With Shakhtar’s 2-1 home defeat against Benfica securing Celtic’s place in the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League, that means that nine slots in the knockout round have been filled.
Five of the remaining open spots are in Groups A-D, which I previewed on Tuesday. The picture is a lot clearer in Groups E-H, but, there’s still something to play for in each group, which I’ll break down, starting with Group E.
Current table: Barcelona 11, Rangers 7, Lyon 7, VFB Stuttgart 3
Tiebreakers: In case of a draw, Rangers will advance because of an edge in the head-to-head matchups with Lyon, due to a 3-0 victory in France.
One of the two remaining round of 16 places yet to be decided is in Group E, where Rangers and Lyon will meet in Glasgow next Wednesday to decide who joins group winners Barcelona.
In Matchday 5, Rangers let an opportunity to book their place in the knockout round by going down 3-2 away to VFB Stuttgart. While it was late despair for Rangers in Germany, it was the opposite for Lyon, who weren’t able to take three points from Barca at home, but did secure a 2-2 draw with Juninho’s penalty in the 80th minute.
Rangers vs. Lyon: In Matchday 2, Rangers romped to a surprising 3-0 win in France. At that point, Rangers were perfect, with the maximum six points from two matches, while Lyon were pointless after consecutive defeats.
Since, Rangers have picked up only one point – a 0-0 home draw with Barcelona on Matchday 3 – and Lyon have taken seven of nine points in the same three-match period.
All that Rangers need in next week’s match is to avoid defeat, as they hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Ligue 1 leaders. And, the odds are in the home side’s favor, as they are unbeaten in four CL matches this term (two wins in the qualifying round, a win and a draw in the group stage), and are unbeaten in European home matches dating back to December 2004, when they fell 2-0 to Auxerre in their final UEFA Cup group stage match.
But, Lyon have a solid away record in European competition, and they also haven’t missed the knockout round of the Champions League since the format was instituted beginning with the 2003/04 competition.
Barcelona vs. VFB Stuttgart: On Matchday 2, second-half goals from Carles Puyol and Lionel Messi gave Barca a 2-0 win in Germany.
While it’s been a smooth run through the group stage for the 2005/06 champions, with three wins and two draws thus far, it’s been a struggle for Stuttgart, who were pointless until their 3-2 win over Rangers last week.
The Bundesliga champions will be looking to exit Europe on a high note, but they’ll have to do it in the fortress that is the Camp Nou. Barca are unbeaten at home this season, and since the start of the 2004/05 season are 11-4-1 (W-D-L), at home in Champions League play, losing only to Liverpool in last year’s round of 16.
Who Advances to the Round of 16? Barcelona, Rangers
UEFA Cup? Lyon
Out of Europe? Stuttgart
Current table: Manchester United 15, Roma 10, Sporting 4, Dynamo Kiev 0
Everything has been decided in Group F, where Manchester United will go through as group winners, and Roma will join them in the knockout round, with Sporting taking the UEFA Cup spot.
The only things left to be decided in this group are if Manchester United will maintain their perfect start to the competition, and if Dynamo Kiev will lay down for one more match, as they have in the previous five.
Roma vs. Manchester United: These two sides have become pretty familiar with one another, with this being their fourth meeting in the last eight months.
In their meeting on Matchday 2, Wayne Rooney was the hero, firing home a 70th minute winner to give United a 1-0 win at Old Trafford.
When the sides last met in Rome, in the first leg of last year’s quarterfinals, the home side triumphed 2-1, before, as we all know, United steamrolled them 7-1 in the second leg.
Rooney has scored in each of the three recent meetings between the sides, and with him back in the lineup after returning from yet another injury, it could mean good things for a United side who have won both of their away fixtures in Europe this term.
But, how much Rooney and the other United stars figure into this match remains to be seen, with everything already set for both sides.
Sporting vs. Dynamo Kiev: When Sporting traveled to Kiev on Matchday 2, they were in for more of a game than Kiev has given in their last three group stage outings. But, Anderson Polga’s 38th minute goal put Sporting ahead 2-1 and that would wind up being the final margin.
This time around, Sporting should have an easier time as they look forward to the UEFA Cup. Kiev have been outscored 6-0 in away defeats to Roma and Manchester United, and in their last three group matches overall, have given up four goals in each match. Going back to last season, the Ukrainian powers have been outscored 32-8 in eleven group matches. Ouch, indeed. They once were one of the more dangerous lesser sides in Europe, but that doesn’t appear to be the case now.
Who Advances to the Round of 16? Manchester United, Roma
UEFA Cup? Sporting
Out of Europe? Dynamo Kiev
Current table: Inter 12, Fenerbahce 8, PSV 7, CSKA Moscow 1
Inter secured top spot and a place in the knockout round with a 3-0 win over Fenerbahce on Matchday 5, while PSV kept their qualification hopes alive with a 1-0 away win against CSKA Moscow.
Fener will book their place in the knockout round with a victory over CSKA Moscow, while anything less will give PSV a chance to progress if they can take all three points in their home tie with Inter.
Fenerbahce vs. CSKA Moscow: When the two sides met in Moscow, Deivid’s 85th minute equalizer gave Fener a vital 2-2 draw.
Fener have a perfect record in the Champions League thus far, picking up three victories, including 1-0 and 2-0 victories over Inter and PSV in the group stage.
CSKA have given up six goals in two away defeats in group play, but if they can simply muster up a draw in Turkey, that will give PSV a chance to go through to the knockout round, but that’s where the Eredivisie champions must take care of their end of the bargain, which is far more easier said than done.
PSV vs. Inter: When the two sides met at the San Siro on Matchday 2, it was former Ajax star Zlatan Ibrahimovic punishing his former Eredivisie rivals with two strikes in the first half hour providing all Inter needed in a 2-0 victory.
But, the outlook is good for PSV to pick up a victory at home and at least give themselves hope for advancing into the round of 16. They are unbeaten at home this season, including a win over CSKA Moscow and a draw against Fenerbahce in the Champions League. In the last few seasons, PSV have picked up victories at home against the likes of Arsenal and AC Milan, which is why it’d be no surprise if they wind up advancing to the round of 16 for the fourth time in a row.
Inter have won (vs. CSKA) and lost (vs. Fenerbahce) in the group stage, and have also defeated Roma and Fiorentina away in Serie A.
Who Advances to the Round of 16? Inter, Fenerbahce
UEFA Cup? PSV
Out of Europe? CSKA Moscow
Current table: Sevilla 12, Arsenal 10, Slavia Prague 5, Steaua 1
Just like in Group F, the places have been decided in Group H, as Sevilla and Arsenal will go through to the CL round of 16, and Slavia Prague will go into the UEFA Cup.
Top spot in the group has yet to be decided, though Sevilla took the advantage with a 3-1 win over Arsenal last week, overturning an early 1-0 deficit to hand the EPL leaders a rare defeat in any competition.
Arsenal vs. Steaua Bucharest: On Matchday 2, Arsenal were made to work for three points in Romania, as Steaua held resolute until Robin van Persie’s 76th minute goal broke the stalemate and held up for a 1-0 win.
Another similar result will be enough for Arsenal to take top spot in the group, if Sevilla can only manage a draw in Prague.
Arsenal don’t like losing, especially at home, as they haven’t lost at home in the Champions League since a 2-1 defeat to Chelsea in the quarters of the 2003/04 competition. And though next week’s match may not turn out to be the 7-0 shellacking they handed to Slavia Prague in October, the three points should be wrapped up well before the final whistle.
Slavia Prague vs. Sevilla: On Matchday 2, Slavia Prague were no match for a net-happy Sevilla side, who rolled to a 4-2 victory in Spain.
Sevilla’s experience over their consecutive UEFA Cup title runs has translated to more success in the Champions League, as they have won four of five group matches and put themselves in position to win Group G.
But, to do so, they must get past a side who’s done well at home in Europe this season, netting a win over Ajax in the third qualifying round, then defeating Steaua and drawing Arsenal in group play.
However, Sevilla, who have been one of the most impressive sides in the competition to this point, and if they produce the same display they did last week against Arsenal, will once again be too much for the Czech top flight table-toppers.
Who Advances to the Round of 16? Sevilla, Arsenal
UEFA Cup? Slavia Prague
Out of Europe? Steaua
Think Rangers will join Celtic in the round of 16? Or will Lyon be able to maintain their place in the elite category of having made the knockout round every year in the format?
I know, like me, you can’t wait to find out, but you have to.