Crunch time for the Champions League

November, 23, 2010

Entering matchday 5 of the Champions League, we are starting to get a clearer picture of which clubs will be moving on to the knockout stage.

Before matchday 4, we ran 10,000 simulations for the rest of the group stage using ESPN's Soccer Power Index. Now with even more information, we re-ran the simulations on all eight groups. Here is what we found:

Group A

Tottenham's 3-1 home defeat of Inter on the last matchday put Spurs in prime position to reach the knockout stage. They can punch their ticket with a win against Werder Bremen on Tuesday coupled with an Inter win or draw against Twente. Inter saw its chances of advancing drop only marginally from the last set of simulations, thanks to Twente's surprise road upset of Werder Bremen. The Nerazzurri can clinch a spot in the knockout stage with a win against Twente on Wednesday at home.

Group B

Lyon can clinch a spot in the knockout stage on matchday 5 with a victory against Schalke, which helps explain why the German club has a lower probability of advancing than Benfica, despite a one-point advantage. Also on Wednesday, Benfica faces Hapoel, which has just one point, from a 0-0 draw against Schalke on matchday 4. Another disadvantage for Schalke is having to go to Lisbon on matchday 6. Benfica has won both of its matches at home in this group stage.

Group C

Manchester United is a virtual lock to advance out of this group, needing only a draw against Rangers on Wednesday to clinch a spot in the final 16. As SPI predicted, Valencia defeated Rangers on matchday 4, putting the Glasgow club in serious jeopardy of failing to advance. A Rangers' loss or draw against United coupled with a Valencia home win against Bursaspor will clinch a spot in the knockout stage for Valencia. Something else for Rangers to worry about heading into matchday 5: It has never recorded a goal in any of its three Champions League fixtures against United.

Group D

Barcelona and Copenhagen remain near locks to advance from Group D. Rubin Kazan can make it interesting with a home win against Copenhagen, but SPI gives that only a 35 percent chance of happening. Another stumbling block for Rubin Kazan is the fact that it has scored only three goals in five away matches in the last two Champions League group stages.

Group E

Bayern Munich has already secured a spot in the knockout stage, recording four wins and a +8 goal differential. The three remaining teams are mathematically alive in the race to advance out of the group stage. SPI favors Roma, which helped its cause by winning at Basel on matchday 4, while Cluj's chances took a hit with its 4-0 loss at home to Munich. Basel has the best chance of all fourth-place clubs, but 2.32 percent is not a number the club should feel confident about. Roma can clinch a spot in the knockout stage with a win against Bayern Munich at home coupled with a Cluj-Basel draw, but a Roma loss would keep each club alive heading into matchday 6.

Group F

Chelsea has clinched its spot in the knockout stage and Zilina has clinched its ticket out of the Champions League. Spartak Moscow and Marseille meet in Russia on Tuesday and Marseille can hang its hat on this stat -- French clubs are 4-2-3 at Spartak in European competition all-time. The winner of Tuesday's meeting will be in the driver's seat to advance to the knockout stage, but Spartak has the advantage of hosting this match as well as facing Zilina on matchday 6.

Group G

On matchday 4, Real Madrid got a last-gasp equalizer from Pedro Leon at Milan. This clinched Madrid's spot in the knockout round. Milan is still heavily favored by SPI to join Los Blancos and can advance with a win against Auxerre coupled with an Ajax loss. Working against Ajax is the fact that Real Madrid has lost only two of its last 23 home matches in the Champions League group stage.

Group H

Arsenal and Shakhtar Donetsk remain near certain locks to make it out of Group H. Braga got past Shakhtar in only one of the 10,000 simulation we ran. Braga most likely has to win its remaining games against Arsenal and Shakhtar as both of those clubs have one more match remaining with Partizan. Braga lost to Arsenal and Shakhtar earlier this campaign by a combined score of 9-0.



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