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Champions League Preview: Tension in the air

November 25, 2014 08:25 IST
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Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger ponders during a Arsenal training session ahead of their Champions League match against Borussia Dortmund. Photograph: Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images

There will be plenty of tension in the air in North London on Wednesday when out-of-sorts Arsenal face Borussia Dortmund seeking to qualify from the Champions League group stage for the 15th successive season.

There will be plenty of nerves elsewhere in Europe too as the opening phase of the competition draws to a close with Matchday Five providing the last chance for some clubs to keep alive their hopes of reaching the last 16.

Six teams have already qualified for the knockout rounds: reigning champions Real Madrid, Barcelona, Paris St Germain, Dortmund, Bayern Munich and Porto.

Arsenal collapse

Borussia Dortmund's coach Juergen Klopp

Borussia Dortmund's coach Juergen Klopp. Photograph: Ralph Orlowski/Reuters

While City look for a win over familiar German opposition in the north of England, Arsenal will do the same in the capital after blowing their chance of securing a last 16 spot on Matchday Four.

Arsenal were coasting to victory over Anderlecht, leading 3-0 with half an hour to play, before allowing the Belgian side to recover and steal a point in a 3-3 draw.

However, they should still qualify in second place and will do so if they get at least a draw against Dortmund and the other game between Anderlecht and Galatasaray is also drawn.

But if Arsenal slip up again -- entirely possible as Borussia beat them 2-1 at the Emirates in the group stage last season -- and if Anderlecht or Galatasaray should win, then nothing will be decided until the final matchday on December 9.

Arsenal though are not in the best of form going into Wednesday's game, and their late capitulation to Anderlecht has been followed by successive league defeats to Swansea City and Manchester United.

Some of Europe's traditionally stronger teams are, like Arsenal, also not yet certain of their survival, including five-time European champions Liverpool who are battling to stay alive in Group B.

Liverpool face Ludogorets in Bulgaria on Wednesday, and will be out if Basel beat Real Madrid and the Merseysiders fail to beat the Bulgarians.

Others, like last season's beaten finalists Atletico Madrid, Chelsea, AS Roma, Shakhtar Donetsk, Bayer Leverkusen and FC Basel have a realistic chance of joining them with a match to spare, while for others only a dramatic improvement will see them stay in contention.

Schalke's Di Matteo to use home record to stop Chelsea

Schalke players

Schalke players. Photograph: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Schalke 04 coach Roberto Di Matteo is banking on his team's perfect home record under his stewardship to deny his former club Chelsea the group win in their Champions League game on Tuesday.

Italian Di Matteo, who led Chelsea to the 2012 Champions League title as caretaker coach, took over at Schalke in October and so far has seen them win each of their four matches at home in all competitions.

A nervous 3-2 win over VfL Wolfsburg after an explosive start that saw them lead 3-0 after only 25 minutes confirmed Schalke's good run at home under the Italian.

"We are happy with our performance," he said. "We scored three goals and continue to have a great run at home."

"We have the Champions League game on Tuesday where everything is open. But we want at least a point," said Di Matteo, who is enjoying his first job since being sacked by Chelsea in late 2012.

With Chelsea top of Group G on eight points with two games remaining, Schalke, second on five, know that a draw could be enough to secure Chelsea the group win and put a dent in Schalke's qualification hopes.

Sporting Lisbon, who have four points, take on last-placed Maribor in the other group game.

The fitness of Chelsea striker Diego Costa has been an ongoing saga throughout their first four Group G games, with the Spaniard, suffering with hamstring and pelvic problems, used only fleetingly so far by manager Jose Mourinho.

Ominously for Schalke though, the Blues boss says Costa is now fully recovered after being given a rest from the Spain squad during the recent international window.

Pellegrini feeling pressure ahead of Bayern clash

Manuel Pellegrini

Manchester City's manager Manuel Pellegrini. Photograph: Darren Staples/Reuters

Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini is feeling the pressure ahead of his side's must-win match at home to Bayern Munich in the Champions League on Tuesday but the Chilean says it is all self-inflicted.

The Premier League champions are bottom of Group E with just two points from four games and require victories from their remaining two matches to stand a chance of qualifying for the last 16.

After a disappointing start to their Premier League title defence and facing an early European exit, Pellegrini says he, more than anyone, understands the importance of winning the match.

"My own pressure to continue to the next round is an important pressure, more maybe than the owners," he told reporters. "Of course, I think we must be in the next stage."

If beating the 2013 European and current German champions Bayern wasn't enough of a daunting task, City will be without suspended midfield pair, Yaya Toure and Fernandinho, while playmaker David Silva is still sidelined through injury.

The Manchester side did, however, receive a boost when captain Vincent Kompany returned from a calf problem in the side's 2-1 home win against Swansea City on Saturday.

A City win on Tuesday would mean they visit AS Roma in the final group game with a chance of qualifying for the knockout stage.

Roma travel to CSKA Moscow on Tuesday with both teams level on four points.

Bayern are undefeated in all competitions this season, with Saturday’s 4-0 demolition of Hoffenheim further proof of their devastating power even when dealing with a string of injuries.

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Source: REUTERS
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