It’s a bit insane to think that Tuesday and Wednesday of this week mark the end of Champions League group play. The season has flown by to this point, and many teams have already wrapped up a qualification or have been eliminated. BUT we still have five teams vying for the last four spots in the knockout round. The teams to focus on this week are Napoli, Benfica, and Besiktas in Group B. Two of those three will stamp their tickets to the next round and anyone of the three could still win the group. Porto and Copenhagen will fight for second place in Group G. And finally, Sevilla and Lyon take their shots at snagging second in Group H. The rest of the games are glorified exhibitions. I’ve separated the games into Important versus Seeding Games versus Not Important to make it easier.
Benfica vs. Napoli
DP: Napoli 2-1: Pretty big game here as the winner will come out on top of the group; however, the catch is that assuming a Besiktas win, the loser may not move onto the next round. I take Napoli after their 4-2 win over Benfica in the first round, but I don’t expect an easy match.
BD: Napoli 2-1: This is a seismic clash between two teams vying for first place in Group B. They are currently tied with 8 points with Besiktas trailing by a single point. A victory by either side will guarantee a 1st place finish. A draw would open the door for Besiktas to win the group (Besiktas must win of course). I’ve said it all season that I expected Napoli to win this group and despite their stumblings of late (L/D/D) I still like them in this matchup.
Dynamo Kyiv vs. Besiktas
DP: Besiktas 3-1: Kyiv is a bit overmatched and Besiktas has gutted out some really strong performances as of late. I think that they take advantage of an already defeated Dynamo club and pull through as the number 2 in the group following today’s matches.
BD: Besiktas 1-0: I have to give the Turkish side credit, they are in a much more enviable position than their group mates. They’ve clawed their way into contention and a victory plus any result but a draw in the Benfica – Napoli match up will put Besiktas in the knockouts. Long story short, win or go home. The great Robert Griffin always said, “No pressure, no diamonds.” You might not get a ring for making it to the knockouts of the UCL, but I’m sure qualifying is close enough.
FC Porto vs. Leicester City
DP: Leicester 2-0: Despite my expectations that Leicester will rest some of their quality players in an effort to gain some ground in the EPL, I still see them handling Porto. Casillas has been a brick wall in goal, but Porto has been unstable throughout the tournament so this will be a big test for them. If Porto sees a loss or a tie here their time in Champions League could be drawing to a close.
BD: Porto 2-1: For Porto, their destiny is entirely in their hands. Matching up against a relaxed and already-qualified Leicester City side sounds much better than playing a desperate Kobenhaven side who could usurp the Portuguese club with a victory and a Porto loss. I believe Leicester will rest many of their first team players, which will open up a chance for Porto to ease into the knockouts without too much hassle.
Club Brugge vs. Kobenhaven
DP: Kobenhaven 2-0: I think this is a scenario where Kobenhaven have to go into the matching thinking that they’ll do everything they can and at the end of the day if the Gods favor them then they’ll go through. They aren’t guaranteed anything, so they’ll be relying heavily on Leicester’s second team to drop points. Regardless, I think that they’re well matched to overcome Brugge.
BD: Draw 1-1: Kobenhaven are in an unfortunate situation. A win does not guarantee them anything. They must hope and pray that Leicester give any semblance of effort in a game that has no impact on where they finish. They also must face a Brugge team that could play spoilers and end Kobenhaven’s knockout bid with a win or draw. In the words of Brenden Gleeson, “Fuckin’ Brugge.”
Juventus vs. Dinamo Zagreb
DP: Juventus 2-0: Pretty straight forward. Juve has been picking up the pace domestically and I suspect that even if they field a hodge podge of first and second teamers they’ll handle Zagreb with ease. Mind you, seeing what Juve has in store for the rest of the tournament is a bit more tantalising.
BD: Juventus 3-0: Juve have already qualified for the next round. I’m going to resist the urge to pick anything other than a Juventus domination here since, ya know, Zagreb hasn’t yet scored a goal in group play. Juventus, group winners, book it.
Lyon vs. Sevilla
DP: Lyon 2-1: Another good match in store. Lyon must win, but by at least 2 goals to be have a chance at moving on. I think they’ll make a strong case for themselves, but won’t be able to handle the Spanish side that has been playing quite well in La Liga.
BD: Draw 1-1: This is the most intriguing matchup of the day in my opinion. A Sevilla win and Juve loss could put the Spanish club into 1st place. Sevilla can still lose however as long as it’s not by more than 2 goals. Lyon will be hard pressed to score two though having only netted 5 goals in as many games. A draw makes sense here. Sevilla goes through.
FC Basel vs. Arsenal
DP: Arsenal 2-1: Big game for the Gunners. Coming off a 5-1 drubbing of West Ham the team is looking fluid and exuberant; however, a game only 4 days later could bring up some concerns as to which Arsenal team we’re going to see. With 1st place at stake I expect them to field a strong team, but Basel won’t roll over.
BD: Arsenal 2-0: I expect Gunners would like to avoid second place at all costs this year as finishing in that spot the last 4 years has resulted in eviscerations at the hands of either Barcelona or Bayern Munich. Arsenal must take care of business versus Basel and hope for a PSG loss or draw to win the group. Here’s hoping they do it so that Dustin can breathe a little easier.
PSG vs. Ludogorets
DP: Draw 1-1: This is more of a hope than a real prediction. Just to be clear I really expect a 3-1 PSG win, but I’m pulling for a draw so that Arsenal can avoid falling out of the tourney for another round.
BD: Draw 2-2: It’s simple for PSG here – Win the game, win the group. Anything less puts them in second and almost certainly assures them a matchup with a titan in the knockouts. I like Ludogorets to play spoiler with a late equalizer.
Real Madrid vs. Borussia Dortmund
DP: Draw 2-2: This’ll be a fun one to watch as it always is. Dortmund has had Real’s number for years now, but with the Madrid starting to get healthy again and seeing outstanding performances from their youngsters they’ll at least give some competition to the German side. Not much of an issue because Madrid is still the strongest team in the World moving forward.
BD: Dortmund 2-1: Win or lose, both of these monsters are moving on. Only a win can give Madrid the group, but regardless of where they land in the group or who they play in the next round, they’ll be favored.
Barcelona vs. Monchengladbach
DP: Barca 3-1: What’s funny about this is that Luis Enrique said earlier this week that he “Does not give a shit about beating Gladbach,” but I’d beg to differ. Whether he cares or not this Barcelona team is out for blood following a last minute draw to Real this past weekend.
BD: Barca 4-0: Expect a lot of Barca’s young guns getting looks in this one. This game does not matter in any capacity. It’s merely a formality.
Bayern Munich vs. Atletico Madrid
DP: Bayern 3-1: Bayern has an unbelieve record at home as of late and I don’t think that Atletico will have the motivation to play through them. That said, Atleti are tough and may make this more of a midfield game than a forward matchup.
BD: Bayern 1-0: This group was decided in Week 5 with a Madrid win and Bayern’s shocking loss to Rostov. Atletico will go for a perfect 6-0 record in group play (the only team capable of doing so), but I like Bayern to spoil that.
Manchester City vs. Celtic
DP: City 3-1: My standpoint on City has changed a bit since the Royal Rumble that took place against Chelsea last week. Still a competitive team (Iheanacho is downright deadly), I’m hoping to see some other scorers come forward and some strong midfield play prior to a 3-4 game stretch without two of their largest contributors in Aguero and Fernandinho.
BD: City 2-1: Much like the other Group C game (Barca-Gladbach) this is simply an exhibition game with no consequences. I expect MC will rest many of their stars. But maybe Pep should play Aguero and Fernandinho anyway since they won’t be playing league soccer again until 2017.
PSV Eindhoven vs. FC Rostov
DP: Rostov 2-1: This is a good example of a game I couldn’t care less about. I’ll take Rostov, but I’m doing it in protest.
BD: Rostov 1-0: I think I read this game has Europa League consequences, but who really cares about that? It’s like caring about seeding in the NIT. I’ll pick Rostov, because they impressed me by beating Bayern in Week 5.
Tottenham vs. CSKA Moscow
DP: Tottenham 2-0: A meaningless game, but I think that Tottenham need to gain some momentum here. They’re eliminated from contention, but this is a good opportunity to work out some kinks and perhaps practice tactics for their match against United next week. CSKA could pose a threat, but Spurs have been wheeling and dealing in the midfield lately and I expect it to be too much for the Russian side to compete with.
BD: Draw 1-1: On it’s surface this game appears to not matter. But you would be wrong. A win or draw by Spurs automatically qualifies them for Europa League in 2017; a prospect that does not excite me. Spurs never got a handle on UCL competition and were eliminated without a peep in Week 5. I saw nothing in UCL that would indicate that playing in Europa League would result in anything different. Spurs depth is just not enough to play in two top flight competitions. Though I suppose getting a win at Wembley would be a small bright spot in an otherwise forgettable Champion’s League campaign. I expect several youth players to get a look here, which could be fun. Or it could be embarrassing. I say rest almost all starters, field a weak team, get a draw, and then continue to field that same team in Europe so that it doesn’t hurt our chances of finishing top 4 in England.
Bayer Leverkusen vs. Monaco
DP: Monaco 2-1: These games without anything on the line are fairly difficult to find the wherewithal to predict, but I’ve really liked what I’ve seen from Monaco in this competition, so I’m taking them over Leverkusen.
BD: Draw 0-0: Monaco has Group E wrapped. Both teams will try to get through 90 minutes without any major injuries or cards. Expect a docile affair.
Legia Warsaw vs. Sporting
DP: Sporting 2-0: Nothing to see here. Move along. Sporting way outmatches Legia here, but they aren’t strong enough to score a 4 piece. Realistically, both teams should wave a white flag and head home early as they’ve nothing to play for.
BD: Sporting 3-0: A battle of the bottom feeders in Group F here. Legia Warsaw has allowed 24 goals in 5 games. That’s not good. I see Sporting adding a few more to that total before the day’s out.
Overall Prediction Record
Last Week: 6-10
Last Week: 5-11