UEFA Champions League: Italian trio face difficult week
Berne: The hopes of Italy`s three Champions League teams are all on a knife-edge and this week`s games will go a long way to deciding which, if any, of Juventus, AC Milan and Napoli reach the last 16.
Their fortunes are so delicately poised that Serie A could easily end up with all three in the last 16 or none at all, a scenario that would only add to the sensation of Italian football`s demise.
Juventus and AC Milan are still in contention despite having mustered one win between them while Napoli have been far more impressive and need only a point but, paradoxically, may still struggle with two tough games to come and their form slipping.
Elsewhere, Real Madrid, Paris St Germain and Chelsea need one point from relatively straightforward games to qualify and join Manchester City, Bayern Munich, Atletico Madrid and Barcelona who are already through. In contrast, debutants Austria Vienna will attempt to score their first goal of the competition when they visit Porto.
Italian champions Juventus appear to have confirmed coach Antonio Conte`s claim that they are no longer among Europe`s elite by failing to win any of their first four outings in Group B.
They go into their game at home to FC Copenhagen in last place with three points, one behind the Danish champions, yet could finish Wednesday in second if, as expected, they win and Real Madrid (10) beat Galatasaray (four) at home.
That combination would leave Juve needing a draw at Galatasaray in their final game to go through, while another slip-up on Wednesday could mean curtains.
Napoli (nine points) are a draw away from qualifying in Group F but visit last season`s runners-up Borussia Dortmund (six) on Tuesday and must then host Arsenal (nine) in their final game.
Two successive Serie A defeats have dented the confidence of Rafael Benitez`s side while Borussia are smarting from Saturday`s 3-0 home defeat by arch-rivals Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga.
AC Milan, second in Group H with five points, visit Celtic on Tuesday, a match they would usually expect to win but which has become a daunting prospect thanks to the crisis at the seven-times champions.
A seven-match winless run has left coach Massimiliano Allegri`s job the subject of constant speculation and chief executive Adriano Galliani`s post is also seen to be under threat after 27 years.
Maverick forward Mario Balotelli has begun to show signs of the eccentric behaviour which complicated his two-and-a-half years at Manchester City while the club are battling a seemingly perpetual injury crisis.
Defeat would not only let in the Scottish champions but could also open the door for Ajax Amsterdam (four) who host already qualified Barcelona (10).
"We have to get out of this all together," said Allegri after Saturday`s 1-1 draw at home to 10-man Genoa in which Balotelli missed a penalty.
"There are still many points up for grabs and we have to get through to the next round of the Champions League. We have to make things happen in our favour."
In Group A, the winners of the match between Bayer Leverkusen (seven) and Manchester United (eight) will qualify while Ukrainian champions Shakhtar Donetsk (five) host Real Sociedad (one), the only Spanish side likely to miss out.
Big-spending Paris St Germain (10) should get the point they need at home to Olympiakos (seven) in Group C while former champions Benfica (four) must win at Anderlecht (one) to stay in contention.
In Group E, Chelsea (nine) need a point away to FC Basel (five). Although the London side were humbled at home by their opponents earlier in the group, the Swiss champions have since lost momentum.
Bundesliga side Schalke 04 (six), who visit winless former champions Steaua Bucharest, look more likely to go through especially as they host Basel in their final game.
The battle to follow Atletico Madrid through from Group G continues with Zenit St Petersburg (five) hosting the Spaniards and Porto (four) entertaining Austria Vienna (one).
The final two rounds of matches in Group D will be a damp squib as Manchester City, at home to Viktoria Plzen, and Bayern Munich, away to CSKA Moscow, have already qualified.