English duo keen to beat their German rivals
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.
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 Schalke 04 respectively. A quick look at Wednesday’s eight games:
Chelsea v Schalke 04
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 v Steaua Bucharest
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.
Dortmund v Arsenal
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.”
Napoli v Marseille
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 it’s a case of win or bust. The Italians are without right back Giandomenico Mesto, who underwent knee surgery on Monday.
Zenit v FC Porto
Zenit St Petersburg 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. 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 v Austria Vienna
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.
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 v Celtic
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.
Barcelona v AC Milan
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. Defeat in Barcelona and a Celtic win would really heap pressure on Milan in the chase for the second spot.AFP