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5 things to know about the Champions League

November 24, 2013

A slew of top teams look set to join Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Manchester City and Atletico Madrid in the draw for the last 16 of the Champions League after the fifth round of group matches this week.

Real Madrid, Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain only require a point to advance, while wins for Manchester United and Arsenal could see the English pair emerge from testing groups to qualify for the knockout stage.

However, Juventus and Borussia Dortmund, last season’s beaten finalist, are the big names in danger of elimination with two group games left.

Here are five things to know about this week’s matches in Europe’s top competition:

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ENGLISH REVIVAL

There was plenty of soul-searching and head-scratching in English football last season when only two teams from the lucrative Premier League — Man United and Arsenal — reached the last 16 of the Champions League.

The record looks like being put straight this time round.

Man City has advanced for the first time, and with two games to spare, while United, Arsenal and Chelsea all lead their groups heading into matchday five.

A point as Basel is enough for Chelsea to progress from Group E and Arsenal, buoyed by beating Dortmund away last time out, could qualify by beating point-less Marseille in Group F.

United’s task looks the toughest. If it loses at German team Bayer Leverkusen, which has won its last eight home games in a row in the Champions League, United will likely take on Shakhtar Donetsk in a winner-takes-all match at Old Trafford in matchday six.

That would test the nerves of United manager David Moyes in his campaign in Europe.

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SPANISH ARMADA

The Spanish league is set to place three teams in the final 16 of the Champions League — and considering their strong records this season, few rivals would want to cross their path.

Real Madrid hosts Galatasaray on Wednesday, looking to seal its spot in the knockout round along with Barca and Atletico.

The only doubt is whether Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo will be fit to play after he left Saturday’s 5-0 thrashing of Almeria with a suspected hamstring injury.

Madrid demolished Galatasaray 6-1 in their first meeting in Turkey, and even without Ronaldo his teammates scored another four goals to roll over Almeria on the weekend.

Barcelona visits Ajax on Tuesday without star Lionel Messi, sidelined until January with a left hamstring tear, and several other injured players including goalkeeper Victor Valdes. Barcelona didn’t miss its all-time leading scorer, however, on Saturday when Andres Iniesta steered it to a 4-0 win over Granada to remain unbeaten this season.

Atletico travels to Zenit St. Petersburg on Tuesday, coming off a 7-0 thrashing of Getafe. Diego Simeone’s team has only lost one game in all competitions this campaign.

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DORTMUND ON THE BRINK

Seven points behind Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga and on the verge of failing to advance to the knockout stage of the Champions League — last season’s finalist Borussia Dortmund could see its season unravel before the halfway mark.

Dortmund needs to win Tuesday against Napoli to revive its hopes of advancing from Group F. Otherwise, it will be a trip to the Europa League.

Juergen Klopp’s team lost to Bayern 3-0 on Saturday, a scoreline too harsh on Dortmund, which was on even terms with Bayern until late in the match.

“I told my players they have five minutes to be depressed, then we have to carry on,” Klopp said.

Dortmund lost to Napoli 2-1 in Italy and is three points behind the Italian side after also losing to Arsenal in the previous round. Dortmund then lost the next two games in the Bundesliga, which makes it three consecutive defeats.

Klopp’s defense is badly hit by injuries, with both central defenders Mats Hummels and Neven Subotic on the long-term list and left back Marcel Schmelzer also unavailable. Newly signed veteran Manuel Friedrich is not registered for the Champions League. But right back Lukasz Piszczek made his comeback after six months following hip surgery against Bayern.

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PSG RECORD BREAKERS

Paris Saint-Germain is unbeaten in 34 matches, and three short of equaling a club record from the 1993-94 season, as the team heads into its match against Olympiakos on Wednesday, needing only one point to guarantee qualification from Group C for the next round of the Champions League.

Saturday’s 3-0 win at Reims was PSG’s 13th away game without defeat, tying the French league record.

“Some people look at us and hope we stumble, which will happen one day. But we’re doing everything we can to keep this run going as long as possible. As a coach it’s something you have to appreciate,” PSG coach Laurent Blanc said. “My players are born competitors. Behind a great player lies a great competitor.”

With Zlatan Ibrahimovic scoring 17 goals in his past 10 games, and Brazil center half Thiago Silva back in the side following several weeks out with a torn hamstring, it is even harder to see how Olympiakos will get anything out of the game.

PSG is unbeaten at home in European competition since November 2006.

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JUVE STRUGGLING

Juventus may be top of the Italian league, but the “Old Lady” is making a real mess of its Champions League campaign.

After four matches, Juve is bottom of Group B — behind supposed pushovers Galatasaray and FC Copenhagen — on just three points. However, the team has qualification is in its own hands as it plays Copenhagen on Tuesday and then Galatasaray on matchday six.

“If we do well, then we’ll go forward,” Juventus coach Antonio Conte said, “but if we don’t then it means we’ll have to improve. The team wants to continue this Champions League experience and we’ll do anything to achieve that.”

A 2-0 win at Livorno on Sunday moved Juve top of the Italian league, with Fernando Llorente and Carlos Tevez scoring the goals in another sign that the summer signings are beginning to gel as a partnership.

Stephan Lichtsteiner, Andrea Barzagli, Mauricio Isla, Sebastian Giovinco and Simone Pepe are all doubtful with injury.

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Associated Press writers Nesha Starcevic, Jerome Pugmire, Daniella Matar and Joseph Wilson contributed to this report.

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