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Champions League Preview… All you need to know ahead of tonight's final group ties

There are five spots still up for grabs in the Champions League knockout stages. Here’s how it’s all shaping up.

Ryan Giggs looks on after Basel's late equaliser during the first game between the sides in Old Trafford.
Ryan Giggs looks on after Basel's late equaliser during the first game between the sides in Old Trafford.
Image: Jon Super/AP/Press Association Images

LAST NIGHT’S CHAMPIONS LEAGUE drama may have settled some arguments but there’s still plenty to be resolved as the final round of group ties wrap up tonight.

Bayern Munich, Internazionale and Real Madrid all guaranteed their progress to the last 16 with a game to spare, leaving five places in the knockout round up for grabs tonight.

Some scenarios are relatively straightforward while others could see the calculators called upon before 9.30pm this evening.

Here’s how things stand.

Group A

Manchester City lost control of their destiny with that 2-1 defeat in Naples two weeks ago, but there is still a glimmer of hope for Roberto Mancini’s men; about a 30% chance, if you ask Mancini himself.

City welcome group winners Bayern Munich to Eastlands tonight knowing that nothing less than a win will do. That will be tricky considering that the Germans have only lost one of their last seven Champions League games on the road, but if Mancini’s side reproduce their Premier League form of late, they can buck that trend.

A bout of flu looks to have decimated the Bayern attack, forcing midfielders Arjen Robben and Toni Kroos to stay at home and leaving question marks over Thomas Mueller and Mario Gomez. Micah Richards (calf) is Mancini’s main concern.

Napoli travel to Spain knowing that three points against bottom side Villarreal will guarantee their progress, regardless of events at Eastlands. There have been some paranoid whispers in Italy about City’s owners offering the Spaniards some added “encouragement” ahead of the game, but El Submarino Amarillo will want to win this one for their fans.

Group B

With Internazionale already through as group winners and only one point separating the other three teams, the game to watch in Group B tonight is Trabzonspor’s trip to face Lille in France.

The visitors are currently in the driving seat on six points, one ahead of Lille and CSKA. So it’s winner-take-all in France, with a draw possibly good enough to see the Turkish side through — unless CSKA manage to pull off a shock by going to the San Siro and winning.

Inter are without Wesley Sneijder and Maicon through injury while Lucio and Julio César look set to be rested ahead of this weekend’s Serie A game at home to Fiorentina. Despite that, Claudio Ranieri has promised that his side will be going out to win the group in style.

Group C

Alex Ferguson doesn’t agree that Manchester United are struggling in Europe this season, but the Premier League champions face a tricky trip to Basel tonight in search of the point that will guarantee their progress to the knockout stages. Any nervous United fans can take some solace in statistics — they’ve been beaten just one time in their last 25 Champions League games away from home.

Ankle injuries to Javier Hernandez and Dimitar Berbatov have left United looking rather thin up top, meaning that Danny Welbeck could come in as alternative to deploying Nani in the space behind Wayne Rooney.

Benfica qualified with a point in Old Trafford last time out, but a win at home to Otelul Galati will see them progress as group winners, leaving either United or Basel to mull over a tricky knockout tie against one of the European giants — or Apoel Nicosia — after Christmas.

Group D

Real Madrid’s sparkling La Liga form carried over to their games in Europe this  season. Five wins from five have seen them qualify as group winners and they remain the only team with a 100% record in this year’s Champions League proper.

Tonight, they travel to second-placed Ajax in Amsterdam, though you can bet that José Mourinho will have an eye-and-a-half on the visit of Barcelona for the first clasico of the season on Saturday. Ajax are missing 10 squad regulars at the last count but Frank de Boer’s side will be confident of getting the draw that they need to guarantee progress.

Only a win in Zagreb will give Lyon any hope. If they manage that and Ajax fail to get the point they need, second place will come down to straight goal difference between the two sides. Ajax currently have a seven-goal cushion (+4 vs -3) but against a goal-happy Madrid who put six past Dinamo last time out, who knows what might happen?

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About the author:

Niall Kelly

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