The UEFA Champions League group stage wraps up this week, and a lot still needs to be settled. While juggernauts like Bayern Munich, Liverpool and Manchester City have comfortably clinched a spot in the knockout round, Spanish giants Barcelona and Atlético Madrid are still making their bid.
On the weekend, Steven Gerrard returns to Anfield, the ground where he became a legend, for some Premier League action. In what should be a shocking sight to the Liverpool FC faithful, he’ll be on the opposition's sideline instead of sporting a bright red kit.
Here's everything you need to know ahead of a jam-packed week.
Porto vs. Atletico Madrid
Tuesday, Dec. 7 at 3:00PM ET | Live stream
Result: Porto (+180), Draw (+220), Atletico (+150)
Goals: 2.5 — Over (+120), Under (-150)
With 15 points through five games, Liverpool has top Group B honours locked up – but the second knockout spot is still well within reach for Porto, AC Milan and Atletico Madrid.
Porto is currently second in the group with five points, while Milan and Atletico are third and fourth with four points apiece. With Milan facing Liverpool and Porto playing Atletico, here are the ways it could play out:
If Porto wins, they’re though
If Porto draws, they’re through unless Milan wins — then Milan is through
If Atletico wins and Milan loses, Atletico advances
If both Atletico and Milan win, the team with the best goal differential advances
A lot has to go right for Atletico to advance, which is shocking for the reigning La Liga champions who haven’t exited the Champions League in the group stage since 2017-18. Diego Simeone's side is in a big of a slump, winning only three of its last 10 matches.
For Porto, a failure to advance might be equally disappointing on the heels of a quarterfinals appearance in 2020-21.
AC Milan most likely bows out, they’re no match for Liverpool even if Jurgen Klopp rests his top players, which means Porto vs. Atletico should be the decider.
Get your popcorn out, this closely-contested dogfight will be a doozy.
Real Madrid vs. Inter Milan
Tuesday, Dec. 7 at 3:00PM ET | Live stream
Result: Real (+100), Draw (+250), Inter (+260)
Goals: 2.5 — Over (-150), Under (+120)
Both teams have clinched a spot ahead of this one, but the No. 1 seed in Group D and a favourable knockout draw are up for grabs.
Real Madrid has 12 points and Inter Milan has 10, so the possible outcomes are simple:
If Real Madrid wins or the teams draw: Real Madrid finishes first
If Inter Milan wins: Inter Milan finishes first
If the stakes aren’t reason enough to get excited, both teams are also amid tremendous runs of form.
Real Madrid has won a stunning eight games in a row, hasn’t lost since Oct. 3 and leads La Liga by eight points.
Inter has won five games in a row, is undefeated in their last 11 and ranks second in Serie A. One streak is coming to an end.
Los Blancos will be without top scorer Karim Benzema, not because he’s in jail for blackmailing former France teammate Mathieu Valbuena (yet), but because he sustained a hamstring injury vs. Real Sociedad. His absence will work in Inter’s favour, even though coming out with a victory at the Bernabeu is a daunting task.
— DAZN Canada (@DAZN_CA) November 3, 2021
Bayern Munich vs. Barcelona
Wednesday, Dec. 8 at 3:00PM ET | Live stream
Result: Bayern (-150), Draw (+350), Barcelona (+320)
Goals: 2.5 — Over (-250), Under (+200)
In the first season since Lionel Messi left, Barcelona is at risk of not making it out the group stage.
Club legend Xavi's return as manager injected some life into the Catalonian side, but after a loss vs. Real Betis as a preamble to Wednesday’s clash against the terrifying German giants, surely Barca fans are dreading the potential outcome of this one. Bayern Munich handled Barcelona 3-0 in Matchday 1, and who can forget the 8-2 thrashing in 2020?
I don’t imagine Canadian superstar Alphonso Davies ever will…
🚨 ALPHONSO DAVIES IS WORLD CLASS ALERT 🚨 pic.twitter.com/yjr66geZKD
— DAZN Canada (@DAZN_CA) August 14, 2020
But Bayern already has Group E’s top spot under wraps, which means players like Robert Lewandowski – who’s on a vengeance tour after the Ballon d’Or snub – may not see the pitch. Even so, Bayern’s ‘B’ squad would likely still be favoured against Barca these days.
The second knockout spot comes down to Barcelona (seven points) and Benfica (five points). Here’s the situation Xavi’s men are looking at:
If Barcelona wins: Barcelona advances
If Benfica loses or ties: Barcelona goes through
If Benfica wins and Barca loses or draws: Benfica advances
Although both teams would be tied at eight points if Barcelona draws and Benfica wins, the Portuguese side advances via tiebreaker (points in head-to-head matches).
Considering Benfica plays Dynamo Kyiv, who have one point in five games, this feels like a must-win for Barcelona. Tune in to see what they’ve got.
Liverpool vs. Aston Villa
Saturday, Dec. 11 at 10:00AM ET | Live stream
Result: Liverpool (-400), Draw (+500), Villa (+1000)
Goals: 2.5 — Over (-225), Under (+175)
In unexpected fashion, Steven Gerrard is coming back to the theatre where he made Liverpool fans dream.
The man who grew up through Liverpool’s youth ranks from the time he was seven, stayed with the club through hard times on the way to 710 appearances and led it to a Champions League, returns to Anfield as manager of Aston Villa.
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) November 11, 2021
After managing Glasgow Rangers to a historic undefeated season, Gerrard has quickly earned credibility in the role of manager. And since joining Villa in November, it seems more than justified.
When he took over, Villa was 16th in the table, two points outside of relegation, and suffering through a five-game losing streak. Since? Three wins vs. Brighton, Crystal Palace and Leicester, and one loss vs. Manchester City. They’re now 10th in the EPL, not too shabby.
Despite that good run of form, those +1000 odds to win are not an accident. Liverpool is a juggernaut.
Gerrard’s career with the Reds was plagued with the fact the talent surrounding him never matched his standard of excellence. Whenever someone did (Michael Owen, Fernando Torres, Luis Suarez), they soon left for greener pastures. The fact Gerrard led the club to two Champions League finals and won one was nothing short of a miracle – but the Premier League trophy always evaded him.
Now, this Liverpool squad is a perennial contender in both competitions with Mohamed Salah, Virgil Van Dijk and Sadio Mane, among several other world-class stars. One can only imagine how decorated Gerrard’s already illustrious career could’ve looked with a side like Klopp’s.
Tune in for what should be a spectacular and emotional match as one of the Premier League’s greats comes home.
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