The Champions League group stage draws to a close this week. Admittedly, a fair amount of the groups are already decided, but the contests to finish top of their individual round-robins could prove key when the matches are decided for the last 16.
My focus in this piece is on Tuesday’s matches. There’s eight of them, and here they are…
Bayern Munich vs Paris Saint Germain
What Paris Saint Germain are doing this year is remarkable. Fifteen points in five Champions League matches has seen them concede just one goal, while scoring 25. Edinson Cavani, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe are almost unstoppable.
Strasbourg did inflict their shock first defeat of the season at the weekend, however, but it will take more than that to knock this star-studded side off their form. Bayern, meanwhile, are going to have to settle for the second spot in the group. Jupp Heynckes has improved the Bundesliga juggernaut since replacing Carlo Ancelotti, but problems remain in Bavaria.
The visitors are my favourites to win the tournament, and I think they will make it a perfect 18 points at the spectacular Allianz Arena.
TIP: Paris Saint Germain to win @ 13/8
Benfica vs Basel
Benfica are only three points off Porto in their domestic league, but the Champions League has been nothing short of a disaster. Five straight defeats have made them the surprising whipping boys of Group A.
Their visitors, Basel, need to win to confirm their place in the next round. A draw may well be enough for the Swiss side with CSKA Moscow playing at Old Trafford, however.
In the reverse of this fixture, Basel smashed their Tuesday hosts 5-0. I do not envisage a repeat of that, but Benfica – who have nothing to play for – could be suffering a painful Champions League zero.
TIP: Basel to win @ 11/8
Celtic vs Anderlecht
When they were drawn with Bayern and PSG, Celtic and Anderlecht were pretty clearly competing for a Europa League berth. That has been the exact case, with the Scottish champions on three points from five matches, which they picked up when they hammered the Belgian side in matchday two.
Their visitors on Tuesday evening have no points in the Champions League this season. They are as good as nailed on to exit Europe altogether, and their chances are even slimmer given the hostile reception they will receive from the Glaswegian faithful.
Any Brendan Rodgers team has questions about its defence, but their attack is what makes it impossible to see an upset.
TIP: Celtic to win @ 5/6
Chelsea vs Atletico Madrid
Atletico Madrid need to win at Stamford Bridge to have a chance of progressing. That is a feat that will be almost impossible if Chelsea replicate their performance from when these two teams faced in the Spanish capital on matchday two.
There has been pressure on Atletico this season. Draws have held them back in Europe and La Liga, and the continued struggles of Antoine Griezmann are an ever-growing concern.
Contrastingly, Chelsea have found their stride in the last couple of weeks, and will be extremely confident of securing their spot as group winners. Antonio Conte is unlikely to rotate despite qualification being confirmed. I think we will get goals in west London as the visitors chase the game, and leave space for Eden Hazard.
TIP: Over 2.5 goals @ 49/50
FC Barcelona vs Sporting Lisbon
In a frankly confusing turn of events, Barcelona have not scored in their last two Champions League matches. With qualification and top spot guaranteed, we will likely see a rotated team at the Camp Nou for the visit of Sporting Lisbon.
The Portuguese side need a victory to give themselves a chance of making the last 16. It’s an enormous ask, even against a probably weakened Barcelona.
Significant changes from Ernesto Valverde might be our best chance of seeing some matchday six drama from Group D. The away side chasing the game should make for quite an open encounter, and I am backing over 3.5 goals as a result.
TIP: Over 3.5 goals @ 11/8
Manchester United vs CSKA Moscow
Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United fell to a painful 1-0 defeat to FC Basel in their last Champions League outing. That result means they are not technically qualified yet, despite having picked up 12 points from their first 4 matches.
CSKA Moscow must better Basel’s result against Benfica to progress to the knockout rounds of the competition. They were dispatched 4-1 when they hosted United earlier in the group stage, however.
I expect Manchester United to win this match, but under 2.5 goals at 21/20 looks a far more tempting price. How Mourinho rotates will probably be more interesting than the match itself.
TIP: Under 2.5 goals @ 21/20
Olympiakos vs Juventus
This match was meant to be a dead rubber for Juventus. Everything should have been tied up by now, but the Italian champions could yet fall into the Europa League. It would take a shock Sporting Lisbon win against Barcelona for that to happen, admittedly.
Olympiakos are out of Europe for 2017/18 with just a solitary point from five matches, remarkably against Barcelona. The Greek side lost 2-0 in Turin on matchday two, and have been far short of the required quality in a challenging Group D.
Despite beating Napoli at the weekend, this is the most likely upset of Tuesday night’s action. Juventus should squeak three points, mind.
TIP: Juventus to win @ 6/25
Roma vs Qarabag
Roma can confirm their spot in the last 16 with a victory over Azerbaijani side, Qarabag. Whatever happens, you can guarantee it will be worth watching when Roma are involved.
Defeat to Atletico Madrid a couple of weeks ago has put a smidgen of pressure on the Italian giants. A shock loss here paired with a Madrid victory at Stamford Bridge would force them to play on Thursday nights after Christmas.
Qarabag never stood much chance in this group, but they have been far from embarrassed. Two draws with Atletico and holding Roma to a 2-1 victory show they can compete with Europe’s best. Taking anything from the Italian capital is a step too far, though.
TIP: Roma to score over 2.5 goals @ 12/25
*Odds subject to change - correct at time of writing*