It’s the final Champions League gameweek of the group phase, and for three of English football’s four clubs their fate is in their own hands.
Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea must all win in order to reach the knockout phase, while for Manchester City – who are already safely through – a win could help them to top their group and secure an easier draw in the last 16.
The bad news for the former trio is that their tasks couldn’t be much harder. Arsenal need to beat Olympiakos by two clear goals – nothing else will do, while a point could be enough for Manchester United but really a win is the only way for them to guarantee their spot in the second phase. And for hapless Chelsea, defeat at home to Porto could see them eliminated.
So what are the chances of our sides making the grade, and which may have to make do with a dreaded Europa League spot?
Chances of qualifying: Secure
Their place in the round of 16 is safe, but finishing as group winner would be a real coup for Man City. Firstly, they would be seeded for the second phase, which should secure them a plum tie against a group runner up. Secondly, they would have home advantage in the second leg of their last 16 match, and that could prove pivotal.
The equation is simple: they need to beat Borussia M’gladbach on Tuesday night and hope that Sevilla can overcome Juventus. How likely is that set of outcomes? Not so much: M’gladbach are going great guns in the Bundesliga and as recently as Saturday inflicted Bayern Munich’s first loss of the campaign. City, as we know, have lost to the likes of Liverpool and Stoke in recent weeks.
Chances of qualifying: Minimal
The Red Devils are currently second in the Group B table, which is a plus point, but then they have to go and get a result in Wolfsburg to confirm their qualification. Not so positive.
The Germans have won both of their home encounters in the Champions League (1-0 over CSKA, 2-0 over PSV), whereas United have taken one point from six in their away games (1-2 at PSV, 1-1 in Moscow).
Should Louis Van Gaal’s side finish level on points with PSV then it is the Dutch side that would progress by virtue of their better head-to-head record. So, in reality, the Red Devils need to win in Germany tonight. It’s a tough ask as their price of 5/2 testifies.
Chances of qualifying: Good
Predicting the result of any given Chelsea game has the habit of making one look foolish at the moment, and the disparity between their domestic and European form is alarming.
In the league they have been poor as we know, particularly at home where the generosity of their hosting skills has had many booking in for Christmas Day at Stamford Bridge. But in the Champions League they have performed reasonably well in recent times: four points from six against a decent Dynamo Kiev side, and then a resounding 4-0 win over Maccabi Tel-Aviv.
And so they are currently top of Group G on goal difference (whether they stay there will be determined by their head-to-head record against Porto), and they know a point will be enough to see them through in second place. Given their frailties in the league they’d surely take that, and you can back them at 21/20 to win or take the 12/5 on the draw which looks tastier value.
Chances of qualifying: Slim
It really is an intriguing proposal: Arsenal need to beat Olympiakos by two goals on the Greeks’ patch. No more, no less, it’s as simple as that.
So how will Olympiakos play it? Will they park the bus or will they play their normal game? In a strange sort of way, the advantage psychologically is with Arsenal: they have no choice but to attack.
It would be easy to look through form guides, home and away form etc, but on nights like this those things go out of the window. Arsenal to win by two or more goals is available at 9/4….and it looks a decent bet to this writer.