Moment of truth for Europa holders Atletico
Holders Atletico Madrid are one of several high-profile sides whose continued participation in this season's UEFA Europa League will be at stake when the group phase concludes on Wednesday and Thursday.
Atletico ended a 48-year wait for major European honours when they won the inaugural edition of the re-styled tournament last season, but they travel to Bayer Leverkusen on Thursday knowing that their fate is not in their hands.
Third in Group B ahead of the encounter, Atletico must win at the BayArena and hope that second-placed Aris do not prevail at home to bottom side Rosenborg in the other group game. Atletico and Aris are level on points, but having lost to the Greek side home and away, the defending champions will be eliminated by virtue of an inferior head-to-head record if they cannot better their result.
Sergio Aguero was on target twice as Atletico won 2-0 against Deportivo La Coruna on Saturday, sending them up to sixth in La Liga, and assistant coach Fran Escriba insists morale is good ahead of the trip to Germany. "I think that we have possibilities of going through," said Escriba on the club's official website.
"We had qualification for the next round in our hands and we let it slip away. We're going there with all the confidence that we can win, although obviously we're not only depending on ourselves. The only thing going through our heads is winning. We'd feel really bad if Rosenborg did us a favour and we didn't take advantage of it."
Big guns primed
Leverkusen, currently second in the German top flight, are already assured of a last 32 berth, but runaway Bundesliga leaders Borussia Dortmund face a winner-takes-all game at Sevilla on Wednesday. The Spanish side hold a one-point lead over their Group J rivals, meaning Dortmund - 11 points clear in the Bundesliga after a record-breaking 43-point haul from their opening 16 games - have to win.
"We are delighted to have a final chance in Seville," said Dortmund midfielder Sven Bender after a 3-0 defeat of Karpaty Lviv in their last outing. "It's a very difficult task, but we know what we have to do."
French first division leaders Lille face a similarly high-stakes assignment at home to Ghent. The Belgians are two points ahead of Lille in second place in Group C, so Rudi Garcia's men know that only victory will take them through.
Napoli, flying high in Serie A, must win at Steaua Bucharest to progress from Group G, while already qualified Liverpool welcome FC Utrecht to Anfield for their final commitment in the pool. "We have done really well in the Europa League and it would be nice to finish the group stage with a good performance at home," said Liverpool's former Utrecht forward Dirk Kuyt. "I had some good times at Utrecht and a lot of people are still there at the club who I am good friends with."
Two of the competition's star attractions, Juventus and Manchester City, meet in Turin for what could have been a gala match, had City not already qualified and Juve not already been eliminated.