BY Pete Starr
The final round of Champions League matches of 2013 are upon us! Who’s through, who’s out and who’s still scrapping for qualification? We run through all the groups, working out who needs what from this last round of group fixtures and all the permutations.
Before you start reading this, I always find it helps to get this playing in the background, you know, to really get you in the mood. Hell, sometimes I even play it before making sweet love to my wife Beverly.
Group A – Manchester United (11), Shakhtar Donetsk (8), Bayer Leverkusen(7), Real Sociedad (1)
Manchester United, despite their domestic woes have already secured qualification from this group and will nail a vital top spot as long as they avoid defeat against a Shakhtar side desperate for points. They sit in second place on eight points one ahead of Bayer Leverkusen who have the far easier prospect of a trip to San Sebastian to face the group’s whipping boys, Real Sociedad. With just one paltry point to their name from five games, you’d have to back Leverkusen to spank the Spaniards leaving Shakhtar more than likely needing a win. United, on top of being utterly incompetent at the moment, have a host of senior players missing injured for this one. I think we’ll see the Ukrainians, who’ve lost just once domestically since September, steal a win in Manchester putting them through as group winners.
Game to watch (click links to see pub showing games) – Manchester United v Shakhtar Donetsk
Group B – Real Madrid (13), Juventus (6), Galatasaray (5), FC Copenhagen (4).
Real Madrid are long qualified group winners here as Juventus have ballsed things up fairly splendidly thus far but do still hold their destiny in their hands. Three stalemates and just one win sees them still needing at least a draw in Istanbul, assuming Madrid won’t slip up in Denmark. FC Copenhagen have by far the slimmest chances of qualification as they require Galatasaray to beat Juve by a small margin and to trump that victory with their own against Madrid as they sit level on points and goal difference with the Turks, but with fewer goals scored. Juventus remain in the driving seat to grab the second spot and are helped by the fact that Roberto Mancini knows as much about success in the Champions League as I do about successfully wooing Scarlet Johansson. I expect them to grind out a draw in Istanbul whilst Real Madrid’s second string (Oh you know - Casillas, Isco, Varane Illarramendi, Alonso, Coentrao etc...) should be too good for Copenhagen.
Game to watch – Galatasaray v Juventus
Group C – PSG (13), Olympiakos (7), Benfica (7), Anderlecht (1)
Another group with a runaway leader and clear whipping boys, Olympiakos are in pole position to grab the second qualifications spot here after Benfica emptied an entire clip full of bullets into their plates of meat a month or so ago. A criminal home draw to an utterly duff Anderlecht side was disastrous, something they followed up with defeat in Greece last time out. Despite being level going into the final round, Olypiakos have a slightly superior goal difference and the straightforward task of Anderlecht at home, whilst Benfica must overcome PSG and, in all probability, do so by some margin. That’s the PSG who’ve lost just once in 23 games this term whilst the lads from Lisbon look likely to be without talisman Oscar Cardozo. Good luck with that.
Game to watch – Benfica v PSG
Group D – Bayern Munich (15), Manchester City (12), CSKA Moscow (3), Viktoria Plzen (0)
The only group that’s a forgone conclusion with City needing a seven goal swing against Champions Bayern to bag top spot. We’ll be treated to a battle of the second strings in Munich which, again, is a foregone conclusion. Plzen and CSKA will battle it out in the Czech Republic for the right to make the Europa League/avoid the wooden spoon. Never has there been a less appealing CL tie.
Game to watch – Bayern Munich v Manchester City
Group E – Chelsea (9), FC Basel (8), Schalke (7), Steaua Bucharest (3)
Chelsea, despite being largely crap in this year’s competition, find themselves through but possibly needing a result to secure top spot and a favourable draw in 2014. Defeat by Basel last time round was pardoned by Schalke’s incompetence as the Germans blundered their way to a draw in Bucharest seeing Chelsea through. The result leaves a straight shootout in Gelsenkirchen on Wednesday night. A win for either side sees them through whilst Basel could make do with just a point. In the event of a Basel win, Chelsea would need to match it in their game at home to Steaua to be sure of qualifying first from the group. I think we’ll see home wins for Chelsea and Schalke here to see the big boys through.
Game to watch – Schalke v FC Basel
Group F – Arsenal (12), Borussia Dortmund (9), Napoli (9), Marseille (0)
This is a really interesting one with Arsenal needing to avoid defeat by three goals in southern Italy to go through. Napoli must inflict a heavy win on Arsenal and hope that it improves on whatever Dortmund’s result is in their game against group no hopers, Marseille. Should Napoli win by only one or two goals they would become the first side ever to crash out of the group stages having amassed 12 points. Tough titties lads. Unfortunately for Rafa Benitez’s side they’ve not kept a clean sheet in their last 12 European ties - you’d imagine one of those will be essential if they've any chance to sneaking through. I expect Napoli to go gung-ho at Arsenal but fall short due to their guest’s excellence on the counter attack. I say 2-1 to Napoli with Dortmund just pipping Arsenal to top spot with a 0-2 in France.
Game to watch – Napoli v Arsenal
Group G – Atletico Madrid (13), Zenit St Petersburg (6), FC Porto (5), Austria Vienna (2)
Atletico, led by Spanish/Brazilian (lets call him Branish) bulldog, Diego Costa, are this year’s surprise package and have strolled this group. Behind them Zenit are scrapping it out with Porto, another Portuguese club seemingly desperate not to make the knock out stages. They committed the unholy sin of failing to get three points off Vienna in Porto last time round. The result leaves them needing to win at Atletico’s fortress, the Vicente Calderon, a ground they are unbeaten at this season. Even if Porto do manage such a feat, they are still dependent on Zenit, led by former hero Hulk, losing against in Vienna. Frankly, their chances on both fronts look pretty slim.
Game to watch – Atletico Madrid v FC Porto
Group H – Barcelona (10), AC Milan (8), Ajax (7), Celtic (3)
Celtic’s wet fart of a campaign never got going really as they sit bottom the group, whilst Barcelona lead the way here. The Catalans’ aura of invincibility is starting to slip a little as a draw in Milan followed by defeat in Amsterdam adds credence to the idea that this is a side in transition slightly. Despite this, expect them to hump a shoddy Celtic outfit in the Nou Camp tonight. What we’re left with, however, is a rip-snorter of a play off between two of Europe’s traditional heavyweights – a re run of the 1995 final. Whilst AC’s star seems to be on the wane slightly they will go through to the knockouts with a draw whilst Ajax, for the first time in a while, look like an exciting prospect packed with spades of young talent and led by Dutch legend, Franciscus ‘Frank’ de Boer. Going into this the Dutch side are in slightly better nick of late - Ajax having won six on the trot whilst AC have three draw and three wins from the same period. I’m going to drop my plumbs on the table here, blinded by 1990’s nostalgia or not, and say Ajax to squeak a win in the San Siro.
Game to watch – AC Milan v Ajax
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