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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 16 November 2018

Uefa Champions League talking points: Real Madrid look for solace and pressure on Thierry Henry

It is the third round of the fixtures in the group stages and it could be Paco Alcacer who takes centre stage this week

Real Madrid manager Julen Lopetegui has had a tough start to life in charge of the European champions. Reuters 
Real Madrid manager Julen Lopetegui has had a tough start to life in charge of the European champions. Reuters 

This week will see the 32 teams in the Uefa Champions League reach the half-way stage of the group stages with the third round of matches.

Here is a look at some of the main talking points to watch for.

Help for the holders?

Real Madrid, where the European Cup has resided uninterrupted for two years and five months now, have seldom leaned on it so heavily.

Disastrous domestically, their form under new head coach Julen Lopetegui is racking up some bad records.

The shock 2-1 defeat on Saturday at home to Levante left them outside the top four of La Liga; they are without a win in their last five matches, four of which have ended in defeats.

Alarmingly, the goal they registered against Levante, at 2-0 down was the first Madrid had scored in 481 minutes.

But the senior players in the current squad, many of them with a quartet of Champions League titles to their names since 2014, have cultivated a habit, in touch times, of finding solace in Europe when domestic crises build.

"The European Cup is in our DNA," captain Sergio Ramos likes to say. It is their special stimulus.

Luka Modric, Rafa Varane, Toni Kroos, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale have called themselves champions of Europe four times more often than champions of Spain in the last five years.

So as the Uefa anthem booms around a restless, agitated Bernabeu stadium, Madrid anticipate a much-needed balm, in the visit of Viktoria Plzen.

The Czech champions actually began their Champions League campaign promisingly, 2-0 up by half-time in their opening Group G match against CSKA Moscow. In three halves of European football since, though, they have conceded seven goals, including the five Roma put past them on matchday two.

If Madrid, lagging behind CSKA in the table, cannot recover their firepower against this, the leakiest defence in the competition, then the Lopetegui reign, which began in July, really will have run out of road.

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Read more

Real Madrid suffer worst goal drought in their history as they lose to Levante

Struggles of Barcelona and Real Madrid make Primera Liga for exciting viewing

Thierry Henry wants 'to keep positive despite negatives' after Monaco defeat

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Waiting in the wings

The next major crisis club, be it Madrid, or a stumbling Bayern Munich, to change head coach sense that, right now, the market looks quite well stocked. A number of leading managers are at large. Leonardo Jardim, fired by Monaco earlier this month, has now added his name to the list.

Here is the curiosity: each of the men who were in charge of the 2017 English, Spanish and French league champions, Antonio Conte, Zinedine Zidane and Jardim, are out of a job.

So is the man who led Bayern to the last Bundesliga title, Jupp Heynckes. Heynckes, in his mid-70s, will not be drawn out of retirement, nor would Zidane willingly go back to the Madrid he quit in May, but Conte, Jardim and he are eager to be involved in elite football again within the next 12 months.

Henry’s headaches

Jardim’s replacement at Monaco, the freshest face on a Champions League bench this week, is Thierry Henry.

Twenty-one years after he made his debut as a player in the competition, for Monaco, and scored the first two of his 50 career Champions League goals, and ten seasons after he won the big prize with Barcelona, Henry will takes charge of a European fixture for the first time, away at Bruges.

The circumstances are far from ideal. Monaco are on no points; Henry’s debut as head coach, on Saturday, saw a fourth successive loss for the club, who went down 2-1 at Strasbourg. “It was not the dream scenario,” acknowledged Henry, embarking on his first job as a senior coach.

That was an understatement. His captain, Radamel Falcao, limped off with a calf injury in the first half that will probably rule him out of the trip to Belgium.

Meanwhile, his young goalkeeper, Seydou Sy, made a conspicuous handling error for the opening goal, which will hardly lift his confidence as he continues to deputise for two injured senior glovemen, Danijel Subasic and Diego Benaglio.

Oh, and Monaco had Samuel Grandsir sent off.

Alcacer the Unstoppable

Finally, having presented an arguable case, Paco Alcacer got to start a match in the Bundesliga at the weekend.

The striker, on loan from Barcelona, only played for 45 minutes as it turned out, rested after the break with his Borussia Dortmund strolling at 3-0 on their way to a 4-0 win at Stuttgart. Alcacer scored his goal, the third, in the 25th minute of the rout.

That’s barely more than an average delay by his extraordinary recent standards. Awaiting the famously mean Atletico Madrid defence on Wednesday with the leadership of Group A at stake, will be Alacer, the in-form goalscorer of all of Europe.

Alcacer has not put on a Dortmund jersey since he joined without scoring, his eight goals arriving at one every 27 minutes. He kept that golden steak up in this month’s international break, too, with three goals for Spain in his 107 minutes across their matches against Wales and England.

With Lionel Messi now injured, Barca might just find they come to miss him a little more than anticipated.