All or Nothing
The rest of Matchday 6 fixtures are to be played today and tomorrow. These are the final fixtures of the group stage and several clubs fate still lies in the balance. Let’s take a quick look at each Group.
Along with Group C, A is the most wide-open. If Liverpool win in Marseille they will advance to the knockout stage. Lose and they will go out. Complications arise should the teams draw. Marseille won at Anfield, meaning they would edge the English side out, assuming that FC Porto beat or draw with Besiktas. If Liverpool draw and Besiktas win, the Reds would go through. It would leave Liverpool, Marseilles and Porto all with eight points but Rafael BenÍtez’s side would go through with the best goal difference in the head-to-head matches between the three teams. I’m looking forward to viewing the Liverpool – Marseille match this evening as it should be a spirited contest with Marseille fielding a team that could include several ex-Reds such as Boudewijn Zenden and Djibril Cisse. This is going to be a defining week in Liverpool’s season – the Stade Velodrome qualification decider is followed by a Premier League home fixture against current champs Manchester United on Sunday and then a Carling Cup quarter-final against Chelsea on the following Wednesday (19th).
Chelsea are already through and have clinched top spot in the group. Rosenborg and Schalke go head to head to decide which club proceeds to the next round. The best Schalke can hope for is qualification for the UEFA Cup should they beat Chelsea and Schalke lose against Rosenborg. Schalke will be without Mladen Krstajic and Ivan Rakitic as they were thrown out of the squad for Tuesday’s match after they were spotted in a Duisburg nightclub in the early hours on Sunday. The 33-year-old Krstajic is one of Schalke’s most experienced defenders while Rakitic, a 19-year-old midfield prospect, has played in all five of Schalke’s group games so far.
Real Madrid need at least a point against Lazio to assure themselves of a spot in the next round. Lazio need to win by two goals against Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabéu, where the Spanish champions have lost only once in their last 24 CL games. Olympiacos, tied on points with Madrid, also need a single point to assure themselves of a spot in the next round. A win for Werder Bremen would vault them past the Greek side and into the next round.
This group was settled last week with AC Milan and Celtic FC advancing to the next round of the Champions League and Benfica going into the UEFA Cup.
Barcelona are home and cool already and cannot be caught for top spot in the group. The big clash is the battle between Lyon and Rangers for the second spot in the knockout phase of the tournament. You would have to tip the odds in favor of Rangers as the game is being played at Ibrox. Having beaten Lyon 3-0 in France in October, the Scottish team need only avoid defeat to stay above Lyon by virtue of their superior head-to-head record. For the French champions, only victory will do if they are to celebrate reaching the knockout rounds for the fifth consecutive season. If Lyon do not win, they will move into the UEFA Cup competition.
Group F is all decided as Manchester United and Roma will finish 1-2 respectively regardless of the outcome of their match in Rome. I don’t expect we’ll see many first team players for either club and it could be quite a dull match. Sporting Clube de Portugal are through to the UEFA Cup as Dynamo Kyiv have yet to record a point from the group stage. Dynamo will be looking to salvage something from an otherwise dire campaign.
Despite my doubts about their progression at the start of the season, Internazionale have already assured themselves of top spot in the group and will erase the memory of previous poor showings in the Champions League. Fenerbahçe need to win, or hope the PSV cannot defeat Inter in order to qualify for the next round. The Turkish club face CSKA Moscow, who are completely eliminated from Europe for this season. Either Fenerbahçe or PSV will end up in the UEFA Cup.
We end with another group that is all decided but the fixtures on Matchday 6 do hold some importance. Arsenal and Sevilla will progress though it remains to be seen in what order they will finish. Sevilla could overtake Arsenal with a win against Slavia Prague, while Arsenal take on Steaua Bucure?ti at the Emirates. Arsenal are without a number of key players through injury and other like Emmanuel Adebayor are likely to be rested. Even with a win, Steaua cannot catch Slavia Prague for a UEFA Cup berth.