UCL: Europa League Places Are Up For Grab

Manchester City vs Bayern Munich

Bayern Munich may want to field as strong a team as possible against Manchester City in order to knock their potentially-dangerous opponents out at the first hurdle, but that team won't be quite as strong as Jupp Heynckes would like - both Toni Kroos and Arjen Robben have been sent back to Germany after catching flu, leaving the Bundesliga leaders significantly weakened ahead of Wednesday's UEFA Champions League clash.

That won't bother Bayern too much, since they're already assured of a first-place finish with 13 points from their opening five games, but it will give Roberto Mancini and City some hope that a result against the Bundesliga side is far from impossible. The Bavarians are also missing dynamic midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger, and on paper City should be favourites to get the win at home. That might all be for naught depending on what Napoli do at Villarreal, but this is much better news for City than having to face some of Germany's top talents.

Villarreal vs Napoli

Group A - the group of death. The group which everybody had figured out. Of course it would be Manchester City taking the top spot - with all their splashy purchases, how could anyone else even get a look in? Bayern Munich would take the second slot - they're a big name, after all, a regular in the Champions League, runners up just two years ago. As for Napoli and Villarreal, well, each had one decent player (Edinson Cavani, Giuseppe Rossi), so it was anyone's guess who'd make it into the Europa League.

Well. Look who's laughing now. That's right, it's the entire city of Naples. The Partenopei faithful are still riding high from the last round, when a brace from Cavani gave them a win over City, bumping them up to second place in the group. And so, it all comes down to this: Napoli must win at Villarreal on Wednesday. Maybe, Manchester City could fail to beat Bayern, Napoli could lose and they'd still go through to the next round - but this team shouldn't leave its destiny to others. Taking all three points is vital. Villarreal, on the other hand, have absolutely nothing to play for, unless pride is counted as 'something'. The Yellow Submarine have earned no points in the group, and the loss of Rossi to long-term injury certainly hasn't helped their situation. Yet football clubs often do see pride as a tangible thing, and finding just one point, particularly against high-flying Napoli, could very well be their mission.

FC Basel vs Manchester United


Javier Hernandez, Dimitar Berbatov and Michael Owen are all injured for Manchester United's trip away to FC Basel. In a match where United absolutely must secure a point to go through to the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League, this can be a bit of a problem. Danny Welbeck and Federico Macheda have proved in the past that they are competent players, but a trip to Basel is no picnic.

When these teams met previously, Basel put in a fantastic performance to draw 2-2 at Old Trafford. They were perhaps the better team on the night in Manchester and missed a number of chances to score a third goal. They did this without Xherdan Shaqiri, their oft-praised winger who is linked to the biggest clubs in the world on a weekly basis. With a win, Basel go through and United are out. With a draw, United go through, but more likely than not will go through in second place. With a win, United have a chance to win the group if Benfica do not win their final match.

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