UEFA Champions League: Atletico look to seal knockout spot, English duo to beat German rivals
Paris: Atletico Madrid`s stunning form domestically and in Europe can earn its first reward on Wednesday with a place in the Last 16 of the Champions League if they beat Austria Vienna in Madrid.
Elsewhere both Premier League leaders Arsenal and rivals Chelsea will be seeking to secure wins over last season`s beaten finalists Borussia Dortmund and fellow Bundesliga outfit respectively.
Chelsea (ENG) v Schalke 04 (GER)
Chelsea host Schalke smarting from their shock 2-0 defeat at Newcastle at the weekend, a defeat that could lead Blues boss Jose Mourinho to tinker with his line-up. After an opening loss to Basel Chelsea have got into their European stride, with impressive wins against Steaua Bucharest and at Schalke last time out. "We are in a stable position to qualify in the Champions League but if we lose again we are in a difficult position," Mourinho warned. Schalke, sharing top spot with Chelsea on six points, travel to Stamford Bridge on the back of a 2-0 win over Hertha Berlin in the Bundesliga.
Basel (SUI) v Steaua Bucharest (ROM)
Basel came away from Bucharest with a disappointing draw a fortnight ago which left them in third and on target for a post-Christmas ticket to the Europa League. After upsetting Chelsea in their first group game though they will be anxious to bag all the points here to keep them in the running for a place in the knockout stages.
Borussia Dortmund (GER) v Arsenal (ENG)
Dortmund ruined Arsene Wenger`s 64th birthday celebrations with a 2-1 win at the Emirates a fortnight ago. Dortmund `keeper Roman Weidenfeller is wary of a reaction, saying: "We have irritated them with our win in London. Now they want to strike back." The Bundesliga outfit could not be in better shape, meting out a 6-1 drubbing to Vfb Stuttgart last Friday. Arsenal, second on goal difference to Dortmund, make the trip in good heart themselves having seen off Liverpool 2-0 to pull five points clear in the Premier League. Wenger said: "We go to Dortmund now and we were very disappointed with how we lost to them. It was a very sloppy goal when we were in control but we got a good result in Germany last season against Bayern Munich. So we have been there before and are used to the atmosphere over there and hopefully we can get a good result."
Napoli (ITA) v Marseille (FRA)
Rafael Benitez`s Napoli are on a three-match winning run in Serie A, and host Marseille after a 2-1 win at the Velodrome on matchday three. That`s left the Italians bang in contention for a place in the knockout round, level on six points with Dortmund and Arsenal, while for pointless Marseille, who ended a five match losing run in Ligue 1 on Saturday, it`s a case of win or bust. The Italians are without right back Giandomenico Mesto, who underwent knee surgery on Monday.
Zenit St Petersburg (RUS) v FC Porto (POR)
Zenit can steal a march on Porto for the runners-up spot by beating them on Wednesday and open up a four point gap with two games remaining. The Russian side made heavy weather of beating Porto in their match a fortnight ago as the hosts played most of the match with only 10 men. Zenit, though, go into the game having seen their eight match winning streak ended at the weekend with a 1-1 draw by Amkar Perm. Porto too were held to a surprise draw, 1-1 away at unheralded Belenenses. Porto boast a good away record away against Russian sides, winning four and losing one, while Zenit have never lost at home to Portuguese clubs in five matches.
Atletico Madrid (ESP) v Austria Vienna (AUT)
Atletico have made light work of a weak group and can seal their place in the Last 16 -- for the first time since the 2008/09 campaign -- with victory over an Austrian team they outclassed last month in a 3-0 win. A win for Atletico would also set a new club record of four successive wins in European club football`s premier competition, beating the three in the 1958/59 season. Atletico warmed up for the game with a comfortable 2-0 win at home to Athletic Bilbao on Sunday for their 11th win in 12 La Liga games. Coach Diego Simeone will be looking to his Brazilian-born striker Diego Costa to inflict more pain on their opponents after he scored a double against them in the first match. "It`s not just his goals, in his participation in the play and the connection he has with the other players he makes the team better," purred Simeone of his leading scorer, who has more than made up for the sale of Falcao in the close season.
Ajax (NED) v Celtic (SCO)
Ajax need at least a point from this game if they are not to be in serious danger of missing out even on third spot and a place in the Europa League. Celtic by contrast will be seeking a repeat of the win they grabbed against the Dutch side last month which reignited hopes of qualifying for the knockout stages for the second successive season. Ajax have made their worst ever start to a CL campaign while Celtic are bidding to avoid a third successive away defeat. Celtic manager Neil Lennon says that he wants his players to take their chances otherwise it could prove very costly. His Ajax counterpart, though, Frank de Boer believes that if his young team repeat the performance they produced against Celtic in the first game they will take the points. "If we play like that again in two weeks, then we will beat them in the Amsterdam ArenA. I really believe in that."
Barcelona (ESP) v AC Milan (ITA)
Barcelona can all but seal their place in the Last 16 with victory at home to a woefully out of sorts and injury-hit Milan side. Barcelona`s worries are small by comparison to the Italians, who have made their worst start to a Serie A season in over 20 years, their loss to Fiorentina at the weekend their fifth of the season already. However, coach Massimiliano Allegri appears to be benefiting from some unaccustomed patience from the club directors who have called for no one to panic. However defeat in Barcelona and a Celtic win would really heap pressure on them in the chase for the second spot. The Scottish side are yet to host them and will fancy their chances of avenging an unfortunate defeat at the San Siro.