5 things to know about the Champions League

Half of the last 16 places in the knockout stage of the

Champions League are still up for grabs and will be decided this

week after the final group games. Manchester United, Real Madrid,

Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain reached the knockout phase in the

last round of games, joining defending champion Bayern Munich,

Manchester City, Atletico Madrid, and Barcelona.

Among the big clubs, Arsenal will clinch qualification and top

spot of Group F with a win or a draw at Napoli while AC Milan needs

a draw at home against Ajax in Group H. After a shaky start to its

campaign, Juventus will be through with a draw at Galatasaray in

Group B. Here are five things to know about this week’s matches in

Europe’s top competition:

ARSENAL’S TOUGH SCHEDULE

Arsenal may have 12 points in Group F, but the Gunners have yet

to qualify for the knockout stage. Napoli and Dortmund are both

three points behind Arsene Wenger’s team, which only needs a draw

to be guaranteed a spot in the round of 16.

Arsenal has also been the dominant force in the Premier League

so far this season but Wenger is now concerned his players’ tight

schedule might took its toll. After playing Everton on Sunday

afternoon, the Gunners visit Napoli on Wednesday before a trip at

Manchester City three days later.

”I would like that there is an ethics committee who looks if

the clubs are in the right position and have the right protection

for English football to do well,” Wenger said. ”It is a fact the

way football is sold that every television (station) has its own

rights. They don’t care when you have already played. They think:

`Is it a nice time to play on Saturday morning this game between

Arsenal and Man City? OK.’ They don’t look to see if we played on

Wednesday. The way football is sold does not protect you.”

IN A MESS WITHOUT MESSI

Without injured forward Lionel Messi and goalkeeper Victor

Valdes, Barcelona has lost back-to-back games for the first time

since March and now finds itself needing a point against Celtic to

ensure it finishes first in Group H on Wednesday.

Barcelona rallied for a 4-1 win at third-tier Cartagena on

Friday in its Copa del Rey opener, but doubts still linger over

whether Gerardo Martino’s side can recover its dominant form

without Messi, following defeats at Ajax in the Champions League

and Athletic Bilbao in Spain.

Barcelona may only need a draw, but anything less than a victory

would hardly be tolerated by the always demanding Camp Nou

crowd.

”We have analyzed what we did wrong and now we can look forward

to how we can improve,” said Barcelona midfielder Alex Song. ”We

want to win the game (vs. Celtic) and have a good performance. We

have a lot to show after the last game in the Champions

League.”

Barcelona will be hoping to recover midfielders Andres Iniesta

and Xavi Hernandez after both were rested on Friday to heal

niggling muscle injuries.

AC Milan hosts Ajax on Wednesday also needing a draw to finish

the group in second place and book a spot in the knockout rounds.

But a third setback in four games for Barcelona would allow the

Italian team to claim the group with a victory.

Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid, meanwhile, already have first

place in their respective groups locked up. That means both sides

may opt to give playing time to their promising youth players like

they did on Saturday in the Copa del Rey when Real started Jese

Rodriguez and Alvaro Morata and Atletico started Oliver Torres and

Javier Manquillo.

DORTMUND’S INJURY BLIGHT

The good news for Borussia Dortmund is that a win at Marseille

would guarantee progress to the second round because of the side’s

superior head-to-head record against both Arsenal and Napoli.

The bad news for coach Juergen Klopp, however, is that his side

has been decimated by injuries, with Nuri Sahin and Sven Bender the

latest to be likely ruled out of the game at the Stade Velodrome.

Both midfielders hobbled off with ankle injuries during Saturday’s

1-0 home defeat to Bayer Leverkusen.

”Miracles happen again and again but not so often,” Klopp said

about his hopes for the players’ speedy recoveries.

Sahin and Bender join first-choice defenders Mats Hummels, Neven

Subotic and Marcel Schmelzer on Dortmund’s injury list, together

with midfielder Ilkay Guendogan, giving Klopp a conundrum for

Wednesday. Defender Manuel Friedrich, signed at short notice to

cover the injuries, is not eligible for the Champions League.

Marseille is bottom of the group without a point with problems

of its own. The French side fired coach Elie Baup on Saturday after

losing 1-0 to Nantes the day before.

BALOTELLI’S BACK

After struggling with his form, temper and injuries, Mario

Balotelli has rediscovered his scoring touch.

The Italy striker scored both goals in AC Milan’s 2-2 draw at

Livorno on Saturday and also hit the post, giving him four goals in

the Rossoneri’s last three matches – a sharp turnaround after a

six-match scoreless streak in all competitions.

”I’ve always been fine,” Balotelli said. ”There were never

any big problems like was written.”

Also at Milan, Kaka continues to show solid form after rejoining

the club from Real Madrid – he set up Balotelli’s opener vs.

Livorno – but the Rossoneri defense has been problematic.

”We need to be more attentive when our opponents go on

counterattacks,” Balotelli said.

DIFFERENT PRIORITIES

Paris Saint-Germain has nothing to gain from its last group

game. The French club will finish top of Group C whatever the

result of its match against Benfica on Tuesday.

PSG coach Laurent Blanc is now more focused on the French league

and said he won’t play Sweden striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic in

Lisbon.

”The French league is our goal for the end of this year since

we got the job done in the Champions League,” Blanc said. ”I’ll

try to start the best lineup for the games in the French league in

order to take points. I can already tell you that Ibra will skip

the Lisbon match.”

Ibrahimovic has proved instrumental in PSG’s success this

season, netting eight goals in the lucrative European competition

to be the top scorer, tied with Real Madrid striker Cristiano

Ronaldo.

PSG leads the French league but is under pressure from Lille and

Monaco.