With one game left in the group stage of the Champions League, only half of the 16 places in the next round have been filled. This Tuesday and Wednesday are set to provide Europe’s premier cup competition with an injection of drama it has so far been lacking.
Manchester United (11 pts) have already secured their place in the next round, and only have to avoid a defeat to Shaktar Donetsk (8 pts) to top the group. If Shaktar win at Old Trafford, they secure top spot by virtue of the head-to-head record. If Shaktar fail to win, however, second spot becomes open for Bayer Leverkusen (7 pts) who travel to group whipping-boys Real Sociedad (1 pt).
Prediction – United and Donetsk draw 1-1, Leverkusen claim second with a win at La Real.
Real Madrid (13 pts) have already clinched first place and travel to Copenhagen (4 pts) with only a Europa League place for the Danish side to play for. Expect to see a number of youngsters get a run out for the Spaniards, with Jesé and Morata both likely to feature. The excitement comes in Istanbul where Juventus (6 pts) travel to Roberto Mancini’s Galatasaray (4 pts). The Turk Telecom arena is an intimidating place to go, but the Old Lady arrive in good form. Roberto Mancini’s Champions League record is also far from favourable.
Prediction – Juventus pull out a big win in Turkey to take second place behind Real, who dispose of Copenhagen 2-0.
PSG (13 pts) won the group with victory over Olympiacos in the last gameweek, but there is a straight shootout for second place with Olympiacos (7 pts) at home to an Anderlecht (1 pt) side with nothing to play for, whilst Benfica (7 pts) are on the same number of points but host a PSG side who look irresistible going forward so far.
Prediction – An injury to Kostas Mitroglou, who scored a hat-trick in the reverse fixture, could impact on Olympiacos’ hopes but they should still have enough to overcome a poor Anderlecht side. PSG’s strength in depth could see them win in Portugal and condemn Benfica to a Europa League spot.
Bayern Munich (15 pts) sit at the top of the group and will keep that spot if they lose by no more than one goal at home to Manchester City (12 pts), who are assured of second place even with a loss in Munich. The award for the competition’s most pointless game goes to Viktoria Plzen (0 pts) at home to CSKA Moscow (3 pts), who will be rueing their group draw.
Prediction – Munich looked so good in the reverse fixture that it’s hard to see City taking anything home to Manchester with them. Second spot and a potentially tough last 16 fixture awaits for Manuel Pellegrini’s side.
Chelsea (9 pts) sit at the head of the group despite two losses to Basle, and a victory at home to Steaua Bucharest (3 pts) will give them the top spot. The real drama comes in Gelsenkirchen where Schalke (7 pts) host Basle (8 pts), for a probable second-place shootout.
Prediction – Cheslea should be too much for Steaua at Stamford Bridge, but the contest in Germany is a real pick’em affair – Schalke have been horribly inconsistent so far, whilst Basle have a strong team dynamic but have only made it out of the group stage once in their history. Schalke it is.
Group leaders Arsenal (12 pts) travel to Napoli (9 pts) needing a draw, or a defeat by less than three goals. Borussia Dortmund (9 pts) will go through if they beat Marseille (0 pts) away, regardless of the other scoreline, as a result of their superior head-to-head with Napoli.
Prediction – Dortmund are suffering from big injury problems and victory in France is by no means assured. The problem for Napoli is that they travel to the form team in the Premier League – winning by three goals is a tough ask, but an Italian victory is a possibility.
Atletico Madrid (13 pts) have sewn up the group winners spot by virtue of four wins and a draw, conceding only three goals in the process. They host Porto (5 pts), who need to win in the Spanish capital and hope that Zenit St Petersburg (6 pts) fail to do likewise. That is because Zenit, who travel to winless Austria Vienna (2 pts), have the superior head-to-head record – a draw for the Portuguese side would not be enough, even if Zenit lose.
Prediction – Atletico, even with a number of injury concerns, have been in such hot form so far this season it is hard to see them suffering a defeat to Porto, even if Lucho Gonzalez is back for the Dragões. Luciano Spalletti’s Zenit side sit top of the Russian League and should overcome Vienna.
Barcelona (10 pts) sit top of Group G and host a Celtic side who cannot now reach the Europa League spot. However, the Catalan team have not yet secured top spot – AC Milan (8 pts) host Ajax (7 pts) and could win the group if they win and Barcelona lose. In reality, however, they will be more than happy just to qualify, with Ajax again proving themselves to be a tough European outfit and the Rossoneri sitting 9th in Serie A.
Prediction – Barcelona, despite their past struggles against the Glaswegian side, should easily dispatch of Celtic, leaving AC Milan and Ajax to fight it out for second place. The Milanese side are unbeaten at home in the competition so far, and they should do enough to avoid defeat.
Images courtesy of telegraph.co.uk