PARIS: Fans look ahead to today’s action in the Champions League when most of the focus is on Group B, where nothing has yet been decided going into the final round of games.
Paris Saint-Germain (FRA) v Shakhtar Donetsk (UKR)
There is nothing riding on this game for PSG, who have already qualified for the last 16 and are certain to finish second in Group A behind Real Madrid. However, Shakhtar need to match or better Malmo’s result in Madrid if they are to take third place and the consolation of a berth in the Europa League last 32. PSG coach Laurent Blanc, who is without Javier Pastore and has had Marco Verratti on the sidelines in recent weeks, will rotate his squad with the focus on maintaining their unbeaten start to the domestic season through to Christmas. Beaten 3-0 by Paris in Ukraine in September, Shakhtar defeated Karpaty Lviv by the same score on Thursday to top their domestic table going into the long winter break. Coach Mircea Lucescu is without injured striker Olexandr Gladkiy.
Real Madrid (ESP) v Malmo (SWE)
Real Madrid have already sealed qualification for the last 16 as group winners but Rafa Benitez’s team need a convincing performance to appease fans left disgruntled by the recent 4-0 mauling at the hands of Barcelona and the club’s disqualification from the Copa del Rey for fielding an ineligible player. Marcelo is close to full fitness again for the 10-time European champions. Malmo, meanwhile, need to better Shakhtar’s result in the other game if they are to snatch third spot and a Europa League berth. With the Swedish domestic season now finished, Age Hareide’s side have only played once in the last month, when they went down 5-0 at home to Paris Saint-Germain.
At Wolfsburg, Germany
Wolfsburg (GER) v Manchester United (ENG)
This is a huge match at the Volkswagen Arena, with all still to play for in Group B. Wolfsburg are top of the section so need only draw to go through, while a win will guarantee them top spot. United, in contrast, have to win to be sure of qualifying. Anything less and they will be relying on PSV Eindhoven slipping up in their game. Failing to reach the last 16 is unthinkable for United, who continue to receive criticism for their style of football under Louis van Gaal-five of their last nine matches have finished goalless. “We have not made it easy for ourselves, but we know that victory in Germany will not only guarantee qualification, but also ensure we finish top of our group,” Van Gaal, who is without the injured Wayne Rooney, told the United Review. Wolfsburg, who slipped to fifth in the Bundesliga after a 2-1 home loss to Borussia Dortmund at the weekend, are bidding to reach the knockout rounds for the first time.
At Eindhoven, Netherlands
PSV Eindhoven (NED) v CSKA Moscow (RUS)
Dutch champions PSV come into their final game in third spot but with the two sides above them meeting one another, Philip Cocu’s side know a win against CSKA at the Philips Stadion will take them through. A draw would also be good enough if Manchester United were to lose in Germany. And yet a CSKA win would see the Russians, who cannot reach the last 16, move above PSV and snatch the Europa League berth that comes with finishing third. PSV are four points behind Dutch league leaders Ajax after a late Jorrit Hendrix goal gave them a 1-0 win at Vitesse Arnhem on Saturday. That left them nine games unbeaten, while CSKA are on a wretched run of six without a win. A 2-0 loss at Amkar Perm last Thursday was not enough to stop them going into the Russian winter break on top of their domestic league, but their form is a real worry. In addition, goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev has not kept a clean sheet in any of his last 36 Champions League appearances going back to 2006.
Galatasaray (TUR) v Astana (KAZ)
Neither club can reach the last 16 but third place and a Europa League spot will be decided in Istanbul. Galatasaray, who drew 2-2 in Kazakhstan when the sides met in September, need only draw again this time around, while Astana must record a first win in the Champions League proper if they are to prolong their European adventure into 2016. The Turkish giants beat Bursaspor 3-0 on Friday for a first win in six games and a first win since Mustafa Denizli returned for a third spell as coach in place of the sacked Hamza Hamzaoglu. With their domestic season now over, the Kazakh champions have been in Turkey for 10 days preparing for this game.
Benfica (POR) v Atletico Madrid (ESP)
These two clubs are already through, but the important prize of first place in Group C is still up for grabs when Benfica welcome Atletico to Lisbon. Having won 2-1 in Madrid in September, the Portuguese champions need only draw, while Atletico require any win that is not 1-0. Diego Simeone’s side return to the Estadio da Luz, where they lost to Real Madrid in the 2014 final, on a run of 12 games unbeaten since they last met Benfica. However, injured duo Jackson Martinez and Tiago Mendes are missing for this game. Third in the Portuguese top flight, Benfica are without injured defender Luisao.
At Manchester, England
Manchester City (ENG) v Borussia Moenchengladbach (GER)
Manchester City are already through from Group D, but must beat Gladbach and hope leaders Juventus lose in Spain if they are to finish on top of the section. Such a combination of results seems unlikely given the recent form of these sides. City lost 2-0 at Stoke City at the weekend, their third defeat in their last five matches coming at a time when manager Manuel Pellegrini is having to deal with a long list of injuries. Centre-back and captain Vincent Kompany, midfielder Yaya Toure and attacking figurehead Sergio Aguero are all expected to miss the game at the Etihad Stadium. “We are supposing that if we finish second we will have a bad draw, but maybe this year we can have a bad draw if we finish top of the group. There are a lot of things in the future we are not thinking about,” reasoned Pellegrini. Gladbach have been in sensational form under Andre Schubert and beat Bayern Munich 3-1 on Saturday. They will go into the Europa League if they match or better Sevilla’s result against Juventus.
At Seville, Spain
Sevilla (ESP) v Juventus (ITA)
Juve are already through to the last 16 and a draw in Spain will ensure last season’s beaten finalists go through as group winners. Sevilla, meanwhile, are out but can still finish third if they win and Borussia Moenchengladbach do not win at Manchester City. That will allow Unai Emery’s team to go into the Europa League and try to win that competition for the third year running. Juve will be better rested after beating Lazio 2-0 on Friday to go seven games unbeaten. Sevilla are having an inconsistent campaign and a 1-1 draw at Deportivo on Saturday left them firmly in mid-table in La Liga. – AFP