Arsenal, Chelsea bidding to avoid premature exits
AFP Sports looks ahead to Wednesday’s final round of group matches in the Champions League as Arsenal and Chelsea are among the sides looking to claim one of five remaining places in the last 16 (all kick-offs 1945 GMT):
At Leverkusen, Germany
Bayer Leverkusen (GER) v Barcelona (ESP)
Bayer Leverkusen need to beat runaway group winners Barcelona to stand any chance of advancing to the last 16. The Germans would then still need Roma to drop points against BATE Borisov in the group’s other game to reach the knockout rounds. Leverkusen’s recent form has been poor, though, as they slumped to a 2-1 defeat at Hertha Berlin over the weekend, leaving Roger Schmidt’s side with just one win in seven matches in all competitions. Barca, meanwhile, were held 1-1 at Valencia in La Liga, snapping their six-match winning run as their lead in Spain was trimmed to just two points.
Roma (ITA) v BATE Borisov (BLR)
Despite a 6-1 thrashing at the hands of Barcelona a fortnight ago, Roma remain in pole position to snatch second place in Group E. Rudi Garcia’s men are level on five points with Bayer Leverkusen but own the head-to-head advantage, meaning a victory over BATE Borisov would send the Italians through to the knockout phase. Roma conceded a last-gasp penalty in Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Torino that saw them slip five points behind Serie A leaders Inter Milan and can ill afford another slip up amid mounting pressure at the Stadio Olimpico. Roma face an anxious wait to see if Gervinho, who lasted just 26 minutes at the weekend, is fit after suffering a recurrence of a muscle problem. BATE’s lone win this campaign came against Roma on matchday two and a repeat success would see them go through as surprise runners-up if Leverkusen don’t beat Barca.
Dinamo Zagreb (CRO) v Bayern Munich (GER)
There is little at stake in Dinamo Zagreb’s final-day clash against German champions Bayern Munich, but the Croatian side should brace themselves for a potential Bayern backlash in the wake of Saturday’s 3-1 defeat at Borussia Moenchengladbach. The loss was Bayern’s first in the Bundesliga this season although Pep Guardiola welcomed back Franck Ribery, who scored a late consolation on his return from a nine-month injury lay-off. Zagreb, who were pummelled 5-0 in Munich, will hope to end their campaign on a high after four straight defeats consigned them to a fourth-place finish.
At Piraeus, Greece
Olympiakos (GRE) v Arsenal (ENG)
Arsenal’s qualification hopes rest on a knife edge with the Gunners knowing they have to beat Olympiakos — either by two goals or by scoring at least three times — to pip the Greeks to second place. Arsene Wenger’s men are bidding to reach the last 16 for the 16th straight season but the injuries continue to pile up for the Premier League outfit with midfielder Santi Cazorla ruled out for up to four months with a knee injury. However, Aaron Ramsey, who scored a late third in Saturday’s 3-1 win over Sunderland, is confident Arsenal can keep their streak intact. “It was never easy after the start (to the group) we had but we have done well to come back into the position that we find ourselves in and it is in our hands — we know what we have to do,” the Welshman told the club’s website.
Dynamo Kiev (UKR) v Maccabi Tel-Aviv (ISR)
Dynamo Kiev’s shock win in Portugal last time out means the Ukrainian side can progress to the last 16 for the first time since the 1999-2000 season with a victory over pointless Maccabi Tel-Aviv. Dynamo could even finish as group winners if Chelsea and Porto draw. However, anything less than three points would send Dynamo into the Europa League. Domestically, Kiev went into the winter break in Ukraine level on points with league leaders Shakhtar Donetsk after thumping Metalurh Zaporizhya 6-0.
Chelsea (ENG) v Porto (POR)
The pressure is on Jose Mourinho and his Chelsea players to avoid an early exit in Europe, even more so after the Blues were condemned to a stunning 1-0 home loss against Bournemouth at the weekend which left them just two points clear of the drop zone. Chelsea go into their final group game top of the pile on 10 points, level with Porto, and will go through as group winners with a victory while a draw would see them advance as runners-up. “It’s an important week for us. On Wednesday we have to win to make sure we are first and qualified. That will be a big boost for the team as well,” said goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, who returned to the line-up at the weekend after three months out. Porto’s setback against Dynamo Kiev on matchday five has left the Portuguese requiring a win to guarantee qualification. A draw could also be enough to go through, in first as well, but only if Kiev don’t win.
Valencia (ESP) v Lyon (FRA)
Incoming Valencia boss Gary Neville will have little time to settle into his new role as the Spaniards need to beat Lyon to stand any chance of overhauling Gent for second place. Former England and Manchester United right-back Neville held his first training session on Monday, two days after Valencia held Barcelona to a creditable 1-1 draw in La Liga, and there is little margin for error against crisis-hit Lyon. Los Che must better Gent’s result against Zenit to avoid dropping into the Europa League, but bottom side Lyon will be determined to stop the rot having crashed to a fourth defeat in five outings after going down 2-0 at home to Angers in Ligue 1, prompting midfielder Mathieu Valbuena to label recent performances as “catastrophic”.
At Gent, Belgium
Gent (BEL) v Zenit Saint Petersburg (RUS)
Belgian champions Gent can seal their place in the last 16 with a victory over group winners Zenit, who boast the only perfect record in this year’s competition. Successive wins over Valencia and Lyon have catapulted newcomers Gent into second and they will prolong their Champions League adventure so long as they match Valencia’s result against Lyon. Gent fell from the top of the Belgian league after a 2-2 draw with Zulte-Waregem on Friday but are aiming to become the first Belgian side to make it as far as the last 16 since Anderlecht in 2000-01.