After Manchester United's disappointing 2-2 draw with Benfica at Old Trafford on Tuesday night, I became curious about their potential draw for the first round of the knockout stages in the UEFA Champions League. First though, the Reds will need a result in Switzerland on December 7 when they face FC Basel on Matchday 6 -- a win or draw will be enough to send them through. A defeat by Basel would eliminate United from the competition. Benfica are level on points with United but they are guaranteed the top spot in Group C due to a tiebreaker if they defeat Otelul Galati on December 7 in Lisbon -- a result that appears likely. A few possible outcomes exist in Group C but the most likely scenario is Benfica top of the group with United finishing second.
Keep in mind that United could not face another English side nor a Group C side in the first round of the knockout stages. Without further ado, here's an examination of the other seven groups and who from these groups might advance.
* Winner: Bayern Munich - The German giants are unbeaten in group play and are five points clear of their nearest competitor. They have been in fine form this season as they currently top the Bundesliga table. This is certainly a side that United will hope to avoid if they finish second in Group C. Bayern is one of the few teams in Europe where United may not be a favorite against over a two-legged tie.
* Runner-up: Undetermined - Napoli's 2-1 defeat on Manchester City in Naples on Tuesday night propelled them ahead of United's rival. The Italian side currently have 8 points and a victory over Villarreal on Matchday 6 would be enough to send them through as the group's runner-up. It should be noted that last season, during this exact same fixture in Spain while in the Europa League, Villarreal defeated Napoli. City will host Bayern -- who may field a depleted side having already won the group -- and will need all three points, along with Napoli to either lose or draw, if they are to advance.
* Winner: Inter Milan - The Italian side have already earned top spot in Group B after earning 10 points from 5 matches. They have struggled mightily in Serie A thus far this season but they certainly are a side United would also prefer to avoid if possible. They have both the talent and pedigree to compete but United would likely still be the favorite for this hypothetical match-up.
* Runner-up: Undetermined - It is a wide open race amongst the other three teams for the last qualification spot. Turkish side Trabzonspor currently sit on 6 points while both Lille and CSKA Moscow both have 5 points. French champions Lille will host Trabzonspor on Matchday 6 while Inter -- who like Bayern will likely deploy a weakened side while focusing on their domestic troubles -- host CSKA Moscow. If both Lille and CSKA Moscow were to win, Lille hold the tiebreaker between the two. Trabzonspor simplifies it if they earn all three points at Lille. CSKA Moscow need victory and a Trabzonspor loss or draw. Confused yet?
GROUP C (detailed in the opening paragraph)
* Winner: Real Madrid - The 9-time European champions have a 100% record in Group D as they absolutely annihilated their competition with a +14 goal differential through 5 matches. It is perhaps Madrid, along with their Spanish rival FC Barcelona, that are favorites to win the Champions League. This is certainly a side that Sir Alex Ferguson would desire to avoid in the first round of the knockout stages.
* Runner-up: Undecided - Ajax currently sit on 8 points with a +3 goal differential while Olympique Lyonnais currently sit on 5 points with a -4 goal differential. Therefore, it is highly likely that Ajax go through as Group D's runner-up. The Dutch side do host Madrid on Matchday 6 but Jose Mourinho will likely field a weakened side -- although a weakened Madrid is capable of thrashing Ajax.
* Winner: Undecided - This group is wide open after a wild Matchday 5. Bayer Leverkusen currently top the group with 9 points after their late winner today against Chelsea. Valencia is level on points with Chelsea at 8 points and these two sides will clash on December 6 at Stamford Bridge -- their previous meeting resulted in a 1-1 draw at the Mestalla. Bayer Leverkusen will travel to Genk and they will heavily favored to earn all three points -- this would result in the German side winning Group E.
* Runner-up: (See Above) -- Chelsea vs. Valencia at Stamford Bridge is the odds on deciding match for the group's runner-up qualifier. A 0-0 draw would result in Chelsea going through while a 1-1 or 2-2 draw would result in Valencia going through.
* Winner: Arsenal - the Gunners have won the group by earning 11 points from their 5 matches. Because they are in the same association as United, the two sides could not face each other in the first round of the knockout stages if United finishes 2nd in Group C.
* Runner-up: Undecided - The qualifying spot from the runner-up in Group F is fairly open. Olympique Marseille currently sit 2nd in the group with 7 points while Greek side Olympiacos has 6 points. German champions Borussia Dortmund have 4 points. Marseille would qualify if they earn the full 3 points versus Dortmund on December 6. The French side could also qualify if lose to Dortmund by two goals or less and Arsenal defeat Olympiacos on the same day. Olympiacos could qualify with a victory over Arsenal -- who likely will field a weakened side having already won the group -- and with a Marseille loss. Dortmund is a longshot to qualify but it is possible if they defeat Marseille by four goals or more and Olympiacos lose.
* Winner: Undecided - This is another group that is wide open headed into Matchday 6. APOEL currently top the group with 9 points after 5 matches. Zenit St. Petersburg have 8 points while FC Porto have 7 points. APOEL host Shaktar Donetsk on December 6 in Cyprus and could win the group with a victory or with a draw coinciding with a draw between Zenit and Porto. Zenit travel to Porto on Matchday 6 and they could win the group with a victory and a APOEL loss or draw. Porto could win the group with a victory over Zenit and a APOEL loss.
* Runner-up: Undecided - Both APOEL and Zenit can assure qualification with just a draw on Matchday 6. Porto needs victory to qualify as either group winners or runners-up.
* Winner: Barcelona - This group is pretty simple as both the winner and runner-up have already been decided. European champions Barcelona won the group by earning 13 points after 5 matches. A potential re-match of the 2011 and 2009 Champions League final with United is a possible matchup in the first round of the knockout stages. This is certainly a matchup the Reds would like to avoid.
* Runner-up: AC Milan - Italian champions Milan have earned qualification into the knockout stages by earning 8 points from their 5 matches.