Tottenham Hotspur can clinch qualification for the round of 16 in this season’s Champions League with victory at home to Werder Bremen on Matchday 5 writes Ger McCarthy.
The permutations for Harry Redknapp’s side are simple heading into Wednesday night’s crucial Group A fixture at White Hart Lane. Victory over an out of sorts Werder Bremen will move Tottenham onto 10 points and qualification for the knockout phase of the competition will be achieved should Inter fail to defeat Twente Enscehede in Milan. Spurs’ marvellous 3-1 win over Rafa Benitez’s outfit on Matchday 4 has coincided with an upturn in Premier League form culminating in a thrilling 3-2 defeat of arch rivals Arsenal last Saturday.
Werder Bremen were on the receiving end of a 4-0 thumping from Schalke in the Bundesliga over the weekend and anything less than a win at White Hart Lane will all but end the German side’s hope of qualifying from Group A. The Champions League holders look a pale shadow of the Jose Mourinho inspired side of last season with another domestic loss (2-1 away to Chievo) in Serie A being compounded by Samuel Eto’o’s apparent head butt which may yet result in a lengthy ban for the Cameroon international. Despite their recent loss of form Inter should still prove too strong for Twente.
Tottenham to overpower a leaky Werder Bremen defence and secure passage to the knockout phase while an under strength Inter should have enough firepower to see off Twente Enscehede.
The top two sides in Group B clash in the AufSchalke Arena in Gelsenkirchen on Wednesday evening when Schalke host group leaders Lyon in a pivotal encounter. A mere two points currently separate the sides with Lyon looking to repeat their 1-0 defeat of the Bundesliga outfit from Matchday 1 and secure a berth in the round of 16. The Germans have star striker Raul in good form following his weekend hat-trick in the 4-0 demolition of Werder Bremen and the home side will be hoping to capitalise on Lyon’s porous defence with the French side having shipped 4 goals in their shock 4-3 defeat to Benfica on Matchday 4.
Hapoel Tel Aviv welcome Benfica to Israel in the other Group B fixture on Matchday 5 with the Portuguese side just 3 points behind group leaders, Lyon. If Benfica can repeat their Matchday 4 heroics and record a second consecutive Champions League victory then a cracking final Group B encounter is pencilled in between the Portuguese Champions and Schalke on Matchday 6.
Lyon to edge cagey encounter by the odd goal in three in the AufSchalke Arena while Benfica will leap-frog Schalke into second place following a routine win over Hapoel in Tel Aviv.
A second Champions League ‘Battle of Britain’ between Rangers and Manchester United takes place in Ibrox on Matchday 5 with the unbeaten Premier League side looking to solidify their passage into the knockout phase. United are currently 3 points clear of Valencia and a draw will be enough for Sir Alex Ferguson’s side on Wednesday evening. Rangers cannot afford to lose with Valencia expected to defeat pointless Bursaspor in the Mestalla on the same evening.
The Scottish Champions remain top of their domestic league and managed a 0-0 draw with Manchester United on Matchday 1 but a dramatically improved performance will be required to overcome the Old Trafford club if Rangers are to have any chance of making the knockout phase of the tournament. Valencia hammered Bursaspor 4-0 on the opening night of this season’s Champions League but a simple 1-0 will suffice on Wednesday evening to secure the Spanish side’ berth in the second round should Rangers fail to defeat United.
Manchester United to continue their unbeaten run in 2010-2011 with a narrow win over Rangers at Ibrox with Valencia joining the Premier League side in the last 16 following a routine victory over Bursaspor in the Mestalla.
Panathinaikos has the unenviable task of trying to stop an in-form Barcelona side that scored 8 times over the weekend away to Almeria when the two sides clash in the OACA Spiros Louis Stadium in Athens on Matchday 5. Victory for the Catalans will cement a place in the last 16 and few would bet against Barca having witnessed the virtuoso performance of Lionel Messi at the weekend. The Greek side will begin as huge outsiders having garnered only 2 Champions League points to date. Memories of a Messi-inspired 5-1 hammering in the Camp Nou on Matchday 1 are also certain to be on the Panathinaikos players’ minds.
Danish side FC Copenhagen are in Russia for a crucial Group D fixture with Rubin Kazan with the Russian side still harbouring faint hopes of qualification for the knockout phase. Copenhagen’s last gasp 1-1 draw with Barcelona from Matchday 5 means the Danes enjoy a 4 point cushion over Rubin heading into Wednesday’s encounter. A draw will even be enough for FC Copenhagen to qualify if Barcelona obtains their expected win in Greece.
Barcelona to reassert their Champions League credentials with an away win over Panathinaikos and FC Copenhagen to join the Catalans in the last 16 with a hard earned draw at Rubin Kazan.
Ger McCarthy is author of the book entitled ‘Off Centre Circle’ about a lifetime spent playing amateur football in Ireland. Follow him on Twitter by clicking here.