There are some pivotal battles to be fought in the upcoming Matchday and while some groups look to have clear patterns emerging, others could go down to the wire. Let’s take a whirlwind tour of the current state of the groups along with my speculations on the ties on Matchday 5.
A win for Chelsea over Bordeaux will take them through, regardless of the result between second place AS Roma and bottom club CFR 1907 Cluj. Roma and Bordeaux are currently tied on points with Roma holding the edge on goal differential. Chelsea hammered Bordeaux 4-0 on Matchday 1 but I don’t think we’ll see a repeat of that scoreline. I still see Chelsea winning but perhaps only by a single goal. A draw would be a good result for Bordeaux and would keep their hopes alive. Top through bottom is seperated by only three points in this group so Cluj can still make things uneasy for everyone with a win over Roma at home. Roma played well against an uninspired Chelsea side on Matchday 4 and will hope to keep the momentum going. I’m going to go for a draw in this match. I think Cluj will come out with an inspired performance.
Leaders Internazionale can advance with either a victory or a draw at home to Panathinaikos. Inter could even advance if they lose should there be a draw between Anorthosis Famagusta and Werder Bremen. The suprising Anorthosis side can achieve a knockout round spot if they win and Inter do likewise. Werder Bremen must win in order to keep their hopes alive. I wouldn’t bet on Bremen to get a win in Cyprus considering their up and down form this season.
The main business is complete: Barcelona and Sporting are both through to the last 16 after taking care of business on Matchday 4 when the Spanish side drew with FC Basel 1893 and the Portuguese team beat FC Shakhtar Donetsk. The two leaders face-off in Portugal while Basel will hope to get a result on the road in the Ukraine.
Pacesetters Club Atlético de Madrid and Liverpool FC will extend their Champions League campaigns into the new year by winning at home to PSV Eindhoven and Olympique de Marseille respectively. Atlético can also book up for the knockout stages if they draw and Liverpool avoid defeat. A point would also be enough for Liverpool – who like Atlético have eight points – provided PSV do not prevail in Madrid.
Liverpool will be bolstered by captain Steven Gerrard, who is expected to play in Wednesday’s tie against Marseille after recovering from the groin injury which forced him to miss Saturday’s 0-0 draw with Fulham.
With Manchester United FC and Villarreal CF sitting pretty with a six-point cushion over Celtic FC and Aalborg BK, both are likely to qualify for the next round. The two leaders are pitted against one another on Matchday 5 and I picture a draw from their match. The real game of interest in the group is between Aalborg BK and Celtic, which is a battle for the UEFA Cup spot. The Danish champions have won four and drawn four since Allan Kuhn replaced Bruce Rioch, a sequence which has seen them climb to seventh in the Danish Superligaen, progress to the Danish Cup semi-finals and twice come from behind to secure a 2-2 draw at home to Villarreal CF last time out. Also working against Celtic is the fact that they are trying to secure a first away Champions League victory in their 20th attempt. Celtic are still without a number of first-team players due to injury, including Massimo Donati, Marc Crosas and Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink. They will be hoping to have Georgios Samaras and Aiden McGeady available after their own injury problems. I’d have to go with the home side in this one as the odds are truly stacked against Celtic. It will be a massive win for them if they can beat the Danes at home. If they do make it into the UEFA Cup spot, I could see them enjoying an extended run in that competition.
This group looks to be all wrapped up. Olympique Lyonnais enter Matchday 5 knowing exactly what they must do to proceed: avoid defeat at Fiorentina. FC Bayern München may trail Lyon on goals scored, but they find themselves in an even more luxurious position – only the twin occurrence of Bayern losing at home to rock-bottom FC Steaua Bucuresti and Fiorentina beating Lyon will stop the German team celebrating. Fiorentina must win to keep alive their hopes of making the next round.
Arsenal FC hold a two-point advantage over FC Porto and will qualify for the knockout stage with a victory at home to FC Dynamo Kyiv. Arsenal have been struggling lately and have a number of injury concerns. Compounding their poor form were unhelpful comments from captain William Gallas, who questioned the bravery of his team-mates as well as the dressing room spirit. Gallas was not in the lineup against Manchester City this past weekend, a match the Gunners lost 3-0. Manager Arsene Wenger has had little choice but to reinstate Gallas to the team for the clash with Dynamo Kiev as his squad is depleted by injuries. Wenger will have to field a makeshift defence with nine first-teamers out. Wenger has selected 21-year-old Spaniard Cesc Fabregas to permanently replace Gallas as captain.
Porto will advance if they can beat Fenerbahçe SK in Turkey, unless Dynamo win at Arsenal. Fenerbahçe will welcome back last season’s goal scoring hero, Deivid, and will hope to play the spoilers for Porto while giving themselves a shot at UEFA Cup football.
By gaining back-to-back victories against Real Madrid CF, Juventus have assured themselves a place in the knockout stage. Real Madrid will also advance if they can defeat FC BATE Borisov in Belarus and Zenit St. Petersburg fail to beat visiting Juventus. Juventus are going to be fielding plenty of their reserve/bench players so the odds are not in Real Madrid’s favour. I am hoping that the final Matchday showdown between Real and Zenit will have a knockout stage place on the line.