x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

No margin for error for Premier League sides in Champions League

Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United are all under pressure to qualify from the Champions League group stages.

Chelsea train ahead of their Champions League tie with Valencia.
Chelsea train ahead of their Champions League tie with Valencia.

After providing the Champions League with half its finalists over the last seven years, England's Premier League could face the embarrassment of having just one team in the knockout round when the group stage concludes this week.

Manchester United need only to avoid defeat at Basel to join Arsenal among the last 16 sides, but Chelsea and Manchester City, the Premier League leaders, are both vulnerable in their final matches.

Chelsea are likely to need a victory at home against the in-form Valencia tonight to progress, while even a win over the four-time European champions Bayern Munich tomorrow may not be enough to take City through, with the final positions in the groups based on head-to-head records before goal difference.

There are seven places still up for grabs, with Marseille and Ajax among the teams in contention to fill them.

With three final appearances in the past four years, United were expected to be the first English team to advance to the next round. But Arsenal clinched progress last week with victory over Borusssia Dortmund and United still must take at least a point tomorrow against a Basel side that secured a 3-3 draw at Old Trafford in September.

"Our form away from home in Europe over the last three or four years has been fantastic," Sir Alex Ferguson, the United manager, said. "We've really done well and it needs to be that kind of performance on Wednesday."

Ferguson is hoping Basel's need to win their final Group C match means there will be space to attack as the Swiss side press for goals.

"The only advantage is they do need to win and they have to try to beat us," Ferguson said. "We've always kept good possession of the ball and made that a dominating factor of our game. It can take the temperature out of the game."

United will be without Javier Hernandez after the Mexico striker was hurt in Saturday's 1-0 Premier League win at Aston Villa, but he is expected to be fit in time for the latter stages if his team progresses.

Benfica also need a draw to be sure of progress from Group C when the Portuguese side hosts eliminated Otelul Galati, who have yet to earn a point.

Chelsea, the runners-up in 2008 to United, could progress with as little as a 0-0 draw tonight if Group E leaders Bayer Leverkusen beat last placed Genk.

But Leverkusen have already advanced and may take their foot off the gas, so the London club must win to be sure. "They are favourites because they are one of the world's major clubs and because they are playing at home, but they are also going to be under a lot of pressure," Adil Rami, the Valencia defender, said.

Valencia thrashed Genk 7-0 in the last round to join Chelsea on eight points and secure a superior goal difference, meaning a draw would be enough.

"It is a game that requires a tactical and emotional preparation," Unai Emery, the Valencia coach, said. "We have to be able to control our emotions in a game of this importance."

With Napoli expected to beat Villarreal, a win may not be enough for City to go through. Napoli warmed up for their trip to Spain by beating last placed Lecce 4-2 in Serie A on Saturday.

"It's going to be the most important match of the year," Ezequiel Lavezzi, Napoli's Argentine striker, said.

"This win over Lecce can help increase our self-confidence."

Villarreal eliminated Napoli from last season's Europa League but the injury-hit Spanish club are coming off a 1-0 defeat at Racing Santander - a team that had been bottom of the Spanish standings - that left them just two points above the relegation zone.

* Agence France-Presse

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