season, however, is the style of the team. Felix Magath liked an all-action, high-tempo approach with lots of long balls, while Veh prefers a snappy short-passing game.

Frontrunners Grafite and Dzeko compliment each other perfectly, never treading on each other's toes. Bosnian playmaker Zvjezdan Misimovic is a non-stop supply line of chances, while the Brazilian terrier Josue energetically sweeps clean in front of the back-four.

DON'T MENTION: Their tendency to fall for the sucker punch on the break. They live to attack and sometimes leave themselves exposed to a fast-paced counter. With left-back Marcel Schafer often rampaging forward, the vacant area behind him can be exploited.

Veh is not so hung up on fitness as Magath and if conditioning is lacking, they might be ripe for the picking in the latter stages of a game.

VERDICT: The euphoria surrounding Wolfsburg's first-ever Champions League appearance will take them to the second round. Don't expect too much after that.


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