MILAN: Barcelona could be on the verge of another humiliating group-stage exit from the Champions League.
With Barcelona and Inter Milan seemingly competing for second spot in Group C, behind a perfect Bayern Munich, it’s advantage to the Italian side after it controversially won 1-0 at San Siro last week.
Another victory for Inter at Barcelona on Wednesday would mathematically qualify the Nerazzurri for the round of 16 and consign Barcelona to an early exit from the competition for the second straight year — unless Bayern loses to Viktoria Plzeň in what would be a major upset.
Barcelona will be looking to Robert Lewandowski for inspiration. The former Bayern Munich forward netted a hat trick against Plzeň but was kept quiet against his old team and was largely anonymous in the first match against Inter.
“It’s an important match in which we will have everything on the line,” Barcelona defender Marcos Alonso said after the Catalan club beat Celta Vigo 1-0 at home Sunday for its seventh straight Spanish league victory.
Inter will be hoping the victory against Barcelona signaled a turning point in its season after a mediocre start to the domestic campaign which saw it lose four of its opening eight Serie A matches before that important Champions League win.
Simone Inzaghi’s side made it two wins in a row with a 2-1 victory at Sassuolo on Saturday.
“We showed in the last game against Barcelona that we had turned a page,” Inter midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan said after the Sassuolo win. “We are Inter and we showed we never give up.”
Inter will still be without injured forwards Romelu Lukaku and Joaquín Correa.
Here’s what else to look out for in the fourth round of games, which sees a reverse matchup from last time out:
WHO CAN QUALIFY?
Apart from Bayern and Inter, a number of other teams can secure their spots in the next round with two matches to spare if they win this week.
Napoli handed Ajax its worst-ever Champions League defeat last week with a 6-1 rout to remain perfect and will be confident of progressing when it hosts the Dutch club on Wednesday.
Club Brugge, Real Madrid and Manchester City have also won their three matches and they face Atlético Madrid, Shakhtar Donetsk and Copenhagen, respectively. Borussia Dortmund could also progress with a win at home to Sevilla on Tuesday.
Chelsea started group play with a shock loss quickly followed by the firing of its manager. The London club looks to be back on track. A 3-0 win over AC Milan in Group E last week was a sign that Graham Potter — the replacement for Thomas Tuchel — was stamping his mark on Chelsea.
Another win by the same score line, at home to Wolverhampton in the Premier League on Saturday, backed that up. It was even achieved without forwards Raheem Sterling and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who were rested by Potter in the probability they will return at San Siro on Tuesday.
Of the other English teams, Liverpool can strengthen its position in second place in Group A with a second straight win on Wednesday over Rangers, which has lost all three games so far.
Group D, containing Tottenham, looks wide open with the four teams separated by three points. Tottenham and Eintracht Frankfurt are tied on four points ahead of their match in London on Wednesday.
Sevilla has a different coach in charge for its trip to Dortmund on Tuesday after Jorge Sampaoli replaced Julen Lopetegui following last week’s 4-1 home loss to the German club.
Sevilla must beat Dortmund to have a realistic chance of advancing in Group G but has only one win in 11 matches after drawing 1-1 with Athletic Bilbao on Saturday in Sampaoli’s first game in charge.
Atlético is also looking for a win, against Group B leader Brugge, to get itself back in position to advance after consecutive defeats at the Belgian champion and at Bayer Leverkusen.
Atlético, Leverkusen and Porto are tied with three points, six fewer than Brugge.
LEVERKUSEN’S WOW EFFECT
Bayer Leverkusen’s defeat at Porto last week proved to be the final game for coach Gerardo Seoane. Xabi Alonso took over the next day for the former Liverpool and Real Madrid great’s first senior management job.
“It was a little wow effect,” Leverkusen midfielder Robert Andrich said. Alonso celebrated his debut Saturday when he led Leverkusen to just its second league win of the season.
The 4-0 victory over Schalke was also the highest win for a Leverkusen coach on his Bundesliga debut. “We were concentrated today, but we have to show that all the time, Wednesdays and Saturdays, always,” Alonso said.
Now it comes to doing better against Porto than his predecessor to get Leverkusen’s Champions League campaign back on track. Alonso has won the competition as a player with Liverpool and Real Madrid.
FIGHT FOR TOP
Paris Saint-Germain and Benfica will fight again on Tuesday for top spot in Group H as they both have seven points while Juventus is in third place with three.
Benfica will feel confident after its 1-1 draw with PSG as goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma had to make a number of crucial saves to prevent the Portuguese side from winning.
PSG also produced a mediocre performance in a 0-0 draw with lowly Reims in the French league on Saturday but nevertheless remained unbeaten in all competitions this season.
There is another matchup between a Portuguese side and a French team as Sporting Lisbon hosts Marseille on Wednesday. Marseille is fourth but only three points behind Group D leader Sporting.