As the 2019-20 season of the UEFA Champions League winds down to the final two group-stage games, teams are jostling for the top-two positions in their group which would confirm their presence in the knockout round of the competition.
Following the Round of 16 qualification of three teams (Juventus, Bayern Munich, and Paris Saint- Germain) on Matchday 4, all remaining teams except Galatasaray, Genk, and Lille are in contention for a place in the knockout round.
The race for the top-two would be the fiercest in Group H, where the top-three of Ajax, Chelsea, and Valencia are only separated by goal difference. Group F, featuring three former winners of the competition in Barcelona, Borussia Dortmund, and Inter Milan could also see a tough tussle for the top-two positions in the group.
Let us have a look at three big-name teams that could drop to the Europa League after Christmas:
#1: Inter Milan (Italy)
Three-time European Cup/Champions League winners (1964,1965, 2010) Inter Milan could miss out on a top-two spot in a group containing fellow competition winners Barcelona and Borussia Dortmund.
Inter, who have won 11 of 13 Serie A games this season, have struggled to replicate their good domestic form on the European stage. Twice in the group stage this season, Inter have lost games from winning positions.
The Italian team lost 2-1 at Barcelona after opening the scoring at the Camp Nou and then squandered a 2-goal lead at the Signal Iduna Park before losing 2-3 to Dortmund.
The Nerazzurri managed to narrowly avert a home defeat to Slavia Praha at home on the first matchday, where an injury-time equaliser was needed to force a share of the spoils. On Matchday 5, Inter play host to group-leaders Barcelona where anything but a win against the reigning Spanish champions would seriously jeopardise their hopes of a top-two finish.
The Serie A side would drop out of top-2 contention if they fail to beat Barcelona and Dortmund do not lose against Slavia Praha.
#2: Benfica (Portugal)
Portuguese champions Benfica, whose two titles in the competition came way back in the 1960s have had a pretty underwhelming campaign in the 2019-20 Champions League.
With one win and three losses, Benfica are fourth in Group G. On Matchday 5, the Portuguese champions are away at group-leaders RB Leipzig, where anything but a win would drop them out of contention for a top-two finish.
Last season Benfica finished third in the group, behind Bayern Munich and Ajax, after losing all six group-games in 2017-18. The two-time winners last went past the group stage in 2016-17 when they finished second in their group, behind Napoli, and lost 1-4 on aggregate to Borussia Dortmund in the Round of 16.
#3: Chelsea (England)
2012 winners Chelsea, who are also the reigning Europa League champions, have had an inconsistent season in the Champions League in 2019-20. In a competitive Group H, Ajax, Chelsea, and Valencia are on 7 points apiece after four matchdays, with only goal difference separating the trio.
After opening their campaign with a disappointing home defeat to Benfica, the Blues won their next two group games before recovering from a three-goal deficit at home to 9-man Ajax to share the spoils in a thrilling 4-4 draw on Matchday 4.
Chelsea travel to Valencia on Matchday 5 where they have won twice and drawn once in three previous away games in the competition. A win at the Mestalla would seal Chelsea's passage to the Round of 16.
However considering their recent inconsistent form, where they lost at English champions Manchester City in the weekend, any slip-up at Valencia, coupled with a win for Ajax over Lille, could cost the Blues a top-two finish.Published 25 Nov 2019, 15:05 IST