Champions League preview: Knockout places at stake in final group games
The final Champions League group games kick off tonight with hopes of securing a place in the last 16 still in the balance for several sides.
Atletico Madrid, Porto and AC Milan are all battling it out for the final qualification spot in Group B, while Real Madrid host Inter Milan in a battle to top Group D.
RB Leipzig vs Manchester City (5.45pm, BT Sport 2)
Manchester City’s place in the knockout stages is confirmed but a Europa League spot is still at stake for tonight’s opponents RB Leipzig.
The Bundesliga outfit sacked Jesse Marsch over the weekend and securing victory against the Citizens will be a daunting task as their opponents are unbeaten in 14 games against German opponents.
They were smashed by City in the reverse fixture 6-3 at the Etihad — the only time Leipzig have conceded more than five times in European competition — but bounced back with a resounding 5-0 win over Club Brugge to keep their European hopes alive.
Another goal fest could be in store at the Red Bull Arena, with City (3.2) and Leipzig (2.4) ranking in the top four teams for expected strikes per game in the Champions League this season.
Paris Saint-Germain vs Club Brugge (5.45pm, BT Sport 3)
Also safely through are Paris Saint-Germain, who finish off their group stage campaign against Club Brugge.
The Belgian side can still secure a Europa League spot if they beat the Ligue 1 giants and Leipzig fail to win.
But they are facing an opponent they are winless against in their last three meetings, though they did hold Lionel Messi and PSG to an unlikely 1-1 draw in September's previous clash.
Ballon d’Or winner Messi is yet to fully ignite in Paris but has scored in both of his Champions League games at the Parc des Princes — only George Weah and Neymar have netted in their first three home games in the competition for PSG.
AC Milan vs Liverpool (8pm, BT Sport 2)
Runaway winners Liverpool will look to make it a perfect Group B campaign when they face an AC Milan side still aiming for a place in the knockout stages.
The Rossoneri won 1-0 away to Atletico Madrid last time out and need another victory to stand any chance of qualifying.
Milan and Liverpool’s recent three meetings have produced 14 goals — those being the memorable 2005 Champions League final, the 2007 showpiece and a 3-2 win for the Reds earlier this season.
Liverpool star Mohamed Salah has scored six goals in five Champions League games this season and the Egyptian has only netted more in a whole campaign once before (10 goals in the 2017-18 edition).
Meanwhile, Milan’s Olivier Giroud has scored eight career goals against Liverpool — he has only scored more against Aston Villa (10) and Newcastle (nine).
Porto vs Atletico Madrid (8pm, BT Sport ESPN)
Porto’s meeting with Atleti looks set to decide who secures the final qualifying spot in Group B.
The Portuguese side can ensure the visitors exit the competition in the group stage for only the second time under Diego Simeone with a victory at the Estadio do Dragao.
Porto have a strong record of reaching the last 16 themselves as they look to qualify for the fifth time in succession this evening but would need AC Milan to fail to beat Liverpool if they can only manage a draw.
Visiting striker Luis Suarez will be looking to get back amongst the goals — a penalty against Milan is his only strike in the Champions League winner’s last 11 games in the competition.
Ajax vs Sporting (8pm, BT Sport Extra 2)
Ajax and Sporting face each other in Amsterdam safe in the knowledge that their places in the knockout stages are secure.
Alongside Liverpool, de Godenzonen are looking to join an elite club of six clubs to win all six of their group games in Champions League history. Bayern Munich can accomplish the feat for a second time tomorrow.
The Portuguese champions, meanwhile, booked their spot with an impressive 3-1 victory over Borussia Dortmund last time out.
Sebastien Haller, who has a stunning nine goals in his first five Champions League games, can become the quickest player to reach double figures in the competition — a record currently held by Erling Haaland, who hit 10 in his first seven.
It is a clash where you can expect goals with Sporting on 12 strikes and Ajax on 16 this season — only Bayern Munich (19) and Manchester City (17) have scored more than Erik ten Hag’s men.
Borussia Dortmund vs Besiktas (8pm, BT Sport Extra 3)
Group C’s dead rubber sees Europa League-bound Dortmund and eliminated Besiktas face off at the Westfalenstadion.
BVB's 3-1 defeat by Sporting last time out means they will drop down and compete in the Europa League for the first time since the 2017-18 season.
The Turkish outfit are the only team in the competition who are yet register a point this season, while the German side have a 100% record in three previous meetings against tonight’s opponents.
Young star Jude Belllingham has been involved in 60% of Dortmund’s goals in the Champions League this season (one goal and two assists) — the last Englishman under the age of 19 to enjoy more than three goal involvements in the group stage was Jack Wilshere for Arsenal in 2010 (one goal and three assists).
Real Madrid vs Inter Milan (8pm, BT Sport 3)
Top spot in Group D and a supposedly favourable last-16 draw is at stake when Real Madrid host Inter Milan.
Los Blancos sit two points ahead of the Nerazzurri ahead of the deciding clash, meaning the away side need a victory to leapfrog their counterparts.
But Inter’s last 11 meetings with Spanish opponents in European competition have produced just one win in favour of the Italians — a 2-0 victory over Getafe in August 2020 — drawing one and losing nine of those games.
Real Madrid midfielder Luka Modric could make his 100th Champions League appearance this evening, becoming the 10th player to reach the landmark while playing for the LaLiga giants.
Shakhtar Donetsk vs Sheriff (8pm, BT Sport Extra 4)
Shakhtar Donetsk and Sheriff are another pair who face off with their fates already sealed as the Moldovan minnows look to sign off their maiden Champions League campaign with a win.
The reward for an impressive debut campaign for Sheriff is a place in the Europa League but first they will look to secure the double over the Ukrainians after September's remarkable 2-0 win in Tiraspol.
No defender has recorded more assists than left-back Cristiano, who claimed two of his three in the victory over tonight’s opponents earlier this season.
Shakhtar manager Roberto De Zerbi is still searching for his first Champions League win after four losses and one draw. Should he fail to secure a victory, he will be the first Italian boss ever to go without one from his first six games in the competition.