Big names jittery ahead of 2nd round

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Updated: February 25, 2007 09:28 IST
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Call it the Champions League jitters. It's the strongest ever last 16 but many of the big hitters are struggling as they go into this week's second round. Eight of the survivors have won the title earlier, three more have reached the final and the eye-catching game of this week's schedule features five-time winner AC Milan against nine-time titlist Real Madrid. Yet defending champion Madrid, hot favourite to win the title for the 10th time, hasn't won in the competition since September and is five points off the lead at fourth place in the Spanish league. Borussia Dortmund, champion five years ago and the defending German champion, has lost four of its last five games in the Bundesliga. Despite a perfect record in round one of the Champions League, Barcelona is 10th in the Spanish league and there are calls for coach Louis van Gaal's head. AS Roma lost 3-0 to Parma on Sunday and is ninth in Serie A, nine points behind the leader. Bayer Leverkusen, last season's runner up, is 11th in the 18-club Bundesliga, 15 points behind runaway leader Bayern Munich, which was eliminated in the first round. Manchester United, despite its 5-3 beating of Newcastle on Saturday, still has six points to make up on Arsenal, which suffered a surprising 3-2 loss at Southampton on Saturday. Newcastle's defence caved in at Old Trafford, while opponent Inter Milan tumbled 1-0 at cross city rival AC Milan on Saturday and has slipped to fourth in Serie A. On the plus side, surprise qualifier Lokomotiv Moscow, celebrated winning its first Russian league title by beating cross city rival CSKA on Thursday. Now it's time for some more European action. "Emotions have passed away, and a feeling of a huge responsibility has appeared. Now we are playing in Europe's most prestigious tournament as Russian champions," said Lokomotiv coach Yuri Syomin. Syomin's team has a great chance to start with three against Dortmund, whose coach, Matthias Sammer, is furious at his team's form. "I am not seeing the drive and the passion," the former national team star said. "Our biggest enemy is self-satisfaction and it has established itself again. We have to get it out of the heads of the players". It's not helped that Milan and Madrid are in the same group. Both have a history of doing well in Europe's premier competition and will be favourites to win the two places in the quarterfinals when the group games finish in mid March. While the last of Milan's five triumphs was in 1994 when it dominated Europe, Madrid beat Leverkusen 2-1 in May to take its record number of titles to nine. But Madrid goes to the San Siro without Brazilian World Cup winner Ronaldo, who is suffering from flu and also missed Saturday's violence marred game against Barcelona. The game was held up for 13 minutes because of Barca fans hurling objects at former favourite Luis Figo, who moved to Madrid two seasons ago. Milan welcomes back Portuguese midfielder Rui Costa. Manchester United goes to upstart Basel without six regular starters, with French defender Laurent Blanc joining a list that already includes David Beckham, Roy Keane, Rio Ferdinand, Nicky Butt and Gary Neville. Basel, coached by former Tottenham manager Christian Gross, has made it to the last 16 by ousting two other British teams along the way - Scottish champion Glasgow Celtic and English runner up Liverpool. But the Swiss champion may have to face the Reds without influential midfielder and team captain Murat Yakin, who has only a 50 per cent chance of playing because of a calf muscle injury. Juventus striker Alessandro Del Piero is in top form and should be 100 per cent for the other Group D match against Deportivo de La Coruna, having been rested for all but the last 23 minutes in Saturday's 1-1 tie with Bologna. Juve is level on points with Inter at the top of the Italian standings and behind on goal difference, while Depor is down in seventh place in the Spanish league after a 1-1 tie with Sevilla on Saturday. Wednesday's games: Bayer Leverkusen vs. Barcelona and Newcastle vs. Inter Milan in Group A and Roma vs. Arsenal and Valencia vs. Ajax Amsterdam in Group B. (AP)

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