Matchday 6 of the Champions League ends the opening phase of the competition with a host of important matches taking place on Tuesday night. There is a straight shoot-out in Stamford Bridge between Chelsea and Valencia for a place in the last sixteen, with Betfair Football favouring the Blues, while Olympiacos and Marseille battle it out in Group F and the winner of Porto versus Zenit will secure passage to the knockout phase writes Ger McCarthy.
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Tuesday, 6th December
Little doubt that one of the most keenly anticipated Champions League matches of the 2011-12 campaign takes place in Stamford Bridge on Tuesday night where hosts Chelsea and the visiting Valencia go into their final Group E game level on eight points apiece. The Londoners can afford a scoreless draw to secure a last sixteen berth whereas a score draw would suffice for the Spaniards guaranteeing a nervy evening for both sides.
The previous group meeting in the Mestalla ended in a 1-1 draw with a late Roberto Soldado penalty cancelling out Frank Lampard’s opener for the Premier League club. Chelsea have been struggling for domestic form of late with consecutive league and Carling Cup losses heaping further pressure on manager Andres Villas-Boas. The Pensioners are in danger of dropping out of the title race but an early exit from the Champions League would surely spell the end of Villas-Boas managerial term. In contrast, Valencia have produced a string of excellent results to maintain their third spot in the Primera Liga behind Barcelona and Real Madrid. Soldado, Jonas, Adruiz and Tino Costa have been amongst the goals for the Blanquinegros in Europe and will need to be firing on all cylinders as Chelsea has yet to concede a goal at home in Europe this season.
The other Group E fixture on Matchday 6 sees Bayer Leverkusen looking to secure first place in the table with a victory away to Genk in the KRC Stadium in Belgium. Two late goals from Manuel Friedrich and Eren Derdiyok earned Leverkusen a 2-1 win at home to Chelsea on Matchday 5 allowing the German side jump into first place ahead of the final round of matches. A recent unbeaten run of four Bundesliga matches has propelled Leverkusen into the top six of their domestic league thanks in part to the goals of Stefan Kiessling who has netted fourteen times this season.
The form of free-scoring midfielder Lars Bender is another reason the ‘Werkself’ are enjoying such a positive run as manager Robin Dutt’s side look set to seal a berth in the last sixteen. The Belgians, Genk, have found the going extremely tough in a competitive group yet held both Valencia and Chelsea to draws on their home turf suggesting Leverkusen will be pushed to the limits on Tuesday night.
Group E Matchday 6 predictions: Chelsea 2 Valencia 2, Genk 1 Bayer Leverkusen 2
Borussia Dortmund and Marseille meet in the BVB Stadion on Tuesday night with each side looking to grab the runners-up spot in Group F and a place in the knockout stages of the competition. Arsenal are already through as group winners but travel to Greece to face an Olympiacos side still in with a chance of making the last sixteen.
The pressure is on Jurgen Klopp’s Dortmund for the visit of Marseille with the current Bundesliga pacesetters needing to defeat the Ligue1 side by four goals or more and hope that Arsenal do them a favour in Greece. It is a tall order for Borussia but entirely of their own making having only picked up a single point from their opening three group fixtures. A narrow 2-1 loss away to Arsenal on Matchday 5 appears to have tilted the balance in Marseille’s favour and Didier Deschamps’ side will travel to Germany in confidence having already accounted for Dortmund 3-0 on Matchday 2.
The French side are unbeaten on their Champions League travels this season with a win over Olympiacos and 0-0 draw at the Emirates returning four points. The attacking trio of Andre Ayew, Lucho Gonzalez and Loic Remy represent a dangerous prospect for any team and Marseille should have enough quality to get a point from the BVB Stadion despite their current domestic struggles.
Olympiacos are the wild card in Group F as a victory over already qualified Arsenal in their final group fixture could be enough to secure a shock place in the next round. The loss of Ljubomir Fejsa, David Fuster and especially Jean Makoun could yet scupper the Greek’s hopes of progression amid a growing injury list but the likelihood is that Arsenal will rest their regular starters handing Olympiacos an opportunity to steal an otherwise unlikely home win.
Group F Matchday 6 predictions: Borussia Dortmund 2 Marseille 2, Olympiacos 1 Arsenal 0
Headline grabbers APOEL Nicosia have already made history by securing passage to the knockout phase of the Champions League but will be hoping to secure first place in their group with victory at home to Shakhtar Donetsk at the GSP Stadium. The second Group G encounter between FC Porto and Zenit St. Petersburg should be a cracking fixture as the hosts must win to leapfrog the Russians into second place.
APOEL’s third consecutive away draw (at Zenit) on Matchday 5 secured a Cypriot club’s place in the last sixteen of the Champions League for the first time ever. Shakhtar Donetsk are the visitors to Cyprus on Tuesday night and with the Ukrainians out of the running APOEL have a marvelous chance to finish top of the table and gain an easier draw in the second round.
FC Porto’s stuttering European form means only a victory in their final group match will secure passage to the knockout phase of the competition for 2012. Vitor Pereira’s side’s earlier 3-1 loss in St. Petersburg and subsequent 2-1 defeat away to APOEL means a nervous night is in store for the home supporters in the Estadio do Drago. The influential Roman Shirokov has found the net three times for Zenit in the Russian side’s impressive European run this season. An opening day loss to APOEL is the only blemish on an otherwise undefeated campaign for the St. Petersburg club who are looking to secure a second round berth for the first time in their history.
Group G Matchday 6 predictions: APOEL Nicosia 3 0 Shakhtar Donetsk 0, FC Porto 2 Zenit St. Petersburg 1
Group H is already completed with Barcelona having finished top by virtue of the Catalan’s 3-2 defeat of AC Milan in the San Siro on Matchday 5. The Italians are assured the runners-up spot meaning the only matter to be decided is who grabs third place and a Europa League spot.
FC Viktoria Plezn are two points clear of BATE Borisov heading into Tuesday night’s final round of group fixtures and host Milan in the Eden Stadium in Prague knowing a draw will secure third spot as BATE are highly unlikely to get anything from their trip to the Camp Nou on the same evening.
Group H Matchday 6 predictions: Barcelona 5 BATE Borisov 0, Viktoria Plzen 1 AC Milan 1
Follow Ger on Twitter: @offcentrecircle