A look at the five aspects of the last group stage games in the UEFA Champions League, which will determine who makes it to the knock out stages, the Europa League and encounters which might turn out to be a classic.
Sami Hyypiä would be hoping for his old foes to do him a favor.
Bayer Leverkusen has had a strange this season this year. Hyypiä`s side have not been able to replicate their impressive domestic performances in Europe. However, they will take a lot of heart from their scintillating win at the Westfallenstadion, where they beat Borussia Dortmund at their own game last weekend. Simon Rolfes talked about Bayer being strong contenders for the
Bundesliga this season, and going by his statements, one would expect his side to grab the much needed win against Real Sociedad, who will be playing for pride in front of their home faithful. Any result other than a win for Bayer Leverkusen would see them in the last-32 of the Europa League. Leverkusen will surely be rooting for David Moyes` beleaguered Manchester United when they take on Shakthar Donetsk at Old Trafford, which kicks off at the same time. A draw or loss for Donetsk will ensure Leverkusen`s passage to the knock-out stages of the Champions League, if Leverkusen wins it game against Sociedad. A draw for Leverkusen and a loss for Shakthar, should see the former progress, because of a superior head to head record.
Olympiacos : It`s all in their hands.
Olympiacos were robbed of a place in the knock-out stages of a Champions league, nine years ago, to this week courtesy a Steven Gerrard special at Anfield. No force can stop them this time if they manage to beat Group-C whip boys Anderlecht at the Karaiskakis stadium in Greece. The Greek side should be confident of a win despite the absence of their star man Kostas Mitroglou, who has been a cut above the rest, both for his club and country. Olympiacos are on a seven game unbeaten streak from home, and it would take a special performance from the pro-league side to upstage the Greeks at their own backyard. Benfica, on the other hand have a mountain to climb with PSG visiting them, and it will take a home win for them and an Anderlecht win at Greece, if they are to make it to the last 16 of the best club competition in the world.
Drogba & the Old Lady.
Roberto Mancini and the Galatasaray fans would be hoping for star man Didier Drogba to help them progress to the knock out stages. The Turkish side takes on Juventus, who are on a nine game unbeaten run in all competitions. Juventus have their main play-maker in Andrea Pirlo sidelined and they won’t find it all that easy in Turkey. Mancini can also take heart from the fact that Juventus haven’t won an away game in Europe this season, and with a boisterous crowd backing Galatasaray, one won’t be surprised if the Turks end up winning tonight. A draw between these two sides will see Juventus take the second spot and progress. In the event of a draw, it will be just the second time in the history of the Champions League that a team would progress to the knock-out stages with just a single win in the group stages. (Glasgow Rangers were the first side). This match has the vital ingredients of being a Champions League classic and if special talents like Drogba, Sneijder, Tevez, Vidal and Pogba come to the fore, it is going to be a treat for the neutrals and nail-biting stuff for the Gala and Juve fans. Real Madrid would be keen to remind the world that ‘La Decima’ is just around the corner with a good performance at Copenhagen.
Jens Keller under pressure.
It’s do or die for Schalke 04 and their manager Jens Keller at the Gelsenkirchen on Wednesday night. Anything other than a win for the German side will see them out of Europe`s elite club competition. Disappointing results this month where Schalke were dumped out of the German Cup after a shock 3-1 home defeat to Hoffenheim, and a 2-1 loss at fourth-placed Borussia Moenchengladbach, have cast huge doubts over Jens Keller`s future as Schalke`s manager. Keller would like to silence his critics by beating the impressive FC Basel, who haven’t lost away in Europe all season. Schalke beat Basel 1-0 in the reverse fixture at St Jacob park, with Julian Draxler taking all the plaudits after a superb performance. With top marksman Huntelaar and the reliable Jermaine Jones sidelined with injury, Keller will be hoping for Draxler and some of his senior players in Farfan and Boateng to step up a notch and help their team into the knock out stages of the champions League. In the other fixture in the group, Chelsea would hope for their misfiring strikers to get on the score-sheet against bottom side Steaua Bucuresti.
Cake-walk for the Catalans?
A point is enough for FC Barcelona to secure top spot in the ‘Group of Champions’ (Group H). Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino`s Barca have been rampant at home (7 goals) in the UEFA Champions League this season and they will hope to add to that tally in the absence of star man Lionel Messi. Neymar will be keen on opening his Champions League account and the game against Neil Lennon`s Celtic provides him with the perfect opportunity to do the same. Neymar will line up alongside Fabregas and Sanchez and will hope to bamboozle the Scottish defence at the Nou Camp. Celtic will hope to cheer their away fans with a consolation win at Barcelona, but that prospect looks highly unlikely. The game at the San Siro will be more interesting in Group-H where Milan and Ajax fight for the second spot.