Paris (AFP) – Xavi Hernandez faces his first critical test as Barcelona coach, with the club risking missing out on the Champions League round of 16 for the first time in two decades.
A goalless home draw against Benfica last month left Barca with their fate in their hands, but with a much trickier final game away from Group E winners Bayern Munich.
Spain’s champions Atletico Madrid have their work cut out for them to secure one of five unclaimed final 16 tickets after three losses on the spin, while the four teams remain on the hunt in an unpredictable Group G.
AFP Sport takes a look at what is at stake in the final phase of the Champions League group matches:
Ballon d’Or against Bayern?
Barca find themselves on the ropes ahead of Wednesday’s trip to Germany, but it could have been a lot worse without the blatant foul of Benfica striker Haris Seferovic in stoppage time at Camp Nou.
Bayern are one of three teams with a perfect record in this season’s competition, and Robert Lewandowski’s perceived Ballon d’Or snob could give the star striker yet another incentive to prove his point.
Xavi suffered his first loss as Barca coach on Saturday against Real Betis. He rested key players for the game in Munich, where victory would secure Barca to place second in Group E, extending their 20-year run to reach the knockout stage.
A young Xavi established himself as a mainstay of the midfield when Barca came out in the first group stage of the 2000-01 competition.
Not getting the maximum points would open the door for Benfica to propel them to second place, with the Portuguese expected to beat Dynamo Kiev in Lisbon.
Three-man race and four-man showdown
Porto, AC Milan and Atletico will face off for second qualifying place behind Liverpool in Group B.
Porto, two-time former European champion, are one point ahead of their two rivals ahead of Atletico’s visit. Milan host a Liverpool side that Jurgen Klopp could turn heavily ahead of a busy holiday schedule.
Villarreal, last season’s Europa League winner, beaten at home by two late Manchester United goals on Matchday 5, goes to Atalanta knowing he will advance at the expense of the Italians if they avoid defeat at Bergamo.
Austrian champions Salzburg seemed to be on the right track after racking up seven points in three games, but back-to-back away losses mean they could still miss.
Lille lead Group G with eight points and will progress if they score a point at Wolfsburg. The Germans are last in the section but victory would put them through instead.
Salzburg can seal a knockout place with a home draw against Sevilla, which in turn would advance if they win.
Already in the pot of the last 16
Eleven clubs are guaranteed their place for the draw for the round of 16 on December 13, five of which have already won first place.
Impressive Ajax Erik ten Hag will look to finish a perfect group stage for the first time in club history at home against Sporting, certain of second ahead of Borussia Dortmund, regardless of Tuesday’s results.
Manchester City cannot be caught by Paris Saint-Germain in Group A, while Real Madrid have a two point lead over Inter Milan in Group D ahead of their clash at the Bernabeu.
The Chelsea supporters, who will travel to Zenit Saint Petersburg for their final Group H game, will clinch first place if they tie Juventus’ home result against Swedish side Malmö.
Ralf Rangnick has enjoyed a successful start to his career as United’s interim manager and is confident his side will advance as Group F winners against Young Boys of Switzerland.
Europa League Consolation
All third-party clubs will advance to the Europa League, but a revised format now sees them face off against the finalists in the second-tier tournament group in a play-off before the round of 16.
Sheriff Tiraspol, a three-game losing streak after shocking Real in September, will continue his European adventure in the Europa League, as will Dortmund and Zenit.
RB Leipzig appear to be favorites to finish third behind City and PSG despite the split with coach Jesse Marsch. The Germans are tied on points with Club Brugge but have the head-to-head advantage ahead of their home game with Pep Guardiola’s side.
© 2021 AFP