The UEFA Champions League resumes this week with Matchday 6 of the group stage. Let’s take a look at the games to be played in group E, F, G and H.
FC Bayern Munich vs FC Basel
Bayern Munich are sitting pretty at the top of Group E and has already qualified for the knockout stage. A dismal run of form saw them stranded in the mid-table of Bundesliga (currently in sixth place following a loss to Schalke over the weekend), but the German powerhouse has been in prolific form in the Champions League. Bayern has lost only once in their last 13 home games in the champions league, a run that includes six straight wins. Mario Gomez has scored 6 goals so far in this competition. Good news for them is Mark Van Bommel is back in action. Pranjic and Kroos will miss the next match if they get booked in this game.
Basel is currently third in the group. In order to secure knockout stage qualification they will have to win this game and second placed Roma will have to lose to Cluj. Basel lost to Bayern in the first leg despite a gallant effort from the Swiss outfit. Basel has never won against a German opposition in European competitions in the last five meetings. Their away record in Europe is also very ordinary, having won only two of their last 11 games on the road.
Will Gomez be able to shrug off the failures of the weekend?
CFR Cluj vs AS Roma
Cluj has nothing to lose in this competition now. Even though they are just three points away from third placed Basel, a poor goal record will help Basel qualify for the round of 32 in Europa League even if Basel lose to Munich and Cluj win it big against Roma at home. Cluj has done well in domestic league, winning their last four matches. They are also unbeaten in their domestic league since October.
Roma are at second place in Group E and three points adrift of Basel. Even though a draw would ensure their qualification to the next round, this game is extremely important for Roma. If they lose to Cluj and Basel win in Munich, Roma will slip to third place as Basel has a goal’s advantage. Roma came back from 2-0 down to win against Bayern in their last European fixture to give their supporters a hope for qualification. But a 3-1 defeat to Palermo, a week back and a 2-2 draw against Chievo over the weekend showed that they need to improve their performance in away games. Keeping their target in mind Roma will play safe and are expected to qualify for the next round ahead of basel.
Olympique de Marseille vs Chelsea FC
Marseille are at second place in Group F. They started off badly, losing their first two fixtures. But Deschamp’s men came back strong, winning back to back matches against the Slovakians (which includes a 7-0 thrashing, their biggest margin in an away victory in European competitions) and then against Spartak to ensure their qualification to the next round. Marseille might sit out some of their first team members. Deschamp also has a few injury concerns: Stephane Mbia and Gignac are likely to miss this tie and Azpilicueta has been ruled out for the season.
Pace setters Chelsea who have won all the games in the group are going through a bad phase in domestic circuit. They have only managed five points from a possible 18 in their last six domestic league games. Ancelotti’s side is yet to drop a point in Champions League, though. Their away record has been pathetic in this term. Since the English champions have already qualified for the next round, some of the key players might be rested. Injuries to Alex and Lampard will keep them from making the bench. Youngsters like Bruma, McEachran and Aanholt will be relied upon to put an end to Chelsea’s declivity. All eyes will be on Didier Drogba as the towering striker will be back in Stade Velodrome.
Back to the roots
MŠK Žilina vs FK Spartak Moskva
Žilina has lost all their group stage games so far in this competition. Though they showed promise in their first European game against Chelsea at home, they could not sustain their performance in the games to come. They will play for their pride and would like to register their first point(s) in the Champions League. Žilina has not lost at home in the last three outings and will expect to add one more match to that record.
Spartak lost their chance to qualify for the knockout stage following a disheartening result at home against Marseille which saw them crash out of the Champions League. Spartak are currently in third place and have qualified for the round of 32 in Europa League. Spartak has not won in their last three away games. Though they started their campaign brightly with an away victory at Marseille, they lost the plot in the next few games. Spartak will play to finish their Champions League campaign with a win.
Real Madrid FC vs Auxerre
Real Madrid, the group leaders, have already qualified for the knockout stages. After a macabre debacle at the hands of arch rivals Barcelona in the Spanish Primera Liga, Jose Mourinho’s men showed great character to win against Valencia over the weekend. Madrid has won all 7 of their home games in domestic league. Mourinho has some concern over team selection. Alonso and Ramos will be missing the tie due to suspension whereas higuain and Canales will be out injured. Apart from that, Uefa’s Appeals Body has penalised Real Madrid and Jose Mourinho’s team for foul play. As a result of which Mourinho will serve a one match ban with a hefty fine. Ramos, Alonso, Casillas and Dudek were also fined.
Auxerre are currently placed at the bottom of the group with three points, a point behind third placed Ajax. Auxerre will have to win this game to have any chance to make it to the Europa League round of 32. In that case, of course, Ajax must not win at the San Siro. Auxerre has won only two of their last eight away games in their league. They also have a few injury concerns: Berthod, Hengbart, Jelen, Le Tallec, Ndinga and Sanogo are likely to miss this tie. Real Madrid are expected to pip their French counterpart in this contest.
Mourinho is in troubled waters
AC Milan vs Ajax Amsterdam
Milan has already qualified for the knockout stages. In the battle of Europe’s elites, Milan have won four times in the last nine meetings against Ajax. In the last seven European outings, Milan have won only once at the San Siro. To make it worse, Milan has not won two back to back Champions League games since Novemeber, 2007. Since they have already qualified for the next round, they might rest a few of their first team members. Zambrotta, Boateng and Gattusso will miss the next game if they get booked in tomorrow’s game.
Following a thrashing against Real Madrid at home, Ajax have lost their chance to make it to the knockout stage of the Champions League. But all is not lost as yet. They still have the Europa league qualification to play for. A victory will help them see off Auxerre’s contention to make it to Europa League qualification. They’ll qualify if Auxerre’s result matches theirs. Ajax have not won against Milan in the last five meetings and have won only once in their last eight European fixtures. Their away record has been worse than that, winning only once in the last 16 games on the road, losing the last three on the trot. Resignation of Martin Jol came as another bitter blow to the team under such trying situation. Luis Suarez could miss the next game if booked. This game could go down the wire to be the game of the night.
Arsenal vs Partizan Belgrade
Arsenal is placed second in group H. They have equal points with Braga but with a superior goal difference. They started their campaign with a bang, winning the first three games. But in the return leg they lost their way and lost two back to back games. The loss against braga came as a rude awakening. Only a win will ensure their way to the knockout stage. If they fail to do so and if Braga manage a better result than theirs, Arsenal will crash out from the competition. In Wenger’s words, “We know that we will be under pressure to deliver on the night but we will. I’m confident we will deliver the requested performance and the qualification.” Fabregas and Djourou will be out injured, but Van Persie may make it to the first eleven after a long injury lay-off to play alongside Chamakh.
Their counterpart, Partizan have lost all their games so far and justify their position in the group. They will only play for pride and in the process could very well play spoilsport to Arsenal’s chances to qualify for the knockout stage. Partizan has been in very good form of late in the domestic league. They are five points clear at the summit. In their last five league games, they have managed to amass 21 goals. Their striker Cleo has been in good form in Champions League as well, scoring seven goals and is joint second highest goal scorer in this year’s Champions League so far.
Nasri: The man of the moment
Shakhtar Donetsk vs Sporting Clube de Braga
Ukrainian champions have grabbed top spot in group H and they are three points clear off second placed Arsenal. They have already qualified for the knockout stage. If they lose to Braga and Arsenal win against Partizan, then Arsenal will top the group because of superior goal advantage in head-to-head games. Shakhtar are currently at the top of Ukrainian league and have won all of their last 10 home encounters. Considering the confidence they are in, they are expected to romp home securing the top spot.
Braga started their debut in an uninspiring fashion, losing their first two games on the trot. But they turned things around by winning the next three games comprehensively, which includes a double over whipping boys Partizan and a shock victory over group favourites Arsenal. Braga has not enjoyed favourable result on the road so far. In domestic league they have failed to register a single away victory out of seven games and are currently placed in 8th position. Having qualified for the next round, Shakhtar might rest several of their first team members for this game, giving Braga an opportunity to try their luck in reaching the next round, provided Arsenal fail to win against Partizan.