We’ve reached the final days of the group stage in the UEFA Champions League and there is still a lot for each team to play for. First place is still available in many of the groups, and with it the caveat that you avoid the other first place teams in the draw for the round of 16.
There are still some qualification spots up for grabs, as well as teams fighting to either keep their European seasons alive via the Europa League or crash out of Europe all together.
(All times eastern)
VFL Wolfsburg (GER) vs. Manchester United (ENG) (2:45 PM Fox Sports 1)
An absolutely crucial match at the top of a very tight Group B. These two teams occupy the top two spots in the group, but a loss for either of them coupled with a PSV Eindhoven win over CSKA would send the loser back to the Europa League. Wolfsburg just lost their first home Bundesliga match since 2014. Combine that with a DFB Pokal loss to Bayern Munich and it shows they can in fact be beaten at home.
The problem for Manchester United is the injuries are, as usual, starting to pile up. The club will be without stars Wayne Rooney and Morgan Schneiderlin to go along with several players missing with long-term injuries. If you’re looking for a silver lining, it may force Louis van Gaal to start Memphis Depay as a striker, which worked well against Watford.
The last time United were here in the Champions League it was aging striker Michael Owen who picked up a hat trick, so maybe an unconventional striker can come through this time. Right now, hoping any goals out of United is a lofty expectation, Wolfsburg win 1-0.
PSV Eindhoven (NED) vs. CSKA Moscow (RUS) (2:45 PM Fox Sports Go)
I understand that Fox will always choose the big-name teams to televise because they will get the most eyeballs, but it’s an absolute shame that both games from the biggest group of the day won’t be on T.V. With a win and some help, not only does PSV have the chance to progress to the round of 16, but also have a chance to knock big bad Manchester United, the team that raided them of their best player, Memphis Depay, last summer, out of the tournament.
On the other side, if CSKA Moscow win by two goals, they can steal third place and the Europa League spot that comes with it right out from underneath PSV. Both teams still have everything to play for, but the Dutch side has a little bit more to play for and has the benefit at home. PSV grabs the 2-1 win sending them to the round of 16 and Manchester United trickling down to the Europa League.
Manchester City (ENG) vs. Borussia Monchengladbach (GER) (2:45 PM Fox Sports 2)
On the surface this one looks cut and dry with City already through and ‘Gladbach unable to get through. Alas, City still sit in second place with a chance to jump to the top spot, which would help them avoid teams like Barcelona or Real Madrid in the round where City tends to struggle.
Star striker Sergio Aguero is still injured and so is defender Vincent Kompany, without whom the team really struggles to defend. Now they run into a Fabian Johnson-led Borussia Monchengladbach side who have really turned it on recently and just defeated Bayern Munich this weekend. Manchester City have a lot of kinks they need to figure out if they’re going to get a win tomorrow, unfortunately for them, ‘Gladbach takes the win 3-1, completing the German sweep over the English teams.
Benfica (POR) vs. Atletico Madrid (ESP) (2:45 PM ESPN2)
The battle for the top spot in Group C. These two teams have come a long way since Benfica’s away win on Matchday 2, which was Atletico’s second loss in four days. That game took place on September 30 and was also the last time Atletico lost to anyone. Since then, Atletico is unbeaten in their last 12 games in all competitions, winning nine of them. They do face a tricky trip to Lisbon on Matchday 6, but their streak isn’t coming to an end, not in Portugal. Atletico win 1-0.
Rest of the games
Despite all the controversy surrounding Real Madrid recently, as well as the uncertainty of Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema, Los Blancos still have their group wrapped up and now get to rotate their squad when they play Malmo. That’s good news for the Swedish side because instead of losing by six, Madrid will simply win 3-0.
PSG also sits in a nice spot. They can’t catch Real due to the Spanish club owning the head-to-head record and they’ve also secured qualification to the next round. They’ll rotate their squad against a hungry Shakhtar Donetsk side that’s fighting to get into the Europa League. A not 100 percent PSG is exactly what Shakhtar need to grab a crucial 2-2 draw.
Sevilla have a chance to steal the Europa League spot with a win and some help. Juventus still need at least a point to guarantee them the top spot, and they’ll clamp down to get that 1-1 draw.
At this point we know what Astana is. At home they’re really hard to beat and they’ll do enough to get a draw. Away they’re a much different story, and this week it’s a trip to Galatasaray. The Turks need a least a point to finish above Astana, but they’ll go ahead and grab all three with a 2-0 win.
Enjoy the games!