With two defeats in their first two group games, Spartak Moscow have to go for the win in Tuesday's Group G clash, says Ben Lyttleton.
"Failure in Europe was what cost Emery his job at Valencia and he has admitted that the pressure is now on to get a result against Portuguese champions Benfica"
These are tense times for Spartak Moscow coach Unai Emery. Not that there was any shame in the team's last result - a defeat to Russian league leaders Anzhi Makhachkala - but it was Spartak's third straight loss and they are now on their worst run of league form for three years. It's not much better for them in Europe, where on both Matchdays, against Barcelona and Celtic, they let slip a 2-1 lead to lose 3-2.
Failure in Europe was what cost Emery his job at Valencia and he has admitted that the pressure is now on to get a result against Portuguese champions Benfica on Tuesday. "We have lost twice and now have no more margin for error," Emery said. "We must beat Benfica to keep our chances alive."
It will not help that Spartak are without some key players for the tie: first-choice goalkeeper Andriy Dykan and his back-up, Sergei Pesyakov, are both missing and so third-choice Artem Rebrov will start. Further up the pitch, Spartak are without defender Sergei Parshivlyuk, midfielders Romulo and Aiden McGeady (all injured) as well as Juan Insaurralde, suspended after his red card against Celtic.
Benfica have some issues of their own: they only have one point from their first two games - an away draw at Celtic - and travelled to Moscow without Pablo Aimar, Carlos Martins and Nolito. Already without captain Luisao, still serving a ban for shoving over a referee during a pre-season friendly, this game has the feel of a reserve encounter, with so many big names missing.
Despite home advantage, Spartak's wretched form and injury crisis sees Benfica as slight [2.62] favourites to win the game. With the hosts certain to go for the win, there should be goals in the game, and the price for Over-2.5 Goals is [1.96].
FC Nordsjaelland can consider themselves a little unlucky to be stuck with no points from their opening two games. At times against both Shakhtar Donetsk and Chelsea, they looked the better side, but individual errors - usually connected to the team's admirable adherence for passing the ball out from defence - have led to goals and cost them dear. They will need to be eliminated with the visit of Italian champions Juventus, for whom on-loan forward Nicklas Bendtner may get a game in his homeland.
Juventus are without Simone Pepe, Kwadwo Asamoah and Stephane Lichtsteiner but Gigi Buffon and Mirko Vucinic, who both missed the crucial Serie A win over Scudetto rivals Napoli at the weekend, are back. Despite Buffon's presence, Nordsjaelland could cause some problems for Juventus, and while I expect the visitors to win, for which they are just [1.36], the price for Both Teams to Score is [2.2].
There is a surprise name at the top of Group F: Belarussian champion BATE, who are coached by former defender Viktor Goncharenko: at 35 the youngest coach in the group stages. BATE have already beaten Lille and Bayern Munich (both 3-1) and this week face Valencia, who represent its biggest threat to first ever qualification for the knock-out phase.
But the Spaniards have been wretched on the road this season: four straight defeats since an opening-day draw at Real Madrid. Once the groups were drawn, Valencia may have looked at this tie and suspected that getting back-to-back wins would be a guarantee. Despite recently ending a 20-match unbeaten run, BATE have proved they are no pushovers in Europe. The draw in Minsk is [3.6], a result that would leave Valencia needing to win the return at the Mestalla in a fortnight.