English clubs fighting for Champions League places
Updated: December 05, 2011, 00:19
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LONDON(AP) After providing the Champions League with half its finalists over the last seven years, England could face the embarrassment of having just one team in the knockout round when the group stage concludes this week.
Manchester United needs only to avoid defeat at FC Basel to join Arsenal among the last 16 sides, but Chelsea and Premier League leader Manchester City are both vulnerable in their final group matches.
Chelsea is likely to need a victory over in-form Valencia to progress, while even a win over four-time European champion Bayern Munich may not be enough to take City through.
There are a total seven places still up for grabs, with Marseille and Ajax among the teams in contention to fill them.
With three final appearances in the past four years, Manchester United might were expected to be the first English team to advance to the next round. But Arsenal clinched progress last week with victory over Borusssia Dortmund and United still must take at least a point Wednesday against a Basel side that secured a 3-3 draw at Old Trafford in September.
"Our form away from home in Europe over the last three or four years has been fantastic,'' United manager Alex Ferguson said. "We've really done well and it needs to be that kind of performance on Wednesday.''
Ferguson is hoping Basel's need to win its final Group C match means there will be space to attack as the Swiss side presses for goals.
"The only advantage is they do need to win and they have to try to beat us,'' Ferguson said. "We've always kept good possession of the ball and made that a dominating factor of our game. It can take the temperature out of the game.''
United will be without Javier Hernandez after the Mexico striker was hurt in Saturday's 1-0 Premier League win at Aston Villa, but he is expected to be fit in time for the latter stages if his team progresses.
Benfica also needs a draw to be sure of progress from Group C when the Portuguese side hosts eliminated Otelul Galati, which has yet to earn a point.
Chelsea, runner-up in 2008 to United, could progress with as little as a 0-0 draw Tuesday if Group E leader Bayer Leverkusen beats last-place Genk. But Leverkusen has already advanced and may take its foot off the gas, so the Blues must win to be sure.
Unfortunately for Chelsea, Valencia is in form and also targeting the next round.
"They are favorites because they are one of the world's major clubs and because they are playing at home, but they are also going to be under a lot of pressure,'' Valencia defender Adil Rami said.
Valencia routed Genk 7-0 in the last round of matches to join Chelsea on eight points and secure a superior goal difference, before striker Roberto Soldado came off the bench to score a late winner in a 2-1 victory over Espanyol on Saturday - keeping his side in touch with leading pair Real Madrid and Barcelona in the Spanish league.
The 26-year-old Soldado has scored nine goals in the Spanish league to go with five more in the Champions League, making a strong case to be picked for Spain's European Championship squad.
"It is a game that requires a tactical and emotional preparation,'' Valencia coach Unai Emery said. "We have to be able to control our emotions in a game of this importance.''
With Napoli expected to beat Villarreal, City's expensively assembled squad must beat Group A winner Bayern to be sure of progress. City is cruising unbeaten at the top of the Premier League but has struggled to adjust in its first Champions League season.
Edinson Cavani scored twice and Ezequiel Lavezzi and Blerim Dzemaili were also on target as Napoli warmed up for its trip to Spain by beating last-place Lecce 4-2 in Serie A on Saturday - ending a four-match winless streak in the Italian league.
"It's going to be the most important match of the year,'' Lavezzi said. "This win over Lecce can help increase our self-confidence.''
Villarreal eliminated Napoli from last season's Europa League but the injury-hit Spanish club is coming off a 1-0 defeat at Racing Santander - which had been bottom of the Spanish standings - that left it just two points above the relegation zone.
"We have to show more anger, courage and effort,'' coach Juan Carlos Garrido said.
Lille is among three clubs chasing progress behind Inter Milan in Group B. Victory over Trabzonspor would take Lille through ahead of the Turkish club and CSKA Moscow.
Lille coach Rudi Garcia will be without Brazilian striker Tulio De Melo because of a torn hamstring and is sweating over the fitness of central midfielder Benoit Pedretti. Joe Cole and Eden Hazard are likely to start in midfield, with Moussa Sow up front.
"It's an important match for the club and for the players,'' midfielder Florent Balmont said. "We owe it to ourselves to win and to carry on in this competition.''
Marseille can finish as Group F runner-up to Arsenal with victory at Borussia Dortmund. Any other result could let Olympiakos sneak into second place.
Marseille will be without striker Andre-Pierre Gignac because of a groin injury but should be boosted by the return of key striker Loic Remy, who sat Friday's 2-1 win at Caen after twisting his ankle last week.
Group H is already settled - defending champion Barcelona has won the group and AC Milan will advance in second place - but a place in both Group D and G is still open.
Zenit St. Petersburg and FC Porto go head to head to see which of them will advance from Group G with APOEL, the first Cypriot side ever to make the knockout rounds. Ajax needs only a point to be sure in Group D but is up against record nine-time European champion Real Madrid.
The Spanish league leader won 3-0 at Sporting Gijon on Saturday with goals from Angel Di Maria, Cristiano Ronaldo and Marcelo.
Luckily for Ajax, Madrid already has an eye on next weekend's "clasico'' against second-place Barcelona.
"Imagine if we had four injuries in Amsterdam,'' Madrid captain Iker Casillas said.
Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola has only called up six first-team players for the game against BATE Borisov, resting stars Lionel Messi, David Villa, Xavi Hernandez, Cesc Fabregas and Andres Iniesta among others.