Setback for Milan as Ibrahimovic out of Barcelona tie
Zlatan Ibrahimovic's much-anticipated return to Barcelona was scuppered on Monday when the AC Milan striker was injured in training and ruled out of Tuesday's Champions League Group H opener at the Nou Camp.
Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri said the absence of the volatile Swede, who fell out with Barca coach Pep Guardiola and was offloaded at the end of the 2009-10 season, was a severe blow and he was as important to the Italian side as Argentine World Player of the Year Lionel Messi was to Barca.
"Unfortunately this morning at the end of training Ibra felt a twinge in his adductor and he has remained at home," Allegri told a news conference, adding that the player was also doubtful for the Serie A match at Napoli at the weekend.
"They (Ibrahimovic and Messi) are two champions with different characteristics but within the two teams they have the same value," he said.
"It's a big loss but we have to go out on to the pitch and play regardless."
Both teams come into the match, on the opening matchday of Europe's elite club competition, having drawn 2-2 in their domestic leagues at the weekend.
Seven-times European champions Milan were held at home to Lazio, while Barca, the four-times winners and holders, squandered a two-goal lead at Real Sociedad.
Allegri is also without Italian striker Filippo Inzaghi and Brazil forward Robinho, among others, and may opt to strengthen the midfield and play with only one out-and-out forward in Robinho's international team mate Alexandre Pato.
The former Cagliari and Napoli midfielder has Antonio Cassano available, the Italy forward who had a brief stint with Barca's great Spanish rivals Real Madrid.
Image: AC Milan's Zlatan Ibrahimovic celebrates after scoring a goal
I would have preferred to play against Ibrahimovic:Guardiola
Although he has recently sounded a more conciliatory note, Ibrahimovic criticised Guardiola after the Catalan club decided to sell him, calling the former Barca and Spain midfielder "the philosopher who has shattered my dream".
"When I enter a room Guardiola leaves, I don't know if he's scared of me or what," he told reporters last August.
Guardiola said on Monday, that it was a shame Ibrahimovic was unable to play as he always liked to see the best players turning out to challenge his side and entertain the fans.
"I don't care what he has said about me, my opinion about him won't change," he said.
"Before signing him I thought he was a fantastic player and I still think he is a fantastic player.
"He was fundamental here and I know that he is happy at Milan now and I am very pleased about that.
"I would have preferred to play against him because it's always better when your opponent has all their best players.
"People come to the stadium to see the great players. Ibrahimovic is one of them."
Milan's Netherlands midfielder Mark van Bommel appeared with Allegri at the Italian club's news conference and was bombarded with questions from the Spanish media about what they portrayed as his brutal performance in last year's World Cup final.
The match was littered with fouls and yellow cards and Van Bommel repeatedly clashed with Barca midfielder Andres Iniesta, who scored the dramatic winning goal in extra time.
Image: Barcelona's coach Pep Guardiola gestures during their Spanish first division soccer match
Benfica bank on tactical approach against in-form Manchester United
Manchester United are in such rampant form, that Benfica coach Jorge Jesus says he will have to deploy cautious tactics to salvage even a point from Wednesday's Champions League Group C opener against last season's runners-up.
Twice European champions Benfica, face a stern test at home against a United side who have burst out of the blocks in their Premier League title defence with a 100 per cent record and lead the table on goal difference.
Still, Benfica coach Jorge Jesus believes his team can grab points if they are able to adjust their attack-minded tactics to counter United's flowing attack.
"We want to be stronger tactically, if we manage that, we will balance out the match. There are three points on the table but in the Champions League every single point is important," said the Portuguese coach.
Benfica, knocked out at the group stage last year, will be confident of progressing this time given the other teams in the group, Switzerland's FC Basel and Romanian debutants Otelul Galati, look very beatable.
"We have to approach this game differently in terms of tactics and objectives. United is one of the best in Europe and has top players but we also have them," Jesus added.
Image: Benfica's coach Jorge Jesus reacts during their Portuguese Premier League soccer match
Goal-machine Rooney will be a marked man
Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney will be looking to translate his rampant domestic form into Champions League goals. The England forward has scored back-to-back hat-tricks in Premier League games, the latest in Saturday's 5-0 thrashing of Bolton Wanderers.
"It's down to maturity," manager Alex Ferguson said of Rooney, who has notched eight league goals.
"He's in his mid-20s and I always think when players get to this age they get more authority in their game, their timing is better and their control of games is better. His presence is getting bigger in every game. He's looking fantastic."
Benfica's backline, much-improved from last season, thanks to the signing of centre back Ezequiel Garay from Real Madrid and goalkeeper Artur from Braga, will have to be at the top of their game to stop Rooney and deny room for Nani and Javier Hernandez to inflict damage.
Belgian midfielder Axel Witsel has also arrived to make Benfica's midfield more compact, freeing playmaker Pablo Aimar to assume a more attacking role,
Up front, the Portuguese's side's main weapon remains the efficient Paraguay striker Oscar Cardozo, while Spanish forward Nolito has brought added speed and mobility.
Image: Manchester United's Wayne Rooney celebrates after scoring a goal
Debutant Manchester City dazzles with a galaxy of stars
Manchester City begin their Champions League campaign as the debutants, no one wants to face thanks to a dazzling start to their domestic season and a squad bursting with expensive talent.
Goals have flowed for City this season as easily as hundreds of millions of pounds have been spent and bookmakers have installed Roberto Mancini's men among the favourites for European glory before their Group A opener at home to Napoli on Wednesday.
The group's heavyweights, in terms of seedings in the draw, are Bayern Munich and Villarreal but the German club's winger Franck Ribery summed up the issue by holding his head in his hands when hearing that the world's richest club were in his group.
"I saw Ribery's reaction -- and I think he is a clever man," Mancini told local media.
"We are in a difficult group -- but so are Bayern Munich, Villarreal and Napoli. The group we are in is very strong. It is so strong that there is a chance we could finish top and a chance we could finish in fourth position."
Image: Roberto Mancini
Cash rich City will look up to man in-form Aguero
Appearing in Europe's elite club competition for the first time since 1968, City could, in theory, just enjoy the experience -- or, in the case of goalkeeper Joe Hart, the famous Champions League music played at the start of matches.
"I'll be humming along," Hart said on the club's website (www.mcfc.co.uk). "As a club, players and fans, we're looking forward to it. It's really exciting and we can't wait."
The reality is different as City owner Sheikh Mansour has pumped more than 600 million pounds ($950 million) into building a squad of players experienced in Champions League soccer who have gelled into a relentless attacking force.
Spearheaded by Argentina forward Sergio Aguero, they have already scored 15 goals in four league games to set the early Premier League pace along with more decorated neighbours Manchester United as the only teams still with perfect records intact.
Aguero, who has scored six league goals including a hat-trick in Saturday's 3-0 victory over Wigan Athletic, has a personal interest in Wednesday's Italian visitors.
Image: Manchester City's Sergio Aguero makes a goal attempt during the English Premier League match
Mancicni aims to progress from group stage
Married to the daughter of Diego Maradona, Aguero will face the club his father-in-law helped to the 1987 and 1990 league titles, and while Maradona will not be at the game due to coaching commitments in Dubai he will provide inspiration.
"I hope I can help Manchester City do great things like Diego did with Napoli," local media quoted Aguero as saying.
Mancini has said the main aim is to progress from the group and with the likes of Aguero and fellow striker Edin Dzeko, who was left on the bench against Wigan despite scoring four goals in the previous game, the Italian has the tools for the job.
Serie A side Napoli are also making their first appearance in the Champions League group stage, with their last European Cup appearance 21 years ago, and are also in high spirits.
Defender Hugo Campagnaro, who survived a car crash in which three people died in his native Argentina in June, scored the decisive goal as Napoli won 3-1 at 10-man Cesena in their opening league match of the season on Saturday.
Influential Slovakia midfielder Marek Hamsik was on the bench at Cesena but came on to score the third goal and will start for the Naples side in Manchester.
"Hamsik is recovering from two matches with his national team. I preferred it this way so that he could be refreshed for the match in Manchester," coach Walter Mazzarri said.
"Now begins a Champions League adventure. I'm curious to see how the team will do against a big club like Manchester City. We've got into the European Cup after 20 years, we have a difficult group but also a fascinating one we want to play in. For us it is a source of pride to be there. Then we'll see."
Image: Manchester City's Edin Dzeko celebrates scoring a goal during the English Premier League match