December 8, 2014 / 2:02 AM / 3 years ago

PREVIEW-Soccer-Late drama in store after predictable group stage

BERNE, Dec 8 (Reuters) - Five knockout stage places are up for grabs in the Champions League this week, offering enough late drama to stop the final round of group matches from turning into a damp squib.

Eleven teams are already through from a group stage which has produced too many one-sided matches for comfort.

Only half of the matches involve teams playing for a place in the last 16 while the remainder will decide who wins each group, gaining a theoretical advantage for the draw, or qualifies for the Europa League.

Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Bayer Leverkusen, Borussia Dortmund, Bayern Munich, Arsenal, Chelsea, Paris St Germain, Porto and Shakhtar Donetsk have already qualified by securing a top-two finish in the four-team groups.

Italian pair Juventus and AS Roma and English Premiership duo Manchester City and Liverpool are among 11 sides battling to join them and Roma's match at home to Manchester City on Wednesday is the highlight.

Roma, City and CSKA Moscow all have five points in Group E, but the head-to-head system favours Roma who need a win to qualify, or a draw if CSKA fail to beat runaway leaders Bayern.

Such a scenario barely looked likely when Roma lost 7-1 at home to Bayern, but City's defeat at home to CSKA has thrown the race wide open.

English champions City need to win and hope CSKA do not beat Bayern while the Russians can only qualify if they win and Roma do not beat City.

The situation is simpler in Group B where Liverpool must beat Basel to follow Real Madrid through, while the Swiss need a draw to oust the five-times European champions.

Basel qualified for the last 16 at the expense of Manchester United three seasons ago and Real coach Carlo Ancelotti believes they could repeat the trick.

"They're in better shape than Liverpool at the moment, they are in very good physical condition," he said after his side won 1-0 in Basel 10 days ago. "At this moment Basel have a slight advantage."

In Group C, Monaco need a draw at home to Zenit St Petersburg to follow Bayer Leverkusen through, while the Russians need a win.

If the game ends goalless, Monaco will qualify despite having scored only two goals in six games, one less than the previous low set by AS Roma in 2002/03 and Villarreal in 2005/06.

Serie A champions Juventus need a point at home to Atletico Madrid on Tuesday to avoid a repeat of last season's failure to make it beyond the group stage.

If they lose and Olympiakos beat Malmo at home, the Greek champions would qualify instead.

The final place at stake is in Group G where a draw at Chelsea will be enough for Sporting Lisbon if German rivals Schalke 04 fail to win in Maribor.

The Bundesliga side, thrashed 5-0 at home by Chelsea in their previous match, must beat the Slovenian champions and hope Sporting lose.

The draw for the round of 16 is on Dec. 15 where the eight group winners will be seeded. They could find Barcelona lurking in pot two if the Catalans fail to beat Paris St Germain at home in Wednesday's heavyweight clash and finish second in Group F.

The scoring race between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo will continue to provide a distraction.

Barcelona's Messi reached a Champions League record of 74 goals in their last game while Real Madrid's Ronaldo has 71 and will see the game at home to eliminated Ludogorets Razgrad as a chance to close the gap. (Editing by Alan Baldwin)

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