Champions League group play is almost in the books. Entering Matchday 5 — group play concludes next week! — it’s obvious, in almost every group, which teams can count on finishing top-2 and advancing to knockout play.
Fortunately, there a few exceptions:
- Group H is legitimately unsettled. PSG (+180) and Manchester United (-143) both have a legit opportunity to finish first. And it’s no guarantee that PSG even advances, as the Parisians and RB Leipzig have 6 points apiece through four games.
- Everyone in Group B — Real Madrid, Monchengladbach, Shakhtar Donetsk and Inter Milan — still has a shot to finish top-2.
- In Group D, Atalanta and Ajax will likely be battling until the final minutes of their Matchday 6 clash on December 9 to decide who joins Liverpool in advancing from that foursome.
But that doesn’t mean Matchday 5 is short of interesting match-ups. In fact, this slate looks as good as any we’ve had to this point. So let’s get to it!
Notes: the tiers are self-explanatory, I hope. All kickoff times listed are U.S. eastern and the home team is listed first.
TIER 1 – MUST-SEE
1. Manchester United (+185) vs. PSG (+145) Wednesday, 3 p.m.
This match-up’s place at No. 1 needs no explanation, but here you go anyway.
With ManU in first place (9 points) and PSG (6) on their heels – and needing to fend off RB Leipzig (6) – this game has easily the highest stakes of the week.
PSG’s recent history in this tournament puts even more pressure on them, and they’ll also be seeking revenge after OGS and Co. stunned them on Matchday 1. This is as can’t-miss as it gets, and almost deserves its own tier (but for now, it will have to settle for the top of Tier 1).
2. Monchengladbach (+205) vs. Inter Milan (+120) Tuesday, 3 p.m.
After PSG, no team* would consider failure to reach knockout play a bigger catastrophe than Antonio Conte’s squad. But there they are, in fourth place in Group B (on just 2 points!) with just two games remaining. The good news is that they could very well finish with eight points, as they’ll be favored both this week vs. Monchengladbach and next week (I’d imagine) vs. Shakhtar Donetsk.
At this point, I’m admittedly the boy who cried wolf about how much trouble this team would be in with a loss, but it is truly now-or-never for Inter Milan, and only three points will do.
*I guess plenty of others would deem this a nightmare too, but none of the other continental powers are really in jeopardy of suffering such a fate.
3. Liverpool (-136) vs. Ajax (+325) Tuesday, 3 p.m.
At full strength, Liverpool would have such an edge in talent and experience that this game would be Tier 3 material. But because Jurgen Klopp’s team is A) decimated by injury and B) already pretty much assured of a spot in the knockout round (-10,000), if not a first-place finish (-835), I can see Ajax keeping this one close and/or pulling another upset.
I didn’t think the Dutch giants had enough left on this roster to even push Atalanta for second in this group, but they’ve proven me wrong. The fact that Liverpool is only -136 at home tells you two things:
1). Oddsmakers respect Ajax Manager Erik ten Hag.
2) They haven’t forgotten Matchday 1, when Liverpool were a hell of a lot healthier, but still had their hands full.
4. Sevilla (+180) vs. Chelsea (+150) Wednesday, 3 p.m.
These teams are definitely going through, but this one will likely decide who wins the group. Sevilla’s roster gets another high-profile chance to show that it’s better than the sum of its mostly anonymous parts.
It’s also another opportunity for Frank Lampard to press the right buttons for his high-flying squad, which has smoked Krasnodar 4-0 (Matchday 2) and beaten Rennes (Matchday 3, 4) by a combined score of 5-1 since that 0-0 draw vs. Sevilla on Matchday 1. Expect another close game, in case the line didn’t already make that clear. I’ll go with Sevilla to pull off the (slight) upset at home.
5. Atletico Madrid (-114) vs. Bayern Munich (+275) Tuesday, 3 p.m.
We certainly won’t see Bayern’s first-choice XI, but we might get the answer to the question of whether Bayern could beat elite competition with (mostly) its backups. Atleti couldn’t hang with the reigning UCL champs the first time around, and will be looking to avenge that humiliating defeat in this one. While the stakes are low for Bayern, who are guaranteed a first-place finish in this group, this game should still be entertaining.
Atleti will be going all-out for three points here not only because of the way they were embarrassed back in October, but because a draw or loss means they’ll need to win on Matchday 6 to secure a place in the round of 16.
TIER 2 – WORTH A LOOK (AND A SHORTER BREAKDOWN)
6. Borussia Dortmund (-175) vs. Lazio (+420) Wednesday, 3 p.m.
Both these teams are going through, but with BVB just a point ahead in Group F, this one will likely determine who ends up winning the group. BVB and Lazio are both scoring at least 2 goals per game in group play, and Dortmund will be looking to avenge a 3-1 (!) loss in these teams’ Matchday 1 meeting.
Am I missing something, or is Lazio at +420 great value considering they kept Dortmund off the scoreboard until the 71st meeting — and, you know, won 3-1 — when these teams met on October 20.
7. Atalanta (-560) vs. Midtjylland (+1,400) Tuesday, 3 p.m.
Fingers crossed that Atalanta – coming off last week’s upset of Liverpool – takes care of lowly Midtjylland to set up a winner takes all (or something like that) clash with Ajax next week for second place in Group D.
TIER 3 – THERE’S ALWAYS WORSE THINGS TO BE DOING THAN WATCHING SOCCER
8. Club Brugge (+114) vs. Zenit St. Petersburg (+225) Wednesday, 3 p.m.
The line is a good indication this one will be close, but neither of these teams have much of a shot at advancing will be heard from in this tournament after next week.
9. Shakhtar Donetsk (+650) vs. Real Madrid (-265) Tuesday, 12:55 p.m.
How do Los Blancos respond to their latest shocking loss this season, this time to La Liga foe Alavés over the weekend. RM is in good shape to advance thanks to their victories over Inter Milan, but these guys are so unpredictable (or should we say unreliable?) that they’re worth watching, regardless of the opponent.
I’d also be remiss if I failed to mention that Shakhtar’s backups blitzed Real Madrid on Matchday 1 in a game the Ukrainians led 3-0 (!!) at halftime before holding on to win 3-2. If Shakhtar – who were +1,300 to win that day – could pull that off playing without so many starters, what will they have for Zidane’s team this week??
10. Ferencvaros (+650) vs. Barcelona (-250) Wednesday, 3 p.m.
Barcelona’s blowouts of Dynamo Kyiv and Osasuna over the last week do not, by any means, make them UCL favorites. They are, however, a good sign we’ll see another handful of goals from whoever Ronald Koeman lines up this time.