It is almost time for end-of-the-year festivities, but before that, a treat lies in store for football fans – the last matchday of the Champions League group stage. Some will end the year on high notes while some will bemoan bad luck (and/or the referees).
This might very well be the last chance to witness the Champions League like this as from next season, the group stage will be revamped into one 36-team league. The number of matchdays will grow from six to eight, while the knockout stage will also change … but we should probably visit this topic more comprehensively in about nine months.
But this change may come at a good time. This season, Matchday Six might come up a little short; twelve teams have already qualified for the playoffs, so there are just four Round of 16 spots available. On the other hand, only three teams are eliminated, so there is plenty to play for. It also looks mightily important to win your group. Let’s have a look …
All times listed below are in Eastern European Standard Time (GMT+2).
Group A (Tuesday 22:00)
Manchester United – Bayern München
The big one. Manchester United is currently last in the group with four points, but just a point off Copenhagen and Galatasaray. Nevertheless, as they are playing each other, United can only advance if they win and the other game ends in a draw. Opta gives them just a 6 percent chance of progressing.
Not that United has an easy task themselves. Bayern will win the group, but they have gone unbeaten in the Champions League for 39 straight group stage games (35 wins, 4 draws) since September 27th, 2017. Last matchday, they were shown to be mortal though – their run of scoring came to an end in the 0-0 draw against Copenhagen.
United has somehow scored the most goals in the group (12), but also has a top-3 worst defence in the Champions League to combat that with 14 goals allowed. If long-time rival Harry Kane plays, he might exploit those holes: the Englishman has been involved in nine goals in his last eleven appearances against United.
FC Copenhagen – Galatasaray
Quite a straightforward fight as both teams need a win to advance; a draw favours Copenhagen if United lose to Bayern. Making it past the group stage would be a great achievement for both, as Galatasaray has not been to the Round of 16 for ten years while the Danes have only managed it in 2010/11.
This promises a lot of goals. Copenhagen has shipped in five in their two home games (2.5 per game), while Galatasaray has scored 10 goals in total (2 per game) while also allowing at least two in every group stage match so far. The game in Istanbul ended in a 2-2 draw, and this time, it simply will not be enough.
Group B (Tuesday 19.45)
PSV – Arsenal
Lens – Sevilla
All is settled for Arsenal (group winners) and PSV (through as second), and their first meeting in the group stage ended in a 4-0 win for Arsenal. They have scored in their last 22 group stage matches, but if Mikel Arteta decides to keep his stars fresh for the Premier League battles ahead, PSV might give their fans something to celebrate.
Lens and Sevilla will fight for the Europa League spot, with only a win keeping Sevilla in Europe. But are the kings of the Europa League (mind you, they are the defending champions too) past it? With no wins in their last nine away Champions League matches and the oldest XI in competition history (32y 19d) sent out against PSV on MD5, they have something to prove.
Group C (Tuesday 22.00)
Union Berlin – Real Madrid
Napoli – Braga
Just six months ago, Napoli celebrated a convincing Serie A win, but they have not reached the same heights in Europe. Round of 16 is within reach, as even a one-goal loss would take them through, but Braga can snatch second place if they win by two or more goals. A draw would help Braga seal a Europa League spot.
Union Berlin can steal the spot if Braga lose, but they will need to administer a famous victory over Real Madrid to do that. Real has been faultless so far, but their most recent trip to Germany – against RB Leipzig last season – ended with a 2-3 defeat. This season, they have won five out of five.
Group D (Tuesday 22.00)
Internazionale – Real Sociedad
RB Salzburg – Benfica
As straightforward as it gets. Inter and Sociedad are tied at 11 points, and a draw would take Sociedad through in first place, but Inter, who reached the final last year and has only lost one of their last twelve Champions League matches (yes, the final), is a worthy opponent. Second place in the group will almost inevitably lead to a heavyweight clash, so both would love to avoid it.
Benfica can help themselves to the third spot but need at least a two-goal win for that. They can take encouragement from the fact that Salzburg has lost both of their home games without scoring, 0-2 vs Sociedad and 0-1 vs Inter, but at the same time, Benfica remains winless in their last seven Champions League games.
Group E (Wednesday 22.00)
Atletico Madrid – Lazio
Celtic – Feyenoord
Known for their tough defence, Atletico has averaged three goals per game this season – their highest all-time mark. They have not lost yet, and a win/draw would guarantee first place. Lazio can overtake them but have won just two of their last 18 away games in the Champions League.
Behind them, the Europa League awaits Feyenoord as Celtic is already eliminated; the Scots remain winless in their last twelve home Champions League games. Feyenoord has lost their last seven away games but can take pride in being the third-best team to press in the opposition half, behind only Man City and Barcelona.
Group F (Wednesday 22.00)
Borussia Dortmund – Paris Saint-Germain
The last-ever “Group of Death” might offer a few more twists and turns with all four teams within a shout. Dortmund are guaranteed to go through, but a home loss would mean finishing second – and in five attempts, their record against PSG stands at one win, two draws, and two losses (including the 0-2 reverse in Paris this season).
PSG can clinch the top spot with a win, but they have never won away at Dortmund and any other result will leave them lingering. They also seem unable to keep a clean sheet away from home, as it has not happened in their most recent 15 Champions League games.
A lot will depend on Kylian Mbappe, who has always scored or assisted against Dortmund when in the starting eleven, but the mercurial Frenchman is constantly followed by defenders too, with 90 percent of his touches coming under pressure.
Newcastle United – Milan
This is where it gets complicated. If PSG takes all three points, this game will only determine the Europa League spot recipient with Newcastle having the advantage in case of a draw. Should the other game end with a draw, Newcastle can usurp PSG and finish second with a win, but Milan would still finish third. They need help from Dortmund to have a chance at finishing second.
The return game in Milan ended in a 0-0 draw, but the Italian side had 25 shots without success. They have been very unlucky, with just three goals scored so far from an xG of 7.9. They can also take comfort from Newcastle missing their first-choice goalkeeper Nick Pope, who is the top-ranked stopper in the Champions League this season, conceding just five goals from an xG of 9.9.
However, Milan has won just one of their 21 major away matches in England, a 1-0 win at Manchester United all the way back in 2005. It will be difficult to break down a thoroughly solid Newcastle team.
Group G (Wednesday 19.45)
Crvena Zvezda – Manchester City
RB Leipzig – Young Boys
Done and dusted for all four teams. City and Leipzig go through as first and second, Young Boys will continue in the Europa League. City, who are also the reigning champions, can win all six group games if they are successful in Belgrade – the last two English teams do manage that feat made it to the final (Chelsea in 2020/21 and Liverpool in 2021/22).
Young Boys do not have a great away record in the Champions League, as they are winless from eight attempts so far with two ties and six losses. Leipzig on the other hand has a rather good home record with eight wins from their last 13 matches. In seven of those wins, both teams found the net, and they have not kept a clean sheet throughout this group stage.
Group H (Wednesday 22.00)
Royal Antwerp – Barcelona
FC Porto – Shakhtar Donetsk
Barcelona seem set to top the group for a record 22nd time, as only a freak run of results would push them second. But under Xavi, they have not performed well away from home, losing four of their six away games so far; Antwerp will meanwhile hope to avoid the fate of Romanian side Otelul Galati, who lost all six group games on their debut in 2011.
Shakhtar has a slim chance to top the group, but realistically, the battle in Porto will be for second place. A draw would satisfy the home team, and they have never lost to their Ukrainian rivals with four wins and three draws so far. But Shakhtar has defensively turned a corner in their last two games, keeping clean sheets in 1-0 wins after shipping in seven goals in their first three games.