Champions League Preview: Real Madrid, Manchester United home in on last 16
With the Champions League group stages reaching the decisive stages, several sides are on the cusp of qualification to the last 16.
Former winners Real Madrid and Manchester United are amongst the teams that could wrap up qualification to the Champions League knock-out stages on Wednesday.
Big-spending French champions Paris Saint-Germain, Olympiakos and Bayer Leverkusen can also qualify.
Bayer Leverkusen (GER) vs Manchester United (ENG)
Both sides at the BayArena would secure qualification to the knock-out stages with a victory. Manchester United know that a win will almost be enough to secure top spot, unless they lose at home to Shakhtar Donetsk in their final group game. A draw would suffice for both teams as long as Shakhtar lose at home to Real Sociedad in the group's other match. Leverkusen have been hit by the loss of Germany midfielder Sidney Sam while United also have several players on the treatment table, notably Michael Carrick. The Germans, though, have been in good form in the league and are up to second behind Bayern Munich following their 1-0 win at Hertha Berlin while United were stunned by an injury-time equaliser at Cardiff on Sunday. The pressure is on Leverkusen, though, as their final match is away to Sociedad while United know they still have a home game at Old Trafford to come if they fail to secure qualification in Germany.
Shakhtar Dontesk (UKR) vs Real Sociedad (ESP)
This is a must-win game for Sociedad if they harbour any hopes of prolonging their involvement in European football this season. While continuing their adventure in the Champions League will depend on them winning and Manchester United beating Leverkusen, and then Real beating the Germans in their final game with Shakhtar not stunning United at Old Trafford, a consolation spot in the Europa League is not so far-fetched. That, however, would still depend on beating the Ukrainians as anything else would see them finishing bottom of the group. Shakhtar's final match being away to group favourites United, they too will be feeling a win is necessary to keep their progression hopes alive, which could make for an open and entertaining match in Donetsk.
Juventus (ITA) vs FC Copenhagen (DEN)
Antonio Conte's Serie A team come into this match under pressure for their Champions League future. Bottom of the group and the only team yet to win a match, they must win this fixture to keep their destiny in their own hands. But even so, with a clash away to Galatasaray in their final group game, they know they cannot afford to lose either of their last two fixtures or face certain elimination. Only two wins will guarantee them a last 16 spot, although with both their opponents also having to play Real Madrid, Juve will feel quietly confident that a win and a draw will likely prove sufficient.
Real Madrid (ESP) vs Galatasaray (TUR)
A point would be enough to send Real into the knock-out stages and would also tie up top spot, barring an unlikely five-goal defeat at FC Copenhagen on the final matchday and assuming the Danes also win away to Juventus on Wednesday. Madrid will probably be without star forward Cristiano Ronaldo, who picked up a hamstring problem in the 5-0 win at Almeria on Saturday. The loss of a player who has scored 14 goals in his last seven matches for club and cuntry would seem a blow but such has been Real's domination of the group so far, and given they crushed Galatasaray 5-0 in Istanbul earlier in the campaign, they will be confident of doing enough to secure their passage through.
Paris Saint-Germain (FRA) vs Olympiakos (GRE)
Paris Saint-Germain will qualify for the last-16 knockout phase with a draw at home to the Greek champions at the Parc des Princes, while Olympiakos will also go through with a point should Anderlecht defeat Benfica in Brussels. Laurent Blanc has guided his Ligue 1 leaders on an unbeaten run in all competitions since taking over from current Real Madrid handler Carlo Ancelotti while the capital outfit have not lost in the league since last March when they went down 1-0 at Reims. Captain Zlatan Ibrahimovic has scored 17 goals in his last 11 matches for club and country, including the third in the 3-0 win over Reims on Saturday which kept the team four points clear at the top in France. Olympiakos coach Miguel Torres has also built an impressive unbeaten league run of 29 matches without loss since taking over in February as they lead the Greek league and have not lost a domestic match away from home in 28 fixtures, one short of their own national record.
Anderlecht (BEL) vs Benfica (POR)
The Belgian leaders are much in need of their first victory of the group stage and will take heart from their gutsy 1-1 draw at PSG on matchday four. They lost 2-0 in Lisbon, the first time the teams met, but with the Portuguese picking up just one point from two fixtures against Olympiakos, Benfica will be looking for maximum points to stay in touch with the top two spots and also solidify their chances of guaranteeing at least third and a spot in the next round of the Europa League. The teams met in the 1983 UEFA Cup final which was won by the Brussels' club, an occasion that saw current Benfica assistant coach Minervino Pietra turn out for the Lisbon side. Anderlecht are trying to reach the second round for the first time since 2000-01 while Benfica finished third in their pool last season before going on to reach the Europa League final where they were beaten 2-1 by Chelsea in Amsterdam.
CSKA Moscow (RUS) vs Bayern Munich (GER)
The defending champions are Europe's in-form side and chasing what would be a record tenth consecutive Champions League victory when they visit a CSKA Moscow outfit who can only finish third at best. The Bundesliga front-runners are coming off a 3-0 thrashing off Borussia Dortmund at the weekend, the team they defeated in last year's final. That win on the road extended their German league record to 38 matches unbeaten, although they will be wary of dropping points and potentially top spot in the group to Manchester City. Bayern have won three of their eight trips to Russian clubs in European action but have only lost once back in 2008 when they were sent packing at the semi-final stage of the UEFA Cup, well beaten on the night 4-0 by Zenit Saint-Petersburg. The German club have been rocked by a suspected mole at the Allianz Arena who has been revealing tactics ahead of matches to the German press much to the fury of coach Pep Guardiola.
Manchester City (ENG) vs Viktoria Plzen (CZE)
The 2012 English champions have qualified for the knockout phase for the first time following back-to-back wins over CSKA but need to keep the pressure on Bayern at the top who are three points clear heading into the penultimate matches. Manuel Pellegrini looked on as his side humiliated Tottenham 6-0 in Premier League action on Sunday and maximum points at home will set up a last day finale in Munich. The Czech Republic side make their first trip to England, but looking for their first points and a bid to keep alive their Europa League prospects flickering, looks a daunting challenge on paper at a City team who have lost just once at home in their last 22 European ties. Coming into this season's group stage, Plzen were riding a seven match unbeaten run on their travels but are now trying to break a four match European losing streak, their worst in club history.
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