There is little question which game takes top billing on Matchday Five of the UEFA Champions League. Barcelona host Group F rivals Inter Milan in a match that could end with the reigning champions exiting the competition or with Inter’s hopes hanging by a thread.
There are no such worries for Bordeaux, Chelsea, Lyon, Manchester United, Porto and Sevilla, who have already made sure of their places in the last 16. Two big names teetering on the brink of elimination, however, are Liverpool and Bayern Munich, who need to win their games and hope results elsewhere go their way.
Match of the day
Barcelona-Inter Milan, Group F, Camp Nou, 20.45
Barcelona’s European form has been erratic this season. The holders have picked up only five points from a possible 12 so far and lie third in the section. Their mood was hardly been helped at the weekend when they relinquished their lead in the Spanish league to Real Madrid following a 1-1 draw at Athletic Bilbao. And to make matters worse, coach Pep Guardiola has a number of selection worries to contend with. Yaya Toure and Eric Abidal have been struck down by swine flu, Rafael Marquez is suffering from a heavy cold, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Lionel Messi and Gerard Pique are all struggling with injuries.
Given that scenario, the return of Samuel Eto’o to his old stamping ground could hardly come at a worse time for the Catalans, who simply cannot afford to lose this match. The Italians are riding high at the top of Serie A and though their European form has been similarly unconvincing, Tuesday’s showdown represents an excellent chance to end Barça’s hopes and advance their claims to a third European title, their first in 45 years.
The other matches
The odds are stacked against Liverpool in Group E. Rafael Benitez’s side have won only once in their last ten games and travel to bottom club Debrecen without Fernando Torres or Ryan Babel. And even if they win in Hungary, the Reds will go out of the competition if Fiorentina beat Lyon at home.
While the two big names in Group F battle it out at the Camp Nou, second-placed Rubin Kazan entertain Dynamo Kiev in a match that could prove equally decisive. The Russians, who retained their league title at the weekend and have used only 15 players since the start of the competition, can go through tonight if they win and Inter do likewise.
While Sevilla are already home and dry in Group G, the three other sides in the section are all in contention for the one remaining qualification berth. That slot could go to Romanian sensations Unirea Urziceni if they beat the Spaniards at home on Tuesday and Rangers and Stuttgart share the points in Glasgow.
Olympiakos will advance from Group H if they win at Alkmaar and Arsenal avoid defeat at home to Standard Liege. The Gunners, who need another point to be certain of qualification, will have to make do without injured strike duo Robin van Persie and Nicklas Bendtner, however.
Juventus travel to Group A rivals Bordeaux on Wednesday in a position of strength. The Italians are four points clear in second and victory over the Frenchmen, who made sure of their last-16 place a fortnight ago, will take them through. A draw may even be enough for I Bianconeri if third-placed Bayern Munich fail to beat Maccabi Haifa at the Allianz Arena. Should the Germans win and Juve fail to do so, all will be decided on the final day when the two European giants meet in Turin.
Debutants Wolfsburg can join Group B leaders Manchester United in the next round if they collect a point at CSKA Moscow. The Germans have a three-point lead over the Russians and won 3-1 when the teams met at the Wolfsburg Arena in September. For their part the English champions entertain Besiktas at Old Trafford.
All four sides in Group C can still qualify, though logic dictates that the two tickets will go to frontrunners AC Milan and Real Madrid, both of whom will progress if they win their home games this week. With results finally starting to go coach Leonardo’s way, the Italians hope to celebrate their 100th home match in the competition with victory over Marseille, the side they lost to in the 1993 final. The Spaniards, meanwhile, are at home at Zurich and will be confident of collecting the three points they need having beaten the Swiss 5-2 away in the group opener.
Finally in Group D, Porto play host to Chelsea with first place in the section at stake, while Atletico Madrid and APOEL Nicosia will battle it out in Cyprus for the Europa League slot.
Player to watch
Out with respective back and thigh injuries since August, 35-year-old legend Alessandro del Piero is set for his first Champions League outing of the season at Bordeaux. “Having Alex back is a huge boost. He gives us presence on the pitch and lots of talent too,” commented Juventus coach Ciro Ferrara.
2 - Chelsea and Lyon are the only teams to have qualified for the second phase every year since the competition format was changed in 2003/04. The only other sides who can match that record if they go through are Real Madrid and Arsenal.
What they said
“We must not worry about what is happening in Florence, we have to concentrate on doing our own job and winning the match. In football you can’t predict anything.” Liverpool coach Rafael Benitez
Have your say
Barcelona, Liverpool and Bayern Munich are all in danger of an early exit. Which of these three big names do you think will fail to reach the last 16? Click on ‘Add your comment’ and share your views with fans across the world.