BERLIN: Holders Liverpool are under pressure and other big names are fighting for a place in the last 16 of the Champions League as the group stage goes into the final round of matches.
Eight teams have already bagged a place in the knock-out stage, and eight more place are up for grabs on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Just over six months after lifting the trophy, Juergen Klopp’s Liverpool find themselves still needing a point in a tricky trip on Tuesday to RB Salzburg, who have everything to play for.
Premier League leaders Liverpool come off a 3-0 win at Bournemouth — their 15th win in 16 league games but a first clean sheet in 15 games.
“Obviously everybody was desperate for that, now we have it so let’s have it more often,” said Klopp. “The next game where a clean sheet would be useful is already around the corner, against Salzburg on Tuesday. It feels good.”
Liverpool are in one of two groups which has yet to see a team assured of progress, with Napoli also in contention in Group ‘E’ and needing a draw at home to Genk or for Liverpool to avoid defeat in Salzburg.
Group ‘H’ is also a three-way battle for the top two places where last season’s semi-finalists Ajax meet Valencia in a crunch match Tuesday, the Dutch side needing a point to advance.
Chelsea know a win over tailenders Lille will ensure progress, but Valencia have the better head-to-head over the Londoners if both end level on points behind Ajax.
“Our target is to win every game and on Tuesday we have a final, it’s like the knockout stage already for us,” Chelsea captain Cesar Azpilcueta said.
Barcelona are already through from Group ‘F’, leaving Inter Milan and Borussia Dortmund scrambling for the runners-up spot.
Inter have their fate in their own hands when they greet Barca on Tuesday, while Dortmund — level with Inter on points but behind on the head-to-head — entertain Slavia Prague needing to outpoint the Serie A side.
Tuesday’s matches also see Zenit St Petersburg and Olympique Lyonnais vying to join RB Leipzig in the next round from Group ‘G’ where head-to-head scenarios also come into play.
Lyon know a win at home to Leipzig will see them through, but a draw could be enough if Zenit lose at Benfica. A win for Zenit will only suffice if Lyon do not beat Leipzig, but draws by both Lyon and Zenit would put the Russian side through.
Wednesday’s games involve six teams who have already made sure of progress — Paris St German, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester City and Juventus.
Atletico Madrid are hoping to join them with a win over visiting Lokomotiv Moscow in Group ‘D’ for the runners-up spot behind Juventus. Bayer Leverkusen welcome Juve needing a victory while hoping Atletico fail to win.
For Atletico, it will be a case of finding their goalscoring touch after bagging just 16 in 16 La Liga games this season. “We have to make sure that anxiety does not get the better of us,” coach Diego Simeone said. “The more anxious we are in front of goal the less precision there will be.”
Group ‘C’ sees a three-way fight to join Manchester City. Shakhtar Donetsk are best placed as they welcome Atalanta, while Dinamo Zagreb will need to beat City at home and hope Shakhtar fail to win.
Atalanta coach Gian Piero Gasperini has praised his side for still being in contention in their Champions League debut campaign.
“We still have a chance to stay in Europe, hopefully in the Champions League,” he said. “We must win against a strong team, as we saw in the first game [lost 2-1 at home]. But I think we have grown since then. We need to do something extraordinary to stay in.”
Bayern Munich as Group ‘B’ winners welcome Tottenham Hotspur, who are also through but keen under new manager Jose Mourinho to make amends for a 7-2 thrashing at home by the Bundesliga champions. Mourinho will ring the changes and rest striker Harry Kane.
Olympiakos meanwhile greet Red Star Belgrade with a Europa League place at stake.
Group ‘A’ winners PSG meanwhile finish their group-stage campaign at home to Galatasaray, and Real are at Bruges. The Turkish and Belgian sides still have a Europa League place to play for.
Published in Dawn, December 10th, 2019