With two matches remaining in the group stage, we could see the Round of 16 round into shape this week, as well as identify the third-place clubs that will be heading over to Europa League’s Round of 32.
Instead of previewing individual matchups, we will be taking a look at the various scenarios in each group over the next two days, beginning with the matches that will be played on Tuesday evening across Europe from Groups A, B, C, and D.
Through four matches, these groups have gone most according to expectations, with three clubs already punching a ticket to the next round, and two more clinching no worse than a trip to Europa League. They also contain three of the four clubs with only one point thus far, and include some of the powerhouses of European football.
In each group, we’ll cover how the expected outcomes in each group will affect the table and the path to advancement – as applicable – for the clubs involved.
Here’s a look at how Tuesday’s groups break down:
Clinched: Round of 16 – Paris Saint-Germain (12 points); At least 3rd place – Real Madrid (7 pts)
Tuesday’s action could seal it all up in this group. The top two clubs – PSG and Real Madrid – meet at Santiago Bernabéu in Madrid with both clubs on solid footing for the Round of 16. PSG is already in, and their last two matches are only to determine seeding for next round’s draw. Chances are they will be the 1st place finisher; Real Madrid would need to win both their remaining matches and hope that PSG only nets a point (or less) in theirs while giving up a lot of goals in the process to dip back in the tiebreakers. FiveThirtyEight gives PSG a 98% chance of finishing first at the moment, though they are the underdogs Tuesday night.
In the other match in the group, it’s likely a battle for third place, though Club Brugge (2 pts) does have a slim chance of passing Real Madrid should the Spaniards lose twice in the next three weeks. Galatasaray (1 pt) cannot reach second, so they hope to pick up a win in this one to move ahead of the Belgians and position themselves for a do-over in Europa League. As the host, they are slight favorites to prevail, though the clubs did play to a scoreless draw back on Matchday 1.
If things go as expected over the next month, Real Madrid will clinch a spot in the Round of 16 with PSG, while the third-place finisher, regardless of who it is, will be among the weakest third place clubs to move to Europa League.
Clinched: Round of 16 – Bayern Munich (12 pts)
As expected, Bayern Munich has dominated this group, winning all four matches with the largest goal-differential (+11) of the group stage. They travel to Belgrade to face humbled Red Star Belgrade (3 pts), who are coming off two straight losses to Tottenham Hotspur (7 pts) by a combined score of 9-0. Red Star controls their fate in the group, though with a huge goal deficit to overcome (-10), they will likely need a miracle to reach even Europa League.
Despite only having one point thus far, Olympiacos still has an outside chance at finishing second in the group. A win over the up-and-down Spurs in London Tuesday night would be the first step – the clubs played to 2-2 draw during Matchday 1 – and a defeat of Red Star in three weeks could potentially see them in the Round of 16… but that would also require the Spurs to lose to Bayern – not outside the realm of possibilities given their previous 7-2 loss at home on Matchday 2 – and also overcome the various tiebreakers to slide ahead of the Spurs.
That said, the likely result is Bayern and the Spurs advancing to the Round of 16, with the victor of the Matchday 6 tilt in Greece deciding the transfer to Europa League.
Clinched: At least 3rd place – Manchester City (10 pts)
The defending English champs missed their opportunity to clinch a spot in the Round of 16 with a draw to Atalanta three weeks ago, the Italians’ first points of the tournament. Nevertheless, with a win or a draw against Shakhtar Donetsk (5 pts) in Manchester, they will clinch the top spot in the group and be seeded in the draw during the next round.
After a couple of draws to Shakhtar Donetsk over the past two matches, Dinamo Zagreb (5 pts) trails the Ukrainians because of the head-to-head away goals tiebreaker. They obviously have the more favorable matchup this week, though Atalanta is favored 2-to-1 as the home club. But with Shakhtar expected to lose to Man City – FiveThirtyEight gives the English champs an 81% chance of winning – Dinamo Zagreb will need a repeat of its Matchday 1 dominance over Atalanta, a match they won 4-0.
Manchester City will clinch their spot this week one way or another, and I expect that Dinamo Zagreb will win and move into sole possession of second in the group, at least for now. Matchday 6 will mean something for at least two of the clubs in this group, and it’s unfortunate that they won’t be facing off against each other to decide who finishes second.
Clinched: Round of 16 – Juventus (10 pts)
Juventus and Atlético Madrid have been the class of this group, and like Group A above, they meet to likely determine the top two clubs from the group. When they met back in September in Spain, Atlético scored two late goals to force a 2-2 draw, thus far Juventus’ only blemish in the tournament. Juve plays host this time, and is favored to win, with a win clinching the top spot in the group.
The other match in the group – Lokomotiv Moscow (3 pts) hosting Bayer Leverkusen (3 pts) – features two clubs that have struggled mightily thus far. Both clubs have a very outside chance at claiming second place, so this is really just the first match to see who heads over to Europa League. Lokomotiv’s only win was against Bayer in Germany on Matchday 1, while Bayer picked up its three points in an upset over Atlético three weeks ago.
For Bayer to have a chance to finish third – save for a surprise win next month against Juventus – they will need to win this match against Lokomotiv. They are favored to do so, and favored to finish third in the group, but a win Tuesday night in Moscow will all but assure that they’ll continue their European summer in Europa League. Lose or draw, and they will need to have a favorable result against Juventus in December.
With this side of the group action in Champions League mostly settled, there aren’t nearly as many moving parts for Tuesday night’s action. Nevertheless, there is always an opportunity for an upset that could create a more exciting Matchday 6 in a few weeks. From these four groups, I expect that we’ll know at least six of the Round of 16 participants when action concludes tomorrow, as well as a couple of those clubs going to Europa League. The matches from The other four groups that play on Wednesday seem much more interesting to me, and we’ll take a look at those tomorrow.
Until next time…