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Champions League group play is nearly in the books, but there is a ton at stake for all but a few teams next week. Through four matchdays, it looked like the final 180 minutes of group action might be anti-climactic. That, however, changed dramatically thanks to the results on November 26 and 27 — not even Liverpool is totally safe!
Before getting into the best 5 match-ups, a quick look at the groups:
Groups A and B are not remotely intriguing, as PSG and Bayern Munich will be the winners, with Real Madrid and Tottenham locks for second place. Adios to Club Brugge, Galatasaray, Red Star Belgrade and Olympiacos. Fortunately, those are the only groups in the “nothing to see here category.”
Group C is Man City’s, but second place is up for grabs. There’s legitimate competition for one or both knockout spots in Groups D, E, F, G and H.
Below are the top five to watch:
*The home team is listed first in each of these.
We have to start, I think, with Liverpool-RBS.
All Liverpool has to do is draw. However, with a loss they would be going home, which is hard impossible to believe for a team playing so well in the EPL. The bad news for Liverpool is they’re playing the absolute epitome of a team playing with house money, on the road.
Those two factors, plus Mr. Group Stage himself, Erling Braut Haaland, mean Liverpool will more than have their hands full. And it was any team other than Jurgen Klopp’s in this predicament, I’d think a shocking result would be much more likely. RBS and its high-flying forwards will make this a game you can’t miss, but Liverpool is going to do what it has to once again – remember, it came down to the wire a year ago — reach knockout play in dramatic fashion.
* you could argue it should be No. 3, depending on how you look at this and Ajax-Valencia.
Hopefully Group H fans will forgive us for “slighting” it for the first time all tournament here. I ranked this “2 or 3” because A) I apparently don’t know how rankings work and B) this game is important, but more in relation to Ajax-Valencia than on its own merits.
Anyway, speaking of EPL teams with work to do to assure their place in the knockout rounds, how about Chelsea, which is fortunate to be at home vs. one of the worst teams in the field for this one.
Thanks to the Blues’ surprising draw at Valencia on matchday 5, they are tied for second in Group H with Valencia with 8 points. It’s also worth noting that both teams’ goal differential is level at +1. So they need a better result vs. Lille than whatever Valencia manages at Ajax. Fortunately for Chelsea, Ajax is hosting Valencia and is favored after winning the previous match-up between these two 3-0 on Oct. 2. Still, Chelsea-Lille is a game you have to keep an eye on because of the not-completely-farfetched possibility of Chelsea being bounced.
As detailed above, Valencia is still very much alive. The problem is that teams far better than them have endured awful trips to Amsterdam vs. Erik ten Hag and Co in the last year. On paper, and based on Round 1 between these two, it’s Ajax all the way, but the High Press Soccer darlings have shown a propensity to falter when everything’s at their feet. I don’t see it happening this time, but Valencia will keep it interesting.
It’s hard to get 7 points through your first three games and find yourself in a spot where you have work to do on the final day of group play, but here Atleti is. Will the head-scratching loss to Bayer Leverkusen on November 6th come back to bite them? It’s doubtful, and the line certainly reflects that. But given Los Rojiblancos’ struggles to score this season, maybe the odds for Lokomotiv shouldn’t be so long. Yet another example of a game you have to see just to make sure the unthinkable doesn’t happen.
Inter Milan is tied with Borussia Dortmund with seven points, but has the edge in goal differential (+2 to -1). You have to assume BVB handles Slavia Prague, which would require Antonio Conte’s club to defeat Barcelona. This team was superior to the Catalans earlier this season when they met at Camp Nou. Against a Barcelona team that will be playing for very little/resting anyone remotely in need of it, you have to like their chances – and that’s clearly Vegas’ take.
Is Inter going to advance after all despite getting just one point from its first two games? That’s certainly the way it looks on paper, and let’s hope it happens, as the Serie A leaders appear to be a more dangerous/entertaining knockout qualifier than Dortmund, which has won just six of 13 in the Bundesliga this season.
In the US, you can legally bet on soccer in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.