The foursome of Benfica, Real Madrid, AC Milan and Barcelona will all book their places in the Round of 16 of the UEFA Champions League should results go their way in the fourth round of group games on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Two sides that can also go through this week, provided that they both win, are the Group E duo Chelsea and Bayer Leverkusen, while the surprise twosome of Trabzonspor and APOEL Nicosia will be vying to build on their promising starts and stay firmly in the qualification frame.
Match of the day
APOEL Nicosia-Porto, Group G, GSP Stadium, Nicosia, Tuesday 1 November, 8.45pm
Few would have tipped APOEL Nicosia to be dictating terms in Group G after three games. The unfancied Cypriots, who have come all the way from July’s second qualifying round, have defied all expectations by topping a tight section and going undefeated in the process.
Coached by the Serbian Ivan Jovanovic and boasting 16 foreign players from seven countries in their ranks, APOEL have recorded five wins, three draws and a single defeat in Krakow in their triumphant continental campaign to date and have gone eight games in European competitions without losing at home.
As fate would have it, Porto were the last foreign visitors to win at the GSP back in November 2009, but despite leading the Portuguese league, Os Dragões have made a faltering start in the section. Defeated on Matchday 2 at Zenit St. Petersburg, they were then held at home by the Cypriots, a result that has raised the stakes ahead of Tuesday’s meeting in Nicosia.
The other matches
Tuesday 1 November
Their pride hurt after Saturday’s English Premier League defeat at home to Arsenal, group leaders Chelsea will be confident of atonement when they visit bottom club Genk a fortnight on from crushing the Belgians 5-0 at Stamford Bridge.
Over in Spain, meanwhile, third-placed Valencia have no option but to avenge their 2-1 defeat to Bayer Leverkusen if they are to keep their flagging hopes alive. The Spaniards will be without attacking midfielder Sergio Canales, who faces a six-month injury lay-off, while the visitors will miss Michael Ballack, who is nursing a broken nose. With 16 goals, the veteran stalwart is the leading German marksman in the Champions League, two ahead of Miroslav Klose and Mario Gomez.
Top-placed Arsenal have rediscovered their swagger in recent weeks and took a huge stride towards qualification when they won at Marseille in their last outing. Three more points at home to the French would put them on the brink of a last-16 slot. Beaten 3-1 in Greece two weeks ago, Dortmund need three points of their own against Olympiakos to revive their challenge.
Zenit St Petersburg-Shakhtar Donetsk (6pm)
Tucked in just a point behind APOEL, Zenit have their sights set on an 11th straight European home win when they host a Shakhtar side sitting bottom of the table after two draws and a defeat.
Bate Borisov-AC Milan (6pm)
Section top dogs Milan and Barcelona can both advance to the next phase if they prevail in their respective outings in the east at Bate Borisov and Viktoria Plzen. Given their current form, that task should not prove too onerous.
Wednesday 2 November
Three defeats have left Villarreal with their backs to the wall. To make matters worse for the La Liga outfit, star striker Giuseppe Rossi has been laid low by a serious injury, which makes their assignment against the in-form Premier League leaders even more daunting.
Sitting pretty atop the pool, Bayern will put one foot in the next round if they get the better of undefeated Napoli at home. The Bavarians, who are also unbeaten, have won nine of their last ten Champions League matches at the Allianz Arena. The only blemish on that record was a 3-2 loss to Inter Milan in last year’s round of 16, a defeat sealed by a goal from Goran Pandev, who will likely be sitting on the Napoli bench on Wednesday.
Inter have been anything but consistent this season. A lowly 16th in Serie A, they nevertheless lie two points clear in the group, having won on the road at CSKA Moscow and Lille and lost at home to supposed makeweights Trabzonspor. Results such as that have made this a wide-open section, with only two points separating the Russians in second from the French in fourth.
Manchester United-Otelul Galati
Benfica can make sure of a place in the next round if they record their second win over the Swiss in two weeks, while Manchester United will be confident of completing a similar double over the Romanians to boost their own hopes of advancing.
Real Madrid made it three wins out of three when they crushed Lyon 4-0 at home last time out, and another victory here will take them over the line. With tricky games to come at the Gerland and at home to Los Blancos, second-placed Ajax need to make the most of pointless Dynamo Zagreb’s visit to the Amsterdam ArenA.
Player to watch
Kaka looks to be back to his very best after finally shaking off a persistent groin injury and problems with both knees. “The pitch had got too big for me,” said the Brazilian in reference to his recent woes. “Even playing a pass was tough for me.” Now approaching the form that made him a superstar with AC Milan, the 29-year-old has worked his way back into the Brazil fold and could well be relegating Mesut Ozil to the Real Madrid bench before too long.
50% - Half of the 60 goals Shakhtar Donetsk have scored in the UEFA Champions League over the years have been struck by Brazilian players, far in excess of the 12 scored by the club’s Ukrainian contingent.
What they said
“We couldn’t have achieved anything without him. Whatever the club goes on to do, it will never reach the standard we’ve reached with him. I don’t think there’s ever been a player in the history of the game who’s been capable of performing the way he does every three days,” Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola pays tribute to Lionel Messi.
Have your say
Can Bate Borisov and Viktoria Plzen hold up Milan and Barcelona’s qualification charge on Matchday 4?