It’s the final day of the UEFA Champions League group stage, which means unfortunately it’s also the final day in the competition for some teams who have no hope of advancing. Fortunately for us fans, there are a lot more teams still playing for something on Wednesday than there were on Tuesday. That should ensure we get a great day of action as every team will show up ready to play.
(All times Eastern)
Bayer Leverkusen (GER) vs. FC Barcelona (ESP) (2:45 PM Fox Sports 1)
The stakes for this one are pretty simple. Barcelona has nothing to play for since they already clinched the top spot. Leverkusen has absolutely everything to play for since they currently even on points with Roma for the second spot. Pending the results, the Germans could finish as high as second in the group, or as low as fourth.
When you get drawn into a group with Barcelona this is essentially the scenario you dream of for the second time you play them. Leverkusen is at home, and with Barca already going through, they’re likely to rest a lot of their top players especially since they are leading a very tight La Liga by just a single point.
There’s really no benefit for Barcelona to playing guys like Neymar, Suarez or Messi in this one. The risk is too high and the reward is minimal. Usually this wouldn’t be a problem for the Catalans as their reserves would simply take care of business. However this season Barcelona is really feeling the effects of a transfer ban and their reserves just aren’t that strong. That’s what leads to *upset pick of the day* Leverkusen wins 2-1.
AS Roma (ITA) vs. BATE Borisov (BLR) (2:45 PM ESPN2)
It’s straightforward in this one. If Roma win they go through to the knockout round. If BATE win and Barcelona defeat Leverkusen, BATE steals third place and the spot in the Europa League that comes with it.
The wrinkle in this is simple, the last time these two teams met BATE pulled off the upset and defeated the Italians. It’ll be a far more difficult task this time as the match will be in Italy, but the Belorussians are getting Roma at the right time as Roma are winless in their last four matches in all competitions.
Winning at home is one thing, this time they face a Roma side that needs a win in order to guarantee themselves a trip to the knockout round. If that’s the case, the best BATE can hope for is a draw, but I think Roma squeaks out a narrow 2-1 win.
Olympiacos (GRE) vs. Arsenal (ENG) (2:45 PM Fox Sports 2)
Probably the most exciting game on the docket Wednesday takes place in Greece. Arsenal were left for dead after losing their first two games and then again after having just three points after four matches. But a shocking win over Bayern Munich on Matchday 3 and Olympiacos’ inability to get any points against Bayern (which, admittedly, is way easier said then done) have left with the Greeks clinging to the final spot as Arsenal tries to rise from the dead and steal their spot. It isn’t as easy as I’m making it sound though. If Arsenal want to jump ahead of the Greeks they would have to win by at least two goals, anything less and Olympiacos holds their place on goal differential.
As is usually the case in December, Arsenal are really injured, but they are getting better. Theo Walcott returned as Arsenal put Sunderland away 3-1 last weekend. Expect Olympiacos to park the proverbial bus right from the start in this one, but I still expect Arsenal to find a second goal and win 2-0.
FC Porto (POR) vs. Chelsea (ENG) (2:45 PM Fox Sports Regional Networks)
So many storylines in this one. Jose Mourinho returning to the club that made him. Both teams tied atop Group G. Chelsea being absolutely awful this season but trying to save face in the Champions League. Then there’s this last one, if this game has a winner, the loser is at risk of not even qualifying for the knockout round.
But it’s not about storylines, it’s about what happens on the field, and right now Chelsea are going through some Manchester United syndrome where they can’t put the ball in the net. Eden Hazard has been moved to striker because Jose Mourinho feels that he’s been ‘playing well’ in the position, despite the fact that Chelsea haven’t scored a goal in the two games he’s been there.
When you look up and down the Chelsea squad it’s hard to see where the goals are going to come from besides a Willian free kick. When you look at Porto, you see a team that has lost just one game since losing to Bayern Munich last April. April. If Chelsea can find a way to get Willian a free kick, they’ll be able to steal a mutually beneficial 1-1 draw.
Rest of the games
Bayern Munich may not have anything to play for in the Champions League, but they do need to restore some good will with their fans after their loss to Borussia Monchengladbach this past weekend. Dinamo Zagreb provide them with a good opportunity to pick up a 3-0 win.
Both KAA Gent and Zenit St. Petersburg enter their match on very good form. The Russians have a chance to go through the group stage with a 100 percent record, but Gent needs a win to secure qualification. Expect the Belgians to go all out against a depleted Russian side en route to a 3-1 win.
Valencia have been slipping up recently but did seem to rectify things with a recent draw against Barcelona. They face a very disappointing Lyon side, and they’ll take care of business with a 1-0 win.
When you have a team like Macabbi Tel Aviv in your league that serves a whipping boy for the rest of the group, you’re going to end up with three teams still alive on the last day. Dynamo Kiev will do what everyone else has done and defeat the Israeli’s 3-0, but their eyes will be on Portugal, hoping either Chelsea or Porto can win that match, which would send the Ukrainians to the knockout round, and the loser to the Europa League.
Enjoy the games everyone!