Champions League: Five things to watch out for this week

Champions league

Manchester United and Liverpool are among the teams bidding to book their places in the Champions League knockout stage this week, while Atletico Madrid appear set to bow out of the competition.

Here, we look at five scenarios to keep an eye on during the final round of group-stage games on Tuesday and Wednesday:

United on the cusp
Manchester United were made to wait for a place in the knockout phase after conceding late in a 1-0 defeat at Basel, but Jose Mourinho’s team are still all but guaranteed to reach the last 16. United, who were indebted to a starring display from goalkeeper David de Gea in Saturday’s 3-1 win at Arsenal, must simply avoid losing by more than six goals at home to CSKA Moscow. For the Russians to pip Basel to the other qualifying spot they need to better the Swiss club’s result away to pointless Benfica. United are unbeaten in 20 European home games, but CSKA have won all four matches on their travels this season having come through two rounds of qualifiers.

Atletico staring down the barrel
A plucky 2-0 win against Roma two weeks ago kept Diego Simeone’s Atletico in contention going into the last round of matches, but victory for Roma over Azeri debutants Qarabag at the Stadio Olimpico would see the three-time finalists eliminated. Atletico, who have lost two of the last four finals to city rivals Real Madrid, have to beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge to have any chance, having lost the reverse fixture 2-1. Their hopes won’t be helped by the fact that Antonio Conte’s Blues still have plenty to play for too, as they need a win to guarantee top spot ahead of Roma. It’s not over yet, but Atletico’s two draws with Qarabag look set to condemn them to the Europa League.

Juve still in danger
Last season’s runners-up Juventus would have expected to have qualified before the final matchday when they were drawn in Group D alongside Barcelona, Sporting Lisbon and Olympiakos, but they head to Athens on Tuesday still needing a win to definitely progress. Sporting have been rejuvenated in the last two seasons under Jorge Jesus, but face the daunting task of having to win at Barcelona to have any chance of ending a nine-year absence from the knockout stage. But Barca have already wrapped up first place so may rest players, and have dropped four points from their last two La Liga matches. If Sporting fail to win, Juve go through regardless.

Liverpool closing in on last-16 return
Liverpool welcome Spartak Moscow to Anfield on Wednesday knowing that they only need to avoid defeat to reach the last 16 for the first time in nine years. Victory for the five-time champions would also wrap up top spot in Group E. Jurgen Klopp’s men should have secured qualification a fortnight ago, but blew a three-goal lead to draw 3-3 at Sevilla. The Reds are bidding to banish the memories of three years ago when a 1-1 home draw with Basel sent them packing. Russian champions Spartak have to win to have any chance of progressing. Sevilla only need to draw with Maribor in Slovenia to qualify for the knockout stage, and would go through as group winners if they win and Liverpool slip up.

Napoli bid to overhaul Shakhtar
With Manchester City already assured of top spot, Shakhtar Donetsk and Serie A high-flyers Napoli are fighting it out for second in Group F. Shakhtar take on City in Ukraine and will qualify for the knockout rounds if they can end Pep Guardiola’s side’s 20-match winning streak. Napoli head to pointless Feyenoord knowing that victory would see them snatch a ticket for the last 16 if Shakhtar lose to City, after their 3-0 victory over the Ukrainians last time out gave them the better head-to-head record. Napoli, who lost their unbeaten start to the Italian season with a 1-0 defeat by Juventus on Friday, are looking to reach the last 16 for only the third time. Punch


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