Only two more rounds of the group stage of the Champions League remain, and for quite a few teams, that means the margin for error is slim to none.
Over the final two match days, there are a number of important games that will determine how things shake out. Several of Europe’s elite, like Barcelona and Bayern Munich, who boast the tournament’s leading scorers in Lionel Messi and Mario Gomez, are in favorable positions heading into their last two matches, but there are also a couple of notable few who still have some work to do to keep alive their quest to be the best. Champions League betting odds will favor the big names, without a doubt, but don’t discount the possibility of an upset or two… or more.
Bayern Munich are in the driver’s seat in Group A, and if things go according to form (and theirs has been very, very good this season), they’ll clinch at least a place in the round of 16 with a home win over disappointing Villarreal in their next match.
While Napoli are still mathematically in the hunt to win the group, Manchester City are the only real challenger to Bayern’s place at the top. However, City’s place in the final 16 is far from assured, because while they hold the edge over Napoli, that could change next week when the Premier League leaders visit the San Paolo.
Napoli notched an impressive 1-1 draw in Manchester, and not only would they end City’s hopes of winning the group if they go one better at home, but they would be favored to finish second. Napoli finish away to Villarreal, who won’t be playing for anything more than a spoiler role, while City host Bayern, who won’t be in the business of doing any favors even if they’ve got top spot all wrapped up already.
Inter may still barely have their heads above water in Serie A after digging themselves an early hole, but they’ve rounded into form in Europe and are set to go through to the round of 16 as group winners.
It’s only fitting that they could and should wrap up the group in their penultimate match away to Trabzonspor to show just how removed they are from September’s shock home defeat to the Turkish side, even if their domestic form is still lagging.
Trabzonspor may have picked up only two points since their stunning success at the San Siro, but they still have a chance to qualify for the round of 16. However, CSKA Moscow have a definite edge as of now, and a home win over bottom side Lille, combined with an Inter win in Turkey, will render the Russian’s side final match in Milan meaningless.
However, even if those results occur, Lille’s home tie against Trabzonspor on the final matchday would still be of great importance, as Lille, as surprisingly underwhelming as they’ve been in the group stage, would claim the Europa League consolation prize with a win. And if the reigning French champions can manage a positive result in Moscow, which won’t be easy, a win over Trabzonspor could put them in line for something more, if the result in Milan is in their favor.
Despite not looking particularly convincing thus far in the group stage, Manchester United find themselves in a familiar position as group favourites going into crunch time, which is usually when we see them at their best.