PARIS (AFP) – Top spot in Champions League Group F will be the main talking point on Wednesday night as Paris Saint-Germain travel to the Camp Nou looking to avoid defeat and keep their noses in front of Barcelona. Manchester City are on the brink of another early exit in Group E as they need to get a result and receive a favour from Bayern Munich in order to progress.
AFP Sport looks at the final round of matches in Groups E, F, G and H:
Bayern Munich (GER) v CSKA Moscow (RUS)
Despite going down to a last gasp 3-2 defeat at Manchester City two weeks ago, having played for more than an hour with 10 men following the sending off of Mehdi Benatia, Bayern have already won this group and have nothing to play for. Even so, coach Pep Guardiola is not one for giving out presents.
CSKA are level on points with both Roma and City and still in with a chance of progressing. But to do so they must win in Munich. That might seem like a tall order but they have already won in Manchester in this competition and will feel that against a side lacking in motivation, they may have a chance. However, if Roma win, then all will be academic.
Roma (ITA) v Manchester City (ENG)
This is the most complicated clash of the final round of matches as the permutations are such that almost anything can happen. Roma do at least know that a victory will be enough for them to progress and both sides are aware that defeat will knock them out. But should City win or it end in a draw, then CSKA’s result in Munich will take on significance.
Should CSKA lose then a no-score draw would see Roma progressing while a score draw would be enough for City to reach the second round. However, should CSKA also draw, then Roma would go through with all three sides tied on the same number of points. If City win then they must hope CSKA do not. It’s one for the mathematicians, perhaps, but essentially the crux is, they must both go for victory.
Ajax (NED) v APOEL Nicosia (CYP)
With both sides already eliminated, all that is up for grabs is a consolation place in the Europa League. Ajax have the advantage in that regard as they have a point more, having held PSG to a draw in Amsterdam.
The reverse fixture in Cyprus ended in a draw so APOEL simply have to win if they want to keep their European adventure going this season. For Ajax, victory would see them avoid finishing a Champions League group stage without a win for the very first time. And their chances are good against a side that has never won away in the competition and has yet to score outside of Cyprus in this season’s competition.
Barcelona (ESP) v Paris Saint-Germain (FRA)
This is the big clash of the night with top spot, and a potentially easier second round tie to come, up for grabs. Two years ago when these sides met at the quarter-final stage, PSG got a 1-1 draw at the Camp Nou – although they crashed out of the competition on away goals – and such a result would see them win the group.
Luis Enrique’s Barcelona have to win to overtake PSG, who are a point ahead. PSG will have plenty of motivation to hold out as coach Laurent Blanc, star striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, full-back Maxwell and Brazilian-born Italy international midfielder Thiago Motta are all former Blaugrana players.
Chelsea (ENG) v Sporting Lisbon (POR)
With top spot already sealed, Chelsea coach Jose Mourinho will likely use rarely-deployed members of his squad for this fixture, in which Sporting need a draw to secure their first knock-out stage participation since 2008/09. However, Sporting will have painful memories of that achievement as they were then humiliated 12-1 on aggregate by Bayern Munich.
The Portuguese side, for whom on-loan Manchester United winger Nani is likely to miss the clash with an injury, could progress even if they lose, as long as Schalke don’t beat Maribor in Slovenia. Certainly they are likely to need to rely on the other result as Sporting have won only one of their last 17 European away games.
NK Maribor (SLO) v Schalke 04 (GER)
The hosts are already out of the knockout stage reckoning but can keep their European season going with victory. Schalke must win in order to have any chance of snatching second place from Sporting but also know that a defeat would see them lose out on the consolation Europa League spot.
In order to take the Europa League slot, Maribor will have to break new ground, though, as they have never before beaten a German side. Schalke, though, are still missing talented attacking midfielder Julian Draxler and last time out needed a Klaas Jan Huntelaar equaliser to hold Maribor to a 1-1 draw in Gelsenkirchen.
Athletic Bilbao (ESP) v BATE Borisov (BLR)
A place in the Europa League may be on offer to the winners of this game but the match will also be about Borisov attempting to avoid taking sole possession of an unwanted record. Borisov have conceded 22 goals in their five matches so far, equalling the worst group stage defensive record set by Dinamo Zagreb in 2011/12 and equalled by Nordsjaelland a year later.
One more goal is all it will take for Borisov – beaten 7-0 at home and 5-0 away by Shakhtar, and 3-0 at home and 6-0 away to Porto – to take sole possession of that inglorious marker. The only anomaly was their 2-1 win over Athletic in their second group match. The Basques need only a draw to ensure their European campaign continues but given the Belarus’ previously porous defence, a morale-boosting goal-fest cannot be ruled out.
Porto (POR) v Shakhtar Donetsk (UKR)
This game has absolutely nothing riding on it with Porto already confirmed as group winners and Shakhtar second. Pride is perhaps all that is at stake with Porto keen to end the group stages unbeaten after four wins and a draw so far.
Shakhtar, however, will be eager to gain revenge on the Portuguese side having let slip a 2-0 lead in Ukraine as Jackson Martinez struck twice late on to snaffle a point. But Shakhtar will be missing suspended trio Olexandr Kucher, Luiz Adriano and Croatian icon Darijo Srna.