Champions League: Chelsea need big helping hand for last-16 ticket

Fernando Torres

Six clubs enter this week's final round of Champions League group matches harbouring hopes of grabbing one of the three last-16 places still up for grabs although for holders Chelsea their fate is beyond their control.

The Londoners are vying with Juventus for the second qualifying spot from Group E but even if they beat Nordsjaelland at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday they will become the first champions to go out at the group stage if the Italians avoid defeat against Shakhtar Donetsk.

Interim Chelsea manager Rafael Benitez, an unpopular choice with the fans after he succeeded the sacked Roberto Di Matteo 12 days ago, has done little to win the supporters over after losing one and drawing two of his three games in charge.

"We have to improve on the pitch in order for the fans to be happy," Benitez told the club website (www.chelseafc.com).

"We have experienced players who have played at this level for a long time. You can see how they train and it's clear they want to improve."

Celtic and Benfica still have a chance to join Group G winners Barcelona in the knockout rounds while Galatasaray or CFR Cluj will end Group H as runners-up.

For the other teams already assured of a place in the last-16 draw on Dec. 20, their final matches will determine whether they progress as group winners.

Even some of those with no chance of progressing will be eyeing consolation prizes in the Europa League.

Chelsea's 3-0 defeat by Juventus last month left their hopes of surviving Group E hanging by a thread.

The move to replace Di Matteo with Benitez was designed to try and re-ignite a fading season that had begun in style but instead the club are still stuck in a downward spiral that gathered pace at the weekend when Chelsea were beaten 3-1 by West Ham United.

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