Last 16 places ready to be claimed
Manchester City’s trip to Naples and Benfica’s visit to Manchester United are two of the standout ties on Matchday 5 of the UEFA Champions League group phase, with a clutch of sides aiming to take their places in the last 16.
Real Madrid, AC Milan and Barcelona are the only teams to have already won through to the knockout rounds so far, while the latter two face off at the San Siro on Wednesday with the leadership of Group H at stake. FIFA.com previews that meeting of European heavyweights and the rest of this week’s games in the continent’s premier club competition.
Match of the day
Napoli-Manchester City, Stadio San Paolo, Naples, Tuesday 22 November, 8.45pm
The so-called “group of death” has come down to a two-way battle for second, with the Premier League leaders holding a two-point advantage over their Italian hosts. Victory here will take them into the second round, though as a veteran of Serie A, Roberto Mancini knows his side can expect a very hot reception at the San Paolo. And with City still to face frontrunners Bayern in their final game, while Napoli close out the group against pointless Villarreal, any other result will leave the big-spending English side’s hopes in the balance.
Opposite number Walter Mazzarri will be banking on his talented core of South American players to neuter the threat posed by the likes of Mario Balotelli and Edin Dzeko on the break, while the reception afforded to Sergio Aguero, the son-in law of Napoli icon Diego Maradona, provides another intriguing sub-plot in what promises to be a passionate evening’s entertainment.
The other matches
Tuesday 22 November
Defeated 1-0 at home by their closest Bundesliga challengers Borussia Dortmund at the weekend, Bayern Munich will have nothing but victory in their sights when they entertain the bottom-placed Spaniards, who have lost all four of their games to date. A win or a draw will take the Bavarians through, although they could still advance even if they lose, provided that Napoli does not beat City.
CSKA Moscow-Lille (6pm)
A point in Turkey will send Inter into the last 16, although Javier Zanetti and Co will no doubt have loftier ambitions in mind after losing at home to Trabzonspor earlier in the group. An Inter win would suit second-placed CSKA Moscow, who will themselves progress one game early if they see off the French also.
Both United and Benfica are unbeaten going into their Old Trafford showdown. The two sides drew 1-1 in Lisbon earlier in the group, and a victory for Benfica here will give them a superior head-to-head record and take them through. History suggests they will be up against it, however. The Manchester giants have never lost at home to Portuguese opposition, winning eight times in ten meetings over the years and drawing the other two. What's more, they have won six of their eight clashes with the Lisbon club, who can in turn point to an away record of two wins, two draws and no defeats in the competition this season.
Should United win and Basel defeat the Romanians however, all will be decided on the final matchday, when the Swiss could steal a qualification slot if they beat the Premier League champions at home.
Real Madrid-Dynamo Zagreb
Thanks to a flawless record of four wins in four games, Real Madrid may decide to ring the changes when they welcome the Croatian strugglers, who have yet to win a point. In the meantime, Lyon will have one last chance to climb back into contention when they host Ajax. Les Gones have a three-point gap to make up on the Dutch, and a repeat of the 0-0 draw the two sides played out in Amsterdam on Matchday 1 will do their chances of qualifying for the knockout phase for the ninth time running little good.
Wednesday 23 November
Chelsea will go through if they win in Germany, while Bayer will do likewise if they win and Valencia fail to beat the Belgians. The group’s top two sides have won both their home matches but have proved less reliable on the road, Bayer losing their two away games and the Londoners drawing theirs. A third draw here could leave the Blues sweating on their final game against the Spanish, who will have their work cut out against a Genk side buoyed by a 1-1 draw with Chelsea three weeks ago.
Arsenal and Marseille are in pole position, though the resurgent Germans will not be lacking in belief following their weekend exploits in Munich. A win for Dortmund in London will throw the group wide open and leave everything hanging on their final game, at home to the French.
Zenit St Petersburg-APOEL Nicosia (6pm)
APOEL’s exploits have left Porto with much to do. A point for the Cypriots in Russia, coupled with anything but a win for Os Dragões in Ukraine will clinch a surprise place in the next round for the unfancied group leaders. Lying bottom of the group with just two points, 2009 UEFA Europa League champions Shakhtar have no option but to beat the Portuguese, the side who took the Europa League crown last season.
BATE Borisov-Viktoria Plzen
The gala occasion at the San Siro will revive memories of Milan’s stunning 4-0 demolition of Barça in the 1994 final, although the Catalans hold the upper hand in the section, leading the way by two points from the Italians, with both sides already through. I Rossoneri will in all likelihood need to win here to prise first place from Barcelona’s grasp. Ominously, however, Pep Guardiola has never lost a November match since taking charge at the Camp Nou.
Player to watch
Mario Gotze’s stock is rising with every game. Displaying a maturity beyond his years, the 19-year-old Borussia Dortmund playmaker has been lighting up his team’s performances of late and showed his goalscoring prowess at the weekend, grabbing the only goal in Dortmund’s notable 1-0 win at Bayern. Should Gotze keep his form up at the Emirates, the Germans could well stay in the hunt for a last 16 berth.
6 - The number of matches APOEL Nicosia have gone undefeated in the competition. Only reigning champions Barcelona boast a better record with a ten-game unbeaten run.
What they said
“As far as we Portuguese are concerned, Sporting CP are the best team in the world,” Manchester United midfielder and former Sporting star Nani warms up for Benfica’s visit to Old Trafford.
Have your say
Can Benfica upset United at their Manchester citadel?