Defending champions Chelsea face the ignominy of becoming the first title-holders to fail to advance to the Champions League knockout stage as the final round of group fixtures takes place today.
A comprehensive 3-0 defeat by Juventus two weeks ago left Chelsea’s title defense hanging by a thread and the Blues’ destiny out of their hands, as a draw between Group E frontrunners Shakhtar Donetsk and Juventus in Ukraine would consign Rafa Benitez’s side to the Europa League.
The pressure is already mounting on Benitez after an inauspicious start as Chelsea manager following his appointment in the wake of Roberto di Matteo’s dismissal, with the team yet to record a victory under the Spaniard’s tutelage and the fans quickly losing patience.
“We have to improve on the pitch and the fans will be happy,” Benitez said, following Chelsea’s 3-1 defeat at the hands of West Ham United on Saturday and with the match against Denmark’s Nordsjaelland looming.
After starting the campaign in impressive fashion, Chelsea’s form has plummeted drastically as the west Londoners are without a win in seven Premier League outings, their worst stretch in the top-flight in 17 years.
“The positive thing is that Shakhtar has a lot of good players and everybody is talking about them, so they have to show the rest of the world that they are really good players,” said Benitez, who guided Liverpool to Champions League glory in 2005.
“They might finish second and have to play against one of the top sides in Europe and it will be more difficult, so I think they will try to win,” he added, hopeful of a favor from Mircea Lucescu’s side, who boast an unblemished home record in all competitions this campaign.
Meanwhile, Juventus midfielder Claudio Marchisio, who is suspended for the trip to eastern Europe, insisted the Italians had no intentions of just playing to secure the point they need to progress.
“A draw is not what we’re after. It’s a risk for both teams to play for a draw. We have to go there to play our own game and try to win the match,” Marchisio said.
Victory for Juventus would see the Italians clinch top spot. However, Shakhtar would still claim second ahead of Chelsea should both sides finish level on 10 points as the Ukrainians have a head-to-head advantage.
Celtic go into their final Group G fixture against bottom side Spartak Moscow needing to earn a better result than SL Benfica achieve at Barcelona, who are already assured of first place.
The Scottish champions were held to a frustrating 1-1 draw with third-tier Arbroath in the fourth round of the Scottish Cup over the weekend, but manager Neil Lennon said Saturday’s disappointment would have no bearing on the midweek outcome.
“Wednesday night will be a different opposition, a different team out and a different atmosphere,” Lennon said. “We have to rise to the occasion. We have to win the game. It’s got nothing to do with [Saturday].”
Manchester United are qualified as winners of Group H, with manager Alex Ferguson likely to field another youthful side against CFR Cluj, but one that may feature Nemanja Vidic.
The Serbian defender has been sidelined since mid-September after undergoing knee surgery and his presence would be a welcome return to a porous United backline that was brutally exposed in the club’s 4-3 win over relegation candidates Reading at the weekend.
“He has started training, which is good news,” Ferguson said.
An inexperienced line-up could play into the hands of the Romanians, who must better Galatasaray SK’s result at already eliminated SC Braga today to usurp the Turkish outfit for a spot in the round of 16.
Bayern Munich and Valencia are both qualified from Group F, and the former can seal top spot if they beat Europa League-bound BATE Borisov, but Valencia could pip Bayern if they collect more points against LOSC Lille Metropole.
‘CRIMINAL ACT’: The UCI said it ‘strongly condemns’ Dylan Groenewegen’s ‘dangerous behavior,’ which left Jakobsen in critical condition and injured other cyclists Dutch cyclist Fabio Jakobsen was in a coma on Wednesday, in “serious” condition, after he was thrown into and over a barrier at 80kph in the conclusion to the opening stage of the Tour de Pologne. Footage showed 23-year-old Jakobsen, of the Deceuninck-Quick-Step, racing elbow-to-elbow with fellow Dutchman Dylan Groenewegen of Jumbo-Visma as both men frantically tussled in a tight sprint to the line in Katowice. However, Jakobsen came off worst, somersaulting over the barriers before colliding with a photographer after Groenewegen had veered suddenly to the right, squeezing his rival into the security wall. “His condition is very serious. His life is
Growing concern over health standards in e-sports has prompted a new federation to pledge to address the problem, as players fall victim to conditions ranging from wrist injuries to obesity, stress and diabetes. The retirement of top Chinese player Jian Zihao, better known by his gaming handle “Uzi,” sent tremors through the booming sport, whose revenues are predicted to reach US$1.1 billion this year, according to industry analyst Newzoo. The 23-year-old, hailed as an “icon” of the League of Legends game, stepped away from e-sports in June, saying that “chronic stress, obesity, irregular diet, staying up late and other reasons” had given
WEEKEND MATCHES: While Tatung FC made good on their chances early on, Taiwan Steel rallied to win the game 2-3 and move to the top with Taichung Futuro Sunday’s action saw Taichung Futuro, Taipower FC and Taiwan Steel tied for first place on 30 points in the Taiwan Football Premier League, while Hang Yuan FC picked up a point to take the No. 4 spot on 25 points after holding Taipower to a scoreless draw. In Taoyuan, Tatung FC hosted Taiwan Steel. It was an exciting matchup, as the visitors rallied from 2-0 down to take the game with three goals. Tatung made good on their chances early on. Honduran midfielder Elias Argueta opened the account 15 minutes into the game with a low shot from the right. Three minutes
Ronnie O’Sullivan delivered a scathing attack on the next generation of snooker players after he made the quarter-finals of the World Snooker Championship on Sunday, ending Chinese star Ding Junhui’s world championship dream. The mercurial 44-year-old Englishman won an enthralling high-quality second-round encounter 13-10 to set up a quarter-final clash with three-time champion Mark Williams. When asked by the BBC whether he thought he would remain at the top of the game for this long, the Briton, who turned professional in 1992, said the poor quality of younger players had secured his position and that something drastic would have to happen