Only one more fixture stands in the way of the completion of group stage play in the 2012-13 Champions League. The field of 32 will be cut in half, leaving 16 clubs ready to duke it out during the knockout stage.
While all clubs are equally deserving of a spot in the elimination round, there are certain ones you would much rather not face.
One such club are the defending champions of Europe themselves.
Although Chelsea are still in need of some help to advance—a win paired with a Juventus loss—the Blues have shown resilience and a knack for overcoming adversity in years past.
Just last year, Chelsea dug themselves into a deep hole after falling to Napoli 3-1 on the road during the first leg of their Round of 16 matchup. It was a task that only got more daunting when then-manager Andres Villas-Boas was sacked soon after.
However, under successor Roberto Di Matteo’s guidance, the Blues rallied and fought back for a stunning 4-1 victory at Stamford Bridge to advance on aggregate.
It would be the steppingstone for an improbable run towards a Champions League triumph that included toppling European giants Barcelona and Bayern Munich.
So even though Chelsea find themselves with their own destiny out of their control, it’d be wise to never count out the defending champions. The experience of accomplishing last year’s feat paired with the talent on the current Blues’ roster is enough to outmatch just about any foe in the next round.
It would be in the best interest of the rest of the field for Juventus to knock out Chelsea.
Who would be a much fiercer knockout stage opponent?
Another club that may be sneaking under the radar is Benfica.
The 2011-12 Portuguese league runners-up, the Eagles made a surprise run into the quarterfinals of last year’s competition before eventually falling to Chelsea.
This year, a sluggish start brought doubts about whether another run was likely.
Following an opening match draw with Celtic, Benfica dropped their next two games at home against Barcelona and on the road against Spartak Moscow. But before the thought of advancing completely evaded them, the Eagles rebounded with successive victories against Spartak Moscow in their reverse fixture and at home against Celtic.
The six points pulled the club to a total of seven points—matching Celtic—with only one fixture remaining. Due to their victory over the Hoops, Benfica only need a win to guarantee a place in the Round of 16.
The only thing standing in their way: a Wednesday night date with Lionel Messi and Barcelona in Spain.
While opposing Barca at home has proven near impossible as of late—the club is 15-3 in their last 18 home fixtures—the Eagles seem more than up to the task.
Since a 2-1 loss to Spartak Moscow on Oct. 23, the Eagles haven’t dropped a single point. The club has won all six matches, recording clean sheets in all but one of them. In fact, Benfica have outscored opponents 16-1 in that span.
Furthermore, the Eagles haven’t lost a match in 10 league fixtures, going 8-0-2 with 26 points. They are currently tied atop the table with rivals FC Porto.
If either Chelsea or Benfica can advance, it would spell trouble for the remaining 14 clubs.
Who knows? We might even get a rematch of the two clubs’ quarterfinal clash from last season.
Also check out: Full Chelsea vs. Nordsjælland Preview
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