Omgomgomgomgomgomgomgomg, it’s fiiiiiiiiiiinally Tuesday – amirite?
So a quick recap of what happened in the penultimate match day of group stage:
And more importantly, how all eight groups look heading into the sixth and final game:
First for the bad news, among the groups that are playing on Tuesday, three of the four have already established which two teams will be advancing to the knockout stage. So yes, that takes a little bit of the drama out of the proceedings, but there is still plenty to play for, including placement in the group (#1 seeds will match up against #2 seeds in first knockout stage). Oh, and then of course there’s the little matter of Group B, which is still wide open.
I’ll start off with the obligatory reminder that the EPL – by dint of its predilection for bed-shitting in the Champions and Europa Leagues these last few years – is staring at the very real possibility of losing its fourth qualification slot into the former competition. (I wrote about it in slightly more detail here in case you are looking to become more up to snuff on UEFA coefficients and whatnot… you nerd!) So the fact that the league could potentially send only one club on to the knockout stage is a very real problem. Say what you will about rooting for or against other English clubs in European competitions, but imagine being a Liverpool/Everton/Palace fan and managing to snag fourth position this season and yet NOT getting to play in the Champions League. It sucks. Believe me. Spurs fans already know the feeling all too well.
As for the games on deck today (and tomorrow):
PICKS OF THE DAY
Biggest game of the day is a no-brainer. The task for United is straight-forward: win and you’re in (to the knockouts), whereas a draw [or loss] puts them at the mercy of PSV, which could leapfrog them with a win against CSKA. Draws in both games would send the Red Devils through, but that’d be a nervy way to do it considering PSV is at home and the Russkis has played rather poorly throughout the group stage.
United has been scoring goals at a frightening clip – as in its downright scary how incompetent they have been in front of net. Nil-nil has been the final score in FIVE of its last NINE games the club has played. On the other hand, those results also suggest LVG’s “genius” has apparently manifested itself in weaving together players like Chris Smalling and Daley Blind into a shutdown defense.
So what exactly is wrong with United? There is no doubt that they have players that can score and make things happen (eg, Martial, Depay, Mata). Problem number one has been the disappearance of Wayne Rooney, who was born in 1985 but somehow turned 50 years old over in October. Second is LVG’s “system” whereby Bastian Schweinsteiger and Michael Carrick are doing their utmost to help out defensively but are doing basically fuck-all to help set things up for Martial & Co.
As for today, anybody eager for a glimpse of the “beautiful game” at any point during the 90 minutes is likely going to be sorely disappointed. United is going to try to strangle the life out of it from the start, hoping at some point to catch Wolfy on the counter and nick a goal, after which they will park one of the most expensive buses ever encountered.
Prediction: 1-0 win for United.
From a pure betting perspective, this is money in the bank. PSV is motivated and at home. CSKA could potentially qualify for Europa if they win, but they have lost five games in six in all competitions heading into this one, and have been absolute shit on the road so far this season. If you like money then trust me and put it on the Dutchies. LOCK OF THE WEEK: PSV to win 3-1.
• Real Madrid [-1500] and PSG [-200] are established as top and second in the group, meaning they have absolutely nothing to play for today. On the other hand, their respective opponents, Malmo [+2500] and Shakhtar [+550], are still duking it out for the Europa League slot, which to either of them would be a very big deal. Could either of the underdogs – both on the road – pull off a result? Hiiiiiiiighly unlikely, but I’m nothing if not a sucker for going with a motivated longshot against a complacent favorite. I’m going draw in both – 1-1 for Real/Malmo [+1050] and 2-2 for PSG/Shakhtar [+350] – because 0% of people who don’t play the lottery have ever won the lottery. (Those results would send the Ukrainians through, for what its worth.)
• Atletico [+105] and Benfica [+330], which have both qualified for the KOs, face off in Portugal for the top spot. Benfica has the advantage of having played far fewer games recently and should be much fresher for a game in which they actually matchup surprisingly well against Atleti. I’m going with the UPSET: Benfica to win 2-1.
• City [-170] are coming off an embarrassing 0-2 loss at Stoke that could easily have been 0-4, while Borussia Monchenpenisgladbach [+455] just beat the second best club in the world in convincing fashion at the weekend. These odds strike me as just plain silly, especially with Sergio Aguero and Vincent Kompany likely to be watching from the bench and Ze Germans still having Europa in their sights. I’m going 2-2 draw [+350].
So there it is, the best-ever Champions League preview that Barstool will publish today. Another big day of games on deck tomorrow so don’t miss me too hard.
Sam U.L. Army