Berne: The Champions League is set for some much-needed drama this week with the conclusion of a group stage which has been all too predictable and produced an embarrassing procession of one-sided matches.
Eight places in the round of 16 are still up for grabs, with much of the attention focussed on Group F where Napoli, Borussia Dortmund and Arsenal are battling for two spots. With Juventus and AC Milan each needing a point to qualify against tricky opponents, Italy could end up with all three of their teams in the last 16, or none at all.
Shakhtar Donetsk, Bayer Leverkusen, Zenit St Petersburg and Ajax Amsterdam are also still in with a chance of going through. A point appears to be well within the reach of Serie A leaders Juventus (6) when they visit Galatasaray (4) in Group B, especially as the Turks’ formidable home reputation took a huge knock when they were thrashed 1-6 by Real Madrid.
Juventus have won their last seven league games without conceding a goal and would be in the last 16 already had they not conceded a late goal at home to Galatasaray and drawn 2-2.
The match will also pit Carlos Tevez against his former Manchester City coach Roberto Mancini.
With two years of hindsight, and both combatants now in separate homes in different countries, they look back on the divorce with a shrug or a smile. Tevez, asked about Roberto Mancini some weeks ago, replied: “There are no problems between us.”
Mancini stresses that, as manager and player, they “won titles together” at City, that their working accord was “fine by the end”, before adding, with a grin, “apart from his little holiday”.
On Tuesday, in Istanbul, when Tevez’s Juventus and Mancini’s Galatasaray effectively play off for a place in the last 16, it will be a thrilling affair.
Benfica and Olympiakos (both 7 points) will duel for the second qualifying place in Group C where Paris St Germain are already through. Olympiakos are firm favourites as they have the better head-to-head record and need only to beat bottom side Anderlecht at home while the Portuguese host formidable PSG.
Group A, where Manchester United are qualified, is also set for a nerve-wracking finale. Shakhtar Donetsk (8) are currently second, but must visit Old Trafford while Bayer Leverkusen, who are a point behind, have a much easier trip to Real Sociedad who have mustered only one point so far.
United won the Premier League by 11 points under manager Alex Ferguson, but the team is only ninth so far this season — 13 points behind leader Arsenal — under David Moyes. And Moyes, on Monday, said he was “responsible” for the club’s poor start to the season. “The players are hurt because they are used to winning. When we don’t win, that hurts. The expectancy is to win all the games. They’ll respond in the right way. I take complete responsibility for the results.
“Fortunately they have been good in the Champions League but not so good in the Premier League and I will take responsibility for them as well.
After 15 of 38 Premier League games, United are seven points from fourth place — and Champions League qualification. Moyes will be hoping that he doesn’t have to win the Champions League to guarantee his team is still competing alongside European football's elite next season.