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, concluding with the matches that will be played on Wednesday evening across Europe from Groups E, F, G, and H.
Unlike the first four groups, there have been no clubs from this half of the “bracket” that have clinched a spot in the Round of 16, though numerous clubs have assured themselves of at least reaching Europa League’s Round of 32. Furthermore, two clubs with only one point have eliminated themselves from the Round of 16, but can still find a home in Europa League with favorable results over the last two matches of the group stage.
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: At least 3rd place – Liverpool (9 points); Napoli (8 pts)
In perhaps the marquee game of Wednesday’s slate, defending champion Liverpool looks to avenge what was been their only loss this season across all competitions. Napoli won 2-0 on Matchday 1 on two late goals, giving them an early leg up in the group. The Reds have since came back and won three in a row to sit in first place, and should maintain that position with action shifting to Anfield. FiveThirtyEight gives the current Premier League leaders a 71% chance of winning in the rematch.
Red Bull Salzburg (4 pts) and Genk (1 pt) meet in Belgium with both likely playing to finish third and head to Europa League. Red Bull still has an outside chance of finishing in the top two, though they would likely need to win both this match and Matchday 6 against Liverpool to do so. Genk, on the other hand, will need a minor miracle to finish third, needing to overcome a 6-2 defeat against Red Bull during Matchday 1 and a trip to Napoli in three weeks.
I would expect Liverpool to lock up a trip to the Round of 16 with a home win Wednesday, and Napoli and Red Bull Salzburg ending the day with 8 and 7 points, respectively, setting up a Matchday 6 that will actually mean something.
Clinched: At least 3rd place – Barcelona (8 pts)
In another match between the like Round of 16 participants at the top of the table, Barcelona hosts Borussia Dortmund (7 pts) for first place and pole position heading into the final day of matches. These clubs played to a scoreless draw in Dortmund back in September on Matchday 1, and both have had their struggles since.
Though they haven’t lost, Barcelona drew with Slavia Prague (2 pts) at home, allowing the Czech club to remain alive in the group. Borussia Dortmund lost 2-0 at San Siro to Inter Milan (4 pts), surrendering a late goal that could become important for tiebreaker reasons next month.
The two clubs at the top are currently favored to advance to the Round of 16, but Inter Milan has a 25% chance of finishing in second place and stealing a spot. They can do so by winning in Prague on Wednesday, then coming through against Barcelona at home in three weeks. This is one of three groups that could look entirely different after today, which could lead to a very exciting Matchday 6.
Clinched: At least 3rd place – RB Leipzig (9 pts)
When every club in the group has at least one win and one loss, things could get interesting. RB Leipzig is favored at home over Benfica (3 pts), and will punch their ticket to the Round of 16 with anything but a loss at Red Bull Arena Wednesday night. On the other hand, Benfica, the Portuguese champion, finds itself in an unfamiliar spoiler role, looking to avoid a loss that would end their shot in the Champions League.
In the other match Wednesday, Zenit Saint Petersburg (4 pts) hopes to improve their chances for at least a trip to Europa League, welcoming second place Lyon (7 pts) to Krestovsky Stadium. They are favored to win, and if they manage to do just that, they could be pushing Lyon for second place heading into a tumultuous Matchday 6.
I would not be surprised to check back after Matchday 6 to see any order of clubs in this group, with the only caveats that RB Leipzig can’t be worse than third and Benfica can’t be better than second. Wednesday night should be a strong indicator of what the final group table will look like, and tiebreakers could become extremely important.
Clinched: At least 3rd place – Valencia (7 pts)
Speaking of tiebreakers, you might need to bookmark this page to sort out how things end up in Group H. With three clubs “tied” at the top with 7 points, this is nearly almost any club’s group.
Ajax (7 pts), the nominal number one club for the moment, has the easier match of the day, facing off against cellar dweller Lille (1 pt) in France. They managed to win the Matchday 1 tilt 3-0 at home, so they have to have high expectations in this one as well. They are favored in the match, and should finally eliminate Lille once and for all.
Note: Lille has less than a 1% chance of finishing third in the group, needing to win both of these last matches by large margins to overcome their current -7 goal differential in the group, while also hoping that Ajax and Chelsea finish with 7 points and somehow get ahead via a tiebreaker. In this regard, they control their fate a bit, but it’s not looking good.
Chelsea (7 pts) lost to Valencia at home on Matchday 1, so they would have to return the favor in this one to overcome the Spaniards in the group. They are favored to win despite being on the road, but they were also favored at home in that first match and ended up losing. They have somewhat rounded into form since that loss, however, losing only to Liverpool and Manchester City in Premier League action while finally finding some offense under manager Frank Lampard. The club hopes that it’s not defending its Europa League title this season, but another loss to Valencia as the favored club makes that prospect a bit more realistic (though they do play Lille at home next match).
This group, more so than some of the others, could look markedly different after Wednesday’s matches. Will we have three clubs tied with 8 points? Two clubs tied with 10? Or some other combination because Lille managed to win? Either way, Matchday 6 could well mean something for at least three of the clubs, making it one of the most exciting groups in the tournament.