No fewer than 11 clubs will be looking to seal their progress to the UEFA Champions League knockout phase when the fifth round of group games gets under way on Tuesday, 26 and Wednesday, 27 November, 2013.
The mission for each of them will be to join Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, holders Bayern Munich and Manchester City, who all wrapped up their own qualification last time out.
In contrast, five of the competition’s former winners are in danger of making an early exit. Last season’s runners-up Borussia Dortmund, Juventus, AC Milan, Porto and Benfica all face struggles in their respective groups and can barely settle for anything less than victory if they are to keep their hopes alive.
Beaten finalists in May, Dortmund find themselves teetering on the precipice as the group phase near its climax. Weakened by a string of injuries in defence, Jurgen Klopp’s charges have lost their last three games in all competitions, with two of them coming at home, a 1-0 defeat by Arsenal and Saturday’s 3-0 Bundesliga loss to Bayern Munich.
Three points behind the Gunners and Napoli, who handed them a 2-1 setback earlier in the season, Dortmund are now desperate for a victory at a time when the whole club has been left in the grip of doubt.
For their part, Napoli need a solitary point to qualify, though they will be without the injured Marek Hamsik. Rafael Benitez’s troops no doubt had one eye on this vital encounter when they succumbed 1-0 at home to Parma on Saturday.
In superb form since they kicked off with a 2-1 home reverse at the hands of Basel, Chelsea need just a point to reach the round of 16, and they could even lose and go through if Schalke fail to beat Steaua Bucharest.
Jose Mourinho’s men will be confident of completing their task, especially as they have won all three games since their last meeting with Basel, scoring ten goals and conceding none, while Basel have drawn and lost at home during that same period. Meanwhile, Schalke can also qualify, but only if they prevail in Bucharest and Chelsea down Basel.
Still comfortable at the top of the Premier League and having beaten Marseille 2-1 in France, Arsenal will graduate from the group if they defeat their French rivals at home and Dortmund fail to see off Napoli. Marseille have lost their last seven matches in the Champions League and Arsenal could even advance with a draw against them, providing Napoli beat Dortmund.
With Atletico Madrid a long way out in front and assured of a berth in the knockout phase, Porto and Zenit will continue their tense battle to finish runners-up.
The Russian hopefuls can end the suspense if they overcome the leaders, who may possibly feel their job is already done, and Porto fail to get the better of Austria Vienna.
The Dragons have lost twice at home so far in the section but will be hopeful of moving second themselves before travelling to Madrid for their final fixture.
AC Milan can also finalise their qualification with three points in Glasgow as long as Barcelona also secure a victory in Amsterdam. The Serie A giants are by no means in the rudest of health, however, and currently lie 13th in italy after three draws and two defeats in their last five games.
With forward Mario Balotelli out of sorts and coach Massimiliano Allegri under the microscope, the Rossoneri will need inspiration from Kaka, who struck his 72nd goal in 200 league appearances for the club on Saturday. Celtic and Ajax, Milan’s last two opponents, will thus be anxious to make the Italian outfit suffer, while Barcelona, already qualified, will rotate a squad hit by a number of injuries.
On Wednesday, whichever side wins the tussle between Bayer Leverkusen and Manchester United will book themselves a place in the last 16. In fact, both clubs could go through with a draw if Shakhtar come unstuck at home against a Real Sociedad team still chasing their first victory.
Real Madrid will be missing suspended midfielder Luka Modric but they will be confident of wrapping up qualification against the team they defeated 6-1 in turkey.
As for Juventus, bottom of the pool after three draws and a loss, they must rediscover their form in front of goal if they are to have a chance of going second, particularly as they have been solid at home so far this term.
The winner of the game between PSG and Olympiakos will be through, while the French side, who won 4-1 in Greece earlier in the campaign, can also progress with a draw or defeat providing Benfica do not overcome Anderlecht.
A positive result for Anderlecht would likewise allow Olympiakos to advance with a point.
The top two spots in this section have already been decided, with Bayern and Manchester City sure of contesting the knockout stage in the New Year.
Top scorer in the Bundesliga last season with 25 goals for Bayer Leverkusen, Stefan Kiessling is a towering presence up front at 6’3. Overall, the 29-year-old has registered 120 times for his club in 291 games, and he is clearly in form again this season.
So far, he has weighed in with eight strikes and three assists in 13 league outings, while also finding the net twice in Europe.