English clubs hopes to avoid more Champions League ignominy
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND — English soccer went through a period of introspection last season after the Premier League failed to have a representative in the quarterfinals of the Champions League.
A year on and things could get even more embarrassing for world's richest and most popular league.
Heading into the final round of the group stage this week, only one English team — Manchester City — has already qualified for the knockout stage and the other three are far from sure of joining them.
Manchester United may have to win away in Wolfsburg on Tuesday to advance from Group B. Injury-hit Arsenal has to beat Olympiakos away, potentially by a two-goal margin, to squeeze out of Group F on Wednesday. And Chelsea still needs a point at home to FC Porto to progress from Group G.
It is a far cry from just six years ago, when England provided three semifinalists in the Champions League club for the third straight season.
Nowadays, the Premier League's so-called giants are trailing in the wake of Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and others, despite having more money to spend than ever because of lucrative domestic and international television deals.
Barca, Madrid, Bayern and City are among the nine teams already into the last 16 with one game left. Paris Saint-Germain, Atletico Madrid, Benfica, Juventus, Zenit St. Petersburg are also through.
It means seven places are still up for grabs, with 13 teams in the running.
Here are some things to know about the matches on Tuesday and Wednesday:
Arsenal and Man United have major injury concerns for their biggest matches of the season.
Santi Cazorla and Alexis Sanchez are the latest names on Arsenal's lengthy injury list that is mostly affecting manager Arsene Wenger's midfield.
Olympiakos won 3-2 at Emirates Stadium so Arsenal must win 2-0 — or 3-2 or above — in Greece to overtake Olympiakos on head-to-head. A 3-2 win would be good enough for Arsenal to go through on overall goal difference and advance from the group stage for a 16th straight season
Captain Wayne Rooney was ruled out of the United's trip to Wolfsburg, leaving United with just one available striker in Anthony Martial. If PSV Eindhoven wins at home to CSKA Moscow, United has to beat Wolfsburg.
NO BOYCOTT PLEASE
Roma coach Rudi Garcia has urged the team's fans to put their protests to one side to help the capital side progress to the Champions League knockout stages.
Roma's hard-core fans have boycotted several matches at the Stadio Olimpico, including the derby against Lazio, in protest at new security measures which have split the 'curve' — the ends of the stadium where the ultras sit.
Victory against BATE Borisov would secure second spot in Group E, while a draw would be enough provided Bayer Leverkusen do not win at Barcelona.
"We are stronger with a full stadium, when the fans encourage the team and help it surpass its limits, also putting pressure on the opponents and the referee," Garcia said. "The Olimpico is not the same anymore and that is something very sad, I really wish the fans will help us Wednesday."
Garcia will also be hoping Gervinho recovers in time. The forward limped off 25 minutes into his comeback in Saturday's 1-1 draw at Torino — Roma's fourth match without a win.
That run includes an embarrassing 6-1 loss to Barcelona in the Champions League.
Gary Neville will make his head coaching debut in a pressure-packed setting at Valencia's Mestalla Stadium on Wednesday.
The former Manchester United and England defender takes over with Valencia needing to beat Lyon, and hope for some help to keep alive its chances of advancing.
Valencia is third in Group H with six points and is trying to overtake Ghent in second with seven.
Ghent hosts group winner Zenit St. Petersburg, which has won all five group games, meaning Neville's team is rooting for the Russian side.
Valencia will be trying to give Spain four teams in the round of 16 after defending champion Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid already secured their berths.
Wolfsburg's 29-game unbeaten run at home came to an end Saturday when Shinji Kagawa scored Borussia Dortmund's winner in the 93rd minute, two minutes after Ricardo Rodriguez had equalized.
"It's very annoying," said coach Dieter Hecking, whose side is out to repair damaged pride against Manchester United.
A draw against Louis van Gaal's side on Tuesday will be enough for Wolfsburg to progress beyond the group stage for the first time, and a win would secure first place in Group B.
Unted is a point behind Wolfsburg and needs a win to guarantee progression to the round of 16, or a favor from CSKA Moscow at PSV Eindhoven in the other group game. A draw would be enough if PSV also fails to win.
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