A number of teams have an opportunity to snag a spot in the Champions League knockout phase as the group stage begins the home stretch on Tuesday.
Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur, Real Madrid, and Atletico Madrid highlight the list of teams that would see their way into the next round with victory tomorrow.
Gabriel Jesus gets the opportunity of his Man City career as the club begins a three-week stretch without injured striker Sergio Aguero. Jesus has often spoken about his lack of playing time at the Etihad and now his time comes to prove he can lead the lines. As City welcomes Shakhtar Donetsk to Manchester, the hosts can seal qualification to the knockout stage with a win, while a draw and a Dinamo Zagreb loss or draw would also do the trick with their magic number at just two. Shakhtar is a familiar opponent for City, drawn with the Ukranian club into each of the last three Champions League groups, with a comprehensive result in four of the five matches in that span, earning a clean sheet in all four wins.
Jose Mourinho gets his first taste of European football inside the beautiful Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, which he dubbed the best ground in the world upon his hire. Spurs host Greek side Olympiakos, and while outside results could see them through despite dropped points at home, a win would do the trick on its own. Spurs will be up for the match knowing that with the Premier League outlook still questionable with regards to their initial goals, the European journey is still very much a theater of opportunity.
Real Madrid can secure passage to the knockout stage with victory against group leaders Paris Saint-Germain at the Bernabeu. Angel Di Maria was Real Madrid’s worst nightmare when these two teams met in the French capital back in mid-September, but the Spanish side is in much better form of late. While all the focus seems to be on Gareth Bale, Madrid has quietly gone unbeaten across its last six matches in all competitions, outscoring opponents 19-1. Madrid could still go through with a less successful result, so long as Club Brugge does not beat Galatasaray in Turkey.
A slumping Atletico Madrid side has the tough task of a trip to Turin to face Serie A leaders Juventus, but will be boosted by the knowledge that a win could see them through. Any less, however, and things become quite dicey, especially should either Bayer Leverkusen or Lokomotiv Moscow win in Russia. A draw for Atleti would see them through to the knockout stage if Bayer and Lokomotiv draw, but otherwise the final place in Group D remains up for grabs. Diego Simeone’s side has won just three of its last nine matches across all competitions, with just three clean sheets across that span. Cristiano Ronaldo was rested by Maurizio Sarri over the weekend as he looks to manage a knee problem, but is likely available for the match at home.
Bayern Munich has already secured passage to the knockout round, but could again put Robert Lewandowski on display as they travel to Serbia to take on Red Star Belgrade. The Ballon d’Or candidate failed to score for the first time in 12 Bundesliga matches this season over the weekend, but still remains in white-hot form. He has also found the back of the net in each of Bayern’s four Champions League games to date, but could potentially be rested with the German side already confirmed through and the top of the Bundesliga table clogged with challengers to the throne. They could do Spurs a favor by winning and confirming Tottenham’s place in the later stages no matter their result against Olympiakos.
Atalanta’s Champions League journey has not gone to plan, but the surprise Serie A contenders last season still have a chance to save face as they host Dinamo Zagreb before finishing out the European campaign with a visit to Shakhtar later on. The Italians have just one point through four group stage matches thus far, and they have not won any of their last five matches across all competitions, falling 3-1 to Juventus over the weekend in league play. However, a 1-1 draw with 10-man Manchester City last time out in Europe will give them hope that a challenge can be mounted. They are not eliminated yet, given they are just four points behind both Shakhtar and Dinamo in the group, but the opportunity is a longshot that would require victory in both their final matches.
Finally, both Galatasaray and Club Brugge look to mount a last-gasp challenge to a Group A that seems destined to see PSG and Real Madrid through to the knockout stage. The Belgian club sits on just two points while Galatasaray welcomes them to Istanbul with just one of their own. Two victories down the stretch are required by either side to stay alive, and even then Real Madrid could end the battle with a win over PSG who has already clinched a spot. The road gets even tougher for the home side who will see Radamel Falcao, Florin Andone, and Ryan Babel all out with injuries, leaving the Turkish side aching for attacking players.