UEFA Champions League preview
No fewer than six former European champions – Juventus, Bayern Munich, AC Milan, Marseille, Real Madrid and Inter Milan – will be playing for their UEFA Champions League futures this week, not to mention holders Barcelona.
Eight knockout-stage places remain up for grabs, including two apiece in groups C and F. Arsenal, Bordeaux, Chelsea, Fiorentina, Lyon, Manchester United, Porto and Sevilla have already stamped their tickets to the last 16, while Italy is the only country that can still send four representatives through to the next round.
Tuesday 8 December
FC Zurich-AC Milan
Wednesday 9 December
Inter Milan-Rubin Kazan
Standard Liege-AZ Alkmaar
Match of the day
Juventus-Bayern Munich, Group A, Stadio Olimpico, 20.45
A draw would be enough for Juventus to qualify, while Bayern cannot settle for less than a victory. The Turin giants boosted morale at the weekend with a 2-1 success against Serie A leaders Inter Milan, ending a run of two consecutive defeats, and Ciro Ferrara’s men will again look to their ironclad defence – the heart of the Italian national team’s rearguard – to preserve a 16-game unbeaten run that stretches back to a 1-0 loss to Deportivo la Coruna in March 2004. For their part, the visitors look to be in much better health than earlier in the season after lifting themselves to fourth in the Bundesliga and will be hoping striker Mario Gomez enjoys a productive evening as they attempt to stave off an early elimination.
The other matches
In Group B, Wolfsburg and CSKA Moscow will dispute the one ticket available, with the German champions due to host Manchester United and their Russian rivals travelling to Istanbul to take on Besiktas. Victory would send Wolfsburg through, but any other result and they would be left anxiously awaiting news from Turkey. CSKA will advance if they prevail and Wolfsburg are unable to down United, while a draw would also prove sufficient if Armin Veh’s troops taste defeat.
Three former European champions will be tussling for the two spots on offer in Group C and two of them are due to meet in southern France, where Marseille hope to avenge their 3-0 loss at Real Madrid earlier in the campaign. A replica scoreline or a victory by four goals or more would catapult Marseille into the first knockout round, while AC Milan travel to face FC Zurich still smarting from their home loss to the Swiss champions. Since that setback, Leonardo’s charges have taken a more adventurous approach and recovered some of their swagger of old. They would be obliged to win if Marseille beat Madrid, but any other result at the Stade Velodrome would trigger qualification for the Rossoneri, no matter how they fare in Switzerland.
There is no suspense left in Group D, where Chelsea have already clinched first place and Porto are certain of joining them in the next round. In contrast, already-qualified Fiorentina will be targeting at least a point at Liverpool, while hoping Lyon fail to inflict a heavy setback on Debrecen, as they attempt to cement pole position in Group E.
All four teams can graduate from Group F, with Barcelona in the strongest position ahead of their journey to face Dynamo Kiev. The holders can even afford to lose by one goal and still go through, while any eventual winner in the contest between Inter Milan and Rubin Kazan would also be guaranteed a spot in the last 16. Should Dynamo fail to get the better of Barça, Inter could also advance courtesy of a 0-0 or 1-1 stalemate, though any other drawn outcome would seal their exit.
The situation is more straightforward in Group G, where Romanian hopefuls Unirea Urziceni have been defying expectations and will clinch the runners-up place behind Sevilla if they can achieve a positive result away against Stuttgart. The Bundesliga side can settle for nothing less than maximum points, on the other hand, in what will be Swiss coach Christian Gross’s first match in charge since the dismissal of Markus Babbel at the weekend.
Lastly, a point will be enough for Olympiacos at home against Arsenal as they strive to seal the second qualification berth in Group H behind the Gunners. Belgian champions Standard Liege are not out of the picture yet, however, as they gear up to welcome AZ Alkmaar. Defeat for Olympiacos combined with a Standard success would send Laszlo Boloni’s men through on head-to-head record.
Player to watch
Andriy Shevchenko is set to contest his 100th UEFA Champions League encounter against Barcelona, making him the 12th player to have racked up a century, with Raul leading the way on 128 matches ahead of Roberto Carlos on 120. The Ukrainian striker has also plundered 48 goals in 12 different seasons; only Raul and Ruud van Nistelrooy have found the back of the net over a longer stretch, having both struck in 14 separate campaigns.
3 – Only Arsenal, Chelsea and Bordeaux remain unbeaten in the competition and all three have sewn up first place in their groups. While that is a first for the French outfit, Chelsea have now taken six top spots, three shy of the record held jointly by AC Milan and Juventus.
What they said
"In the Champions League, we’ll need to be less selfish and more generous,” Inter forward Samuel Eto’o after the loss to Juventus
Have your say
Will Italy soon be boasting four clubs in the knockout phase?