The UEFA Champions League last-16 picture will be completed this week with the sixth and final round of group-stage games due to be held on Tuesday and Wednesday. So far, a total of 12 teams have already secured up their passage through to the knockout phase: English trio Chelsea, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur, Spanish contenders Barcelona, Real Madrid and Valencia, German sides Bayern Munich and Schalke, French duo Lyon and Marseille, and Italian hopefuls Inter Milan and AC Milan.
Favourites to join them are Copenhagen from Group D, Roma in Group E, and Group H pair Shakhtar Donetsk and Arsenal, though Rubin Kazan, Basel and Braga will all be looking to have their say before the competition goes into hibernation until the new year.
Tuesday 7 December
Group A: Twente-Tottenham, Werder Bremen-Inter Milan
Group B: Lyon-Hapoel Tel-Aviv, Benfica-Schalke
Group C: Manchester United-Valencia, Bursaspor-Rangers
Group D: Barcelona-Rubin Kazan, Copenhagen-Panathinaikos
Wednesday 8 December
Group E: Bayern Munich-Basel, Cluj-Roma
Group F: Marseille-Chelsea, Zilina-Spartak Moscow
Group G: Real Madrid-Auxerre, AC Milan-Ajax
Group H: Arsenal-Partizan, Shakhtar Donetsk-Braga
Match of the day
Cluj-Roma, Group E, Constantin Radulescu Stadium, Cluj-Napoca
Narrowly beaten 2-1 in Italy, Cluj no longer have anything left to lose in Group E, where they lie bottom after four defeats and a solitary win. Roma’s future is far from assured, on the other hand, and a loss in Romania combined with victory for Basel away against Bayern Munich would send Claudio Ranieri’s men crashing out based on their head-to-head record, Basel having notched five goals to Roma’s four in their two meetings. I Giallorossi have blown hot and cold since the start of the season but simply cannot afford the possible consequences of another lapse now. “This team has stumbled several times but it’s always been able to pick itself back up again,” said Ranieri. Whatever happens, the best his charges can hope for is second spot in the section behind Bayern.
The other matches
In Group A, Tottenham and Inter boast ten points apiece and will be competing for top spot in their respective games against Twente and Werder Bremen respectively. Should the leading duo both eke out the same result, Spurs will finish head of the class. As for Twente, they are certain of coming in third and snapping up the UEFA Europa League berth on offer, with Bremen consigned to fourth.
Lyon will be hopeful of winning Group B as they welcome a Hapoel Tel-Aviv side they comfortably swept aside 3-1 in Israel. One point clear at the summit, current leaders Schalke must triumph away against Benfica to be sure of sealing pole position but ought to expect a testing assignment as their hosts vie to lock down a Europa League place. Given their inferior head-to-head record with Hapoel, the Portuguese champions know a draw would prove insufficient if their rivals managed to prevail in France.
A single point is all Manchester United require against Valencia to finish first in Group C, and - following United's slim 1-0 win in Spain - Unai Emery’s visitors will only need a win thanks to a superior goal-difference to pip them at the post. In third, Rangers have already booked themselves a Europa League ticket, meaning Bursaspor can no longer hope to prolong their continental adventure.
Top of the pile in Group D and guaranteed to stay there, Barcelona sign off against recent bogey team Rubin Kazan. The Russian outfit can still join Barcelona in the last 16, but to realize that dream they must win in Catalonia and hope that already-eliminated Panathinaikos frustrate Copenhagen in Denmark – or draw and hope that Panathinaikos claim victory.
Group E leaders Bayern Munich have wrapped up top spot in their section and will look to restate their potential with a home success against Basel, a result which would play into Roma’s hands.
All suspense has been drained from Group F, meanwhile, with Chelsea immovable in first, Marseille certain to advance, Spartak Moscow heading for the Europa League and Zilina out of the running.
Group G is only slightly more tense as Real Madrid, who entertain Auxerre, have tied up the section honours ahead of runners-up AC Milan, who host Ajax. The French club can nonetheless still lay their hands on a Europa League ticket, provided they earn a draw in Spain and Ajax succumb at the San Siro.
In contrast, much remains possible in Group H, even if Shakhtar Donetsk and Arsenal are heavy favourites to progress. Shakhtar need only draw with Braga to finish top, while the Portuguese aspirants need to better Arsenal’s result at home against Partizan, who are still without a point and have mustered just a single goal in their opening five matches.
Player to watch
First-choice France forward Karim Benzema has got used to life on the bench at Real Madrid but can boost his prospects against familiar opponents Auxerre. The former Lyon striker’s mission will be to prove he can perform as an effective No9 in the absence of injured colleague Gonzalo Higuain. Since the start of the season, Benzema has struck one goal in 12 Liga outings and another effort in four Champions League appearances, coming off the bench in most of those games.
15 – The number of goals plundered by both Arsenal and Tottenham in their five encounters so far, making the north London duo the most prolific sides in the group stage. Manchester United hold the overall record thanks to their 20 strikes from six games in 1998/99.
What they said
"I only played one season in Marseille, but the feeling that exists between the fans, the city and me is incredible. I gave everything and they gave me the same back. They still love me,” Chelsea striker Didier Drogba ahead of his return to Marseille.
Have your say
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