Europe - Champions League - Group Stage

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Nine teams have already qualified for the UEFA Champions League Round of 16, meaning that seven spots are still available. Plus, a number of teams would be more than fine with finishing third, so as to continue playing international football come February, no matter if that would be in the Europa League.

In Group A, leaders Bayern Munich have secured not just a place in the last 16 of the competition, but also the top spot in the group, seven whole points ahead of second-placed Atlético Madrid. Rather surprisingly, not only because they are… Atlético, but also because of how fantastic they have been looking in La Liga since the very start of the season, Cholo Simeone’s team are not 100% safe yet. They are visiting Salzburg this week, needing a draw to make sure they finish above the Austrian side. The gap between the two is just two points. On three points, at the bottom of the table, Lokomotiv Moscow are visiting Bayern, having mathematical chances of finishing third, but not higher than that.

Only two groups have not produced at least one certain Round of 16 participant yet, and Group B is one of those. Gladbach may be leading, on eight points, but they could drop as low as third (not fourth). They are visiting Real Madrid, who are third, on seven points, with their back against the wall, but with their morale boosted, following their 0-1 win at Sevilla last weekend, in La Liga. Second-placed Shakhtar Donetsk, on seven points, level with Real Madrid, and having the advantage in their head-to-head matches, are visiting Inter Milan, who may be at the bottom of the group table, on five points, but are still in with a chance of finishing in the top two. Obviously, Inter MUST win, so as to leapfrog Shakhtar. That would not be enough, though; they also need a winner in the other group match, either Real Madrid or Gladbach. An Inter win and a draw in Madrid would leave the Milan side third.

Things are much-much simpler in Group C; Manchester City are and will remain first, regardless of what they do this week. Similarly, Porto are and will remain second. The only… question is, who will be in the Europa League Round of 32, Olympiacos or Marseille. They are level on points, three each, level on points in their head-to-head games, three each, level on goals in their head-to-head games, two each, but Olympiacos scored in France last week, while Marseille have no away goal against Olympiacos to show for. So, if both lose, Olympiacos at home to Porto and Marseille in Manchester to City, it will be the Piraeus side that will qualify for the Europa League last 32. It feels like the Greek side has an advantage, which someone could go that far as to call “significant”.

Group D has a “final” this week, Ajax are hosting Atalanta, with their back against the wall. Ajax are on seven points, third in the table, one point behind second-placed Atalanta. Liverpool are already in the Round of 16, with their 12 points, and Midtjylland are more than happy to have earned their first point ever in the Champions League group stage, last week, in Bergamo(!), thanks to that 1-1. Ajax, or Atalanta? The Italian side would be more than fine with a draw. Ajax have one result and one result ONLY to play for, a win.

Group E is one in which we already know everything; leaders Chelsea will finish first no matter what happens this week, Sevilla will finish second, Krasnodar third, and Rennes last. Rennes are hosting Sevilla, Krasnodar are visiting Chelsea, Rennes and Krasnodar could still end up level on points, but it’s already decided, the Russian side has the advantage, they will be in the Europa League Round of 32 in February.

Group F is another one with a “final” this week; second-placed Lazio are hosting third-placed Club Brugge, having a two-point advantage over them. A simple draw would be enough for the Roma side to stay second, and join already-qualified Borussia Dortmund in the last 16 of the competition. In the other group game, Zenit are hosting Dortmund, knowing that no matter what, they will be finishing last.

Barcelona and Juventus have already qualified from Group G, and if nothing… extraordinary happens in their game at Camp Nou, the Blaugrana will finish first. Dynamo Kyiv are hosting Ferencvaros, needing at least a draw (up to 2-2) to stay third in the table.

Last, but most-most definitely not least, Group H is the second one in which we still don’t know any of the two teams that will for sure qualify for the last 16. Also, it’s the only group in which THREE teams are level on points, nine each. Manchester United, PSG, RB Leipzig, any of the three could finish third, while İstanbul Başakşehir are and will remain last regardless of what they do this week. PSG are hosting the Turkish side, so, at least theoretically, they have a massive advantage, an awesome opportunity to finish on 12 points, not caring about what happens in the other group match. It’s Manchester United and Leipzig who… sweat the most. If PSG win İstanbul Başakşehir, which does feel very-very probable, then it will come down between the two rivals in Leipzig’s stadium to earn the other ticket to the last 16. United destroyed Leipzig 5-0 at Old Trafford back in October, so a draw would be more than fine for them.

Only Barcelona have won all their group games thus far. They, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund have scored 16 goals each, sharing the title of the best team in the group stage, offensively. Scoring has proved mostly a… German (and Spanish) “thing”, but it’s two English teams that have done better in defending, with Chelsea and Manchester City having conceded just one goal each.