Champions League Matchday 5 Preview: Can the Reds take a massive step towards the last 16?

Champions League Preview Liverpool

Following two wins over Maribor in which they scored 10 goals without reply, Liverpool’s Champions League fate is very much in their own hands as they travel to face Sevilla for what is likely to be the crunch fixture of Group E. The teams drew 2-2 at Anfield back in September when the Reds’ defence was at its trademark worst, but a similar result at the Estadio Sanchez Pizjuan would be a good one for Jurgen Klopp’s men. If they can go one better and win, Liverpool will be guaranteed their place in the last 16 with a group game to spare. With Mohamed Salah in such scintillating form, the Reds will believe they can go to Seville and record a third successive European win. Klopp’s squad has been boosted by the return of Adam Lallana, although the England international might not have much of a part to play, as he has been out injured since pre-season. There is a possibility that Liverpool will take to the pitch in Seville knowing that a draw takes them through, but that would depend on Spartak Moscow losing at home to Maribor earlier in the evening. The Slovenian side must win to retain any hope of avoiding bottom spot in the group.

Manchester United aren’t yet guaranteed to qualify for the knockout stages, but with a six-point lead at the top of Group A, they only need to avoid defeat away to FC Basel to make sure of winning the group and leaving themselves the probability of a kind draw in the last 16. Jose Mourinho’s men have a 100% record in the competition so far this season and, with Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic now available, there is a strong chance of that statistic being maintained right through to the end of the group stage. United will be assured of at least a place in the knockout rounds should CSKA Moscow fail to beat Benfica earlier on Wednesday. The Portuguese side have lost all four group games so far and only a win in the Russian capital maintains any meagre hope of not crashing out of Europe. This group is effectively a battle between Basel and CSKA to see who advances along with United.

Tottenham’s confidence will have taken a dent after their feeble display against Arsenal at the weekend, but with their passage to the last 16 of the Champions League already assured, even a point away to Borussia Dortmund will leave them in prime position to win Group H. Indeed, if they emerge victorious from their trip to Germany, they will be guaranteed top spot with a game to spare. Elsewhere in the group, Real Madrid will fully expect to join Spurs in the knockout stages when they go to Cyprus to take on APOEL Nicosia. A point will be enough to see the holders progress, but they will be intent on taking all three to keep the pressure on Spurs for top spot. Both Dortmund and APOEL must win to avoid crashing out of the competition.

Manchester City also have the comfort of knowing that they are through with two group games still to play and, like Tottenham, they could seal first place in their group this week. At home to a Feyenoord side whom they beat 4-0 in Rotterdam a few weeks ago and playing such a scintillating brand of football, City’s main enemy could well be complacency. Expect Pep Guardiola to tinker somewhat with his team selection and tactical setup for what appears a routine assignment for the Premier League leaders, who will be assured of top spot if they better Shakhtar Donetsk’s result against Napoli. The Ukrainian side make the trip to Naples knowing that a draw would be enough to see them advance to the knockout stages and eliminate the Serie A leaders, the 2-1 win in Donetsk in September likely to prove pivotal.

Chelsea will seal their passage to the last 16 on Wednesday if they win away to Qarabag in their first ever trip to Azerbaijan. A draw could also be enough depending on results elsewhere, but the Blues’ poor showings against Roma leave them realistically requiring a victory to preserve their chances of topping Group C. The English champions have had two convincing wins, though, since their hammering at the Stadio Olimpico earlier in the month. If they slip up against the Azeris, Roma will win the group should they beat Atletico Madrid later that night. The Spanish outfit will almost certainly need to win if they are to have any hope of avoiding a group stage exit, which would be a massive disappointment after getting to two finals and three semi-finals in the last four years.

Celtic are already out of the Champions League and have the thankless task of trying to nullify Paris Saint-Germain at the Parc des Princes on Wednesday only a few short weeks after crashing 0-5 at home to the Ligue 1 side in Glasgow. However, Brendan Rodgers’ side are in pole position to take third place in Group B and drop into the Europa League in February, which was the realistic target at the outset of the group stage. Even in the likely event of Celtic losing in Paris, a similar fate is expected to befall Anderlecht when they host Bayern Munich. The Belgians have looked rather average in their four group stage defeats and come up against a Bayern side requiring victory to keep alive their chances of topping the group.

After a surprise Serie A defeat to Sampdoria at the weekend, Juventus will need to recover quickly as they welcome Barcelona to Turin in Group D on Wednesday night with their Champions League future very much in the balance. The Catalan side only need a point to be confirmed as group winners, although it is not in their nature to play for a draw, so Juve’s defence faces a stiff test. Any slip-up from the Italian side opens the door for Sporting Lisbon to keep the pressure on them for second place in the group and the Portuguese club host Olympiakos, who will exit Europe with anything less than a win. If Juve better Sporting’s result, they will join Barcelona in the last 16.

Besiktas blew a seemingly unassailable position in the group stage last season to miss out on what would have been a first appearance in the knockout rounds, but as current possessors of a four-point lead in Group G, they need just one more point to get over the line this time. At home to an inconsistent Porto side that they beat 3-1 earlier in the group, Ryan Babel’s current club look primed to make the unprecedented leap into the last 16. Should Porto get a result in Turkey, though, that piles the pressure on RB Leipzig to win away to Monaco if they are to reach the knockout stage in their first season in Europe. The Ligue 1 champions could be out by the time they kick off and must win to maintain any slim hope of remaining in the tournament, having reached the semi-finals only last season.

Liverpool have won their last four matches in all competitions, scoring 13 goals in the process and conceding just one, but the opposition in each of those games was less than world-beating. Tuesday’s clash with Sevilla will provide a far stiffer test and a draw would be a decent result for the Reds. If they can obtain it, Klopp’s men would then need to simply avoid defeat at home to Spartak Moscow to reach the last 16.

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