After a stuttering start to their Champions League group stage campaign, Liverpool did their chances of knockout round qualification the world of good with a 7-0 hammering of Maribor in Slovenia two weeks ago and the expectation is that the Reds will follow that up with another win at Anfield this Wednesday to strengthen their Group E position further. The reverse meeting was at times insultingly easy for Liverpool, although it’s hard to foresee Maribor being so amateurish this time around. Still, the Reds had a confidence-boosting 3-0 win over Huddersfield at the weekend and that was achieved without several key players who were missing due to injury. They will surely get plenty of chances against the Slovenian outfit, so it’s a matter of being clinical with those sooner rather than later so that this doesn’t turn into a night of torment for the Merseysiders. The group’s other clash sees Sevilla playing host to Spartak Moscow and the Spanish club will have revenge on their minds after the 5-1 hammering they shipped in Russia. A draw in Seville would be the ideal result for Liverpool, provided of course they can take care of their own business.
Tottenham go into their clash with Real Madrid on Wednesday on a downer after defeats against West Ham and Manchester United, but they are in an excellent position in Group H and if they can record a famous Wembley win over the Champions League holders, they will ensure their place in the knockout stages. Also, the defending champions travel to London off the back of a shock defeat at newly-promoted Girona, a result which leaves them playing significant catch-up in La Liga. They also had to be content with just a point against Spurs on home soil, although their position in the group is strong enough for another draw to leave them on the brink of qualification for the last 16. The other two teams in the group have no such luxury, though, with Borussia Dortmund and APOEL Nicosia picking up only one point each from their first three group games. Dortmund will be especially disappointed with their European campaign so far and, with home advantage, the pressure is firmly on them to see off their Cypriot visitors after the 1-1 draw in Nicosia.
Manchester City need just a point on Wednesday against Napoli to book their place in the last 16 and, with a 100% record thus far, you’d expect the Premier League leaders to get the business done at the Stadio San Paolo. However, they were far from perfect against Wolves and West Brom and they face a Napoli side who, despite losing twice in Group F so far, are flying in Serie A. They also defeated City in the previous instalment of this fixture in 2011, so this could be a real test for Pep Guardiola’s side. Elsewhere in the group, Shakhtar Donetsk will fully expect to make it three wins from four when they host whipping boys Feyenoord. If the Ukrainian side win and so do Man City, Shakhtar would then need just one more point to go through. Anything other than victory for Feyenoord would end whatever minuscule chance they currently have of avoiding a group stage exit.
Manchester United could also seal their place in the knockout rounds if they defeat Benfica at Old Trafford on Tuesday. Jose Mourinho’s men won 1-0 in Lisbon a fortnight ago, although their goal came courtesy of a horrendous goalkeeping error. United have not been playing with a great deal of fluidity in recent games, but they usually attend to games like this in a businesslike fashion and, with Benfica losing all three games so far, it would be quite a surprise if they take anything from their visit to Manchester. Also in Group A, Basel know that a win at home to CSKA Moscow coupled with United not losing to Benfica would send them through to the last 16. Having already won in the Russian capital, the Swiss side will be fancied to repeat the trick at St Jakob Park and potentially knock CSKA out of the competition.
Chelsea’s domestic performances may be somewhat patchy, but they currently sit top of their Champions League group and would qualify for the last 16 if they beat Roma at the Stadio Olimpico on Tuesday. They would be in an even better position had they not surrendered a two-goal lead to the Italians at Stamford Bridge, but still escaped with a 3-3 draw in a bonkers game. A win for Roma would effectively clinch a top two finish for them, but their record against English opposition is appalling. The other fixture in Group C sees Atletico Madrid welcoming Qarabag to the Spanish capital and, having been quarter-finalists or better in each of the last four seasons, Diego Simeone’s men badly need a win to resuscitate their faltering European campaign. They should be able to get it against the champions of Azerbaijan; any other result would be utterly catastrophic for Atletico.
Parkhead will inevitably be rocking tonight as Celtic host Bayern Munich, but can the home team’s performance match the raucous atmosphere that is guaranteed? Considering that they have downed Europe’s marquee names on nights like this in the not so distant past, the likelihood of victory for Celtic is not that remote, especially with Bayern far from their best and without the services of the injured Robert Lewandowski. After losing 3-0 in Munich, though, another defeat for the Scottish champions would most likely end their hopes of progressing from the group. Group B’s other clash could turn into a landslide, with group leaders Paris Saint-Germain hosting a very mediocre Anderlecht side. PSG won 4-0 in Brussels and it would be no surprise if they racked up an even more comprehensive victory at the Parc des Princes. Three more points would see them coast into the knockout rounds.
Barcelona should also cruise through to the last 16 on Tuesday when they take a 100% record to Olympiakos, who sit bottom of Group D and have yet to get off the mark. Catalonia might be at the eye of a political storm right now but its flagship football team have hardly set a foot wrong this season and the probability is that they will make it four wins out of four in Piraeus. The group’s other clash pits together Sporting Lisbon and Juventus. Victory for the Serie A champions in Portugal secure their place in the knockout rounds, but a home win would see the two sides vying for a qualification berth. Juve will be fancied by most observers to secure three points, but Sporting have given a good account of themselves in their group games so far, so this should be a close contest.
In what seemed an unthinkable development at the commencement of the group stage, Besiktas could seal top spot in Group G with two matches still to play if they beat Monaco in Istanbul on Wednesday. The Turkish side have won all three of their games so far, two of those away, and have been the surprise hit of the Champions League thus far. Defeat for Monaco would leave them stuck on one point and almost certainly eliminate them from the competition, which would be a huge setback after so impressively reaching the semi-finals last season. Elsewhere, Porto host RB Leipzig in a clash that could go a long way to determining which, if any, of these two will qualify for the last 16. The German side hold a one-point advantage over Porto following their 3-2 win in Leipzig and if they can inflict a second home defeat on the 2004 winners, they would be well on their way to qualifying from the group in their first ever season in Europe, which would be a fine achievement.
Qualification for the knockout rounds remains a long way off for Liverpool, but they could take a substantial step closer to it on Wednesday if they justify the bookies’ faith and swat aside Maribor for the second time in a fortnight. They would still have plenty to do even if they pick up three points at Anfield, but the focus needs to simply be set on defeating the Slovenian side with a clinical, professional performance.