Permutations make for fascinating final Champions' League round

PUBLISHED : Friday, 17 March, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 17 March, 2000, 12:00am

The long haul through the Champions' League group stages ends next midweek with Matchday Six of the second phase on ESPN (Tuesday and Wednesday).

Several of the quarter-final slots are already taken but there are still plenty of issues to be decided before the competition finally moves into the knockout format.

Chelsea, who secured their place with that emphatic 3-1 away win over Feyenoord in Tuesday's live match, will be in the position of powerbrokers when they host Lazio in Group D. Lazio can still win the group if they win this match but they can also miss out entirely if they fail to win and Feyenoord draw, or if they lose and Feyenoord win. Considering Feyenoord's last match is away to the rapidly disintegrating Marseille, Lazio must go for the three points at Stamford Bridge.

With Chelsea free of any pressures to qualify it will be interesting to see what side Gianluca Vialli selects, what tactics they employ and how much commitment the Londoners show.

They have every incentive to go all out because the chance to help eliminate Lazio is not to be sneezed at. It could even complete the embarrassing early exit of all Italian sides from both European competitions if Fiorentina are dumped on the Tuesday night.

Premier League and Serie A coverage (on CABLE) this week is short on promise. The Turin derby (Sunday) could be worth a look as Torino pulled off a useful 1-0 win last week against Fiorentina. And Inter v Bologna could be interesting as Inter owe the Bolognese for a 3-0 drubbing earlier in the season and several Bologna players were with Inter last season.

In England tomorrow, a Heskey-less Leicester will have their work cut out against a Manchester United side playing on three days rest from Europe. But Euro exertions have hardly hampered the champions in recent weeks.

The choice of United for the live match again is a bit predictable and surely there were better alternatives.

There are two derbies for starters. The north-east rivalry between Sunderland and Middlesbrough, while less intense than Sunderland v Newcastle should still be a 'take no prisoners' affair.

And the London meeting between West Ham and Chelsea leaves no love lost.

But the even bigger missed