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Milan, Dortmund look to reach Last 16

Agence France-Presse . Paris

Barcelona forward Neymar (C) tries to take control of the ball during a training session at Ciutat Esportiva Joan Gamper in Sant Joan Despi near Barcelona on Tuesday. — Reuters photo  Barcelona forward Neymar (C) tries to take control of the ball during a training session at Ciutat Esportiva Joan Gamper in Sant Joan Despi near Barcelona on Tuesday. — Reuters photo

Former champions AC Milan and Borussia Dortmund go into their final group matches needing a result in their respective games to ensure they continue their campaign for the trophy in the New Year.

Group E
Schalke 04 (GER) v
FC Basel (SUI)
Schalke and Basel really have everything to play for in a decisive outing for the German and Swiss sides. Basel are currently on eight points, one behind already-qualified Chelsea and one ahead of Schalke, meaning they could still finish atop the group should they win and Chelsea be held to a draw or lose. Schalke have to go for the victory to ensure they edge the Swiss out of the second qualifying spot in the group. One bad omen for Basel is that the last time they travelled to face German opposition, they suffered a 7-0 hammering at the hands of Bayern Munich in the 2012 round of 16 second leg.

Chelsea (ENG) v Steaua Bucharest (ROM)
Chelsea have already qualified for the knock-out stages, but still need to beat the Romanians to guarantee pole position in Group E. Beaten 3-2 by Stoke in English Premier League action on the weekend, the west London side have now conceded six goals in their last two games. Coach Jose Mourinho reacted by giving his players a rare day off after the Stoke defeat, saying it would be ‘good for their heads’. Steaua are yet to register a victory in Group E, having notched up three draws and two defeats in their five games. In fact the Romanians last won in Champions League action way back in September 2006, against Dynamo Kiev, a 22-game winless streak equalling that of Spartak Moscow (December 2000-November 2006).

Group F
Napoli (ITA) v
Arsenal (ENG)
Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal will clinch qualification, and top spot, with a draw or a victory in Naples. The Premier League table-toppers will also go through with a defeat by two goals or less. Wenger’s side enjoy a good record in Italy and with 12 points, are three ahead of Borussia Dortmund and Rafa Benitez’s Napoli. The Italian side must beat Arsenal by three clear goals, should Dortmund also win their match against Marseille - who are yet to pick up a point from five losses in five matches.

Marseille (FRA) v Borussia Dortmund (GER)
Victory for Jurgen Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund over Marseille will keep their hopes alive of a return to the Champions League final for the second straight season. The Bundesliga side will reach the knockout stages by taking maximum points regardless of what happens between Napoli and Arsenal in Italy. Should Dortmund draw, they will progress if Napoli do not win. Dortmund suffered their fourth league defeat of the season on the weekend, a 1-0 loss at home to second-placed Bayer Leverkusen, with Germany midfielder Sven Bender now ruled out of the Marseille game and Turkey international Nuri Sahin a doubt. The winless French club go into the match in disarray, coach Elie Baup replaced last week by long-time Marseille employee Jose Anigo.

Group G
Austria Vienna (AUT) v Zenit St Petersburg (RUS)
The Austrian outfit will be bidding to bow out of the group stage with a face saving first win. However, the Russian side are sure to go for the victory that would ensure they progress even if Porto beat group winners Atletico Madrid in Spain. The hosts, though, are far from sure performers at home losing three European matches in a row already an unwanted team record. Zenit—who despite being down to 10 men drew 0-0 in the home clash with Austria Vienna—are effective away from home and have won three of their four away games in this season’s competition. Zenit’s Belgian centreback Nicolas Lombaerts told uefa.com that he believes the Russians are yet to show their best form. ‘We are motivated because we did not manage to qualify last season. I think we gave it away, we gave away points,’ he said. ‘It is in our own hands now. It would be a shame if we give it away again. We have to give 100 per cent for one more game and then we should be able to achieve it.’

Atletico Madrid (ESP) v Porto (POR)
The Spanish side have sailed serenely through qualifying and are guaranteed top spot even before hosting former champions Porto. In a delightful twist of fate Atletico can consign Porto to the Europa League just as the Portuguese side did to them in the 2008/09 campaign and the 2009/10 season to boot. Atletico beat Porto 2-1 in Portugal in their first meeting this season and are likely to repeat the dose again and confirm their status as a danger to the more established sides for the trophy this term.

Group H
AC Milan (ITA) v
Ajax (NED)
Milan have had a pretty underwhelming season thus far and failure to get the draw they need at home to Ajax and secure their place in the Last 16 would all but certainly signal the exit of coach Massimiliano Allegri. For the second consecutive season Milan’s run-in to Christmas is anything but festive: they currently sit ninth in Serie A, 22 points behind leaders Juventus and 14 adrift of the first Champions League qualifying spot. They will be looking to Mario Balotelli to be on form both physically and mentally against an Ajax side that despite their deserved 2-1 win at home to Barcelona in the previous round of matches has a woeful away record in the competition having not won on their last six trips abroad.

Barcelona (ESP) v
Celtic (SCO)
The Catalan giants require a point against the Scottish champions to ensure they finish top of the group. Barca will again be without the injured Lionel Messi, Victor Valdes and Dani Alves, but Jordi Alba—who scored an injury time minute winner when the two sides met at the Camp Nou last season—returned in the Cup win last Friday against Cartagena after three months out and is expected to start. Celtic have nothing but pride to play for as not even a win would get them Europa League football in the New Year.

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