Matches to watch in the week ahead (December 11-17)

It’s a big week for European continental competition hopefuls, as we have the last rounds of the Champions League and the Europa League on the schedule.

Most groups have their top two teams determined. As a matter of fact, there’s only one in which both places are for grabs – Group C. Napoli are currently in pole position, but they do have to travel to Anfield and avoid defeat in order to stay there. Liverpool are peaking at the right time, so Tuesday’s decisive encounter should be a sight for sore eyes. A loss or draw by Napoli would see PSG jump ahead of the Italians, that is if they manage to do what The Reds couldn’t and beat Crvena Zvezda in Belgrade. The Serbians are definite outsiders despite that result, especially after the six goals they conceded in France, but motivation can be a deadly weapon, so a PSG win shouldn’t be taken for granted.

The rest of the games on Tuesday have Tottenham trying to pull off a miracle and snatch three points at Camp Nou. They’re probably going to need them if they were to advance, as Inter host PSV Eindhoven in a game they are fully expected to win. A win by Borussia Dortmund in Monaco would put the pressure on Atletico Madrid, who would have to beat Club Brugge in Belgium in order to retain first place in Group A.

Then, on Wednesday, Ajax and Bayern Munich battle for first place in Group E. Ajax need to win at home in order to claim it, otherwise it will remain Bayern’s. Another game to watch is Shakhtar Donetsk vs. Lyon. The Frenchmen have done magnificently to avoid defeat in two matches with Manchester City (win and draw), but find themselves in a tricky situation, as a trip to Ukraine is never a walk in the park. Shakhtar have the experience and the Brazilians to win and if they do, they’ll eliminate the mightily impressive French squad. Elsewhere, Juventus need a point in Switzerland against Young Boys to secure top spot, although they might not need it, as Manchester United will have a tough time getting the better of Valencia in Spain.

As always, the Europa League has offered plenty of surprises. Not many places are up for grabs, though, as it is mostly battle for first place in the majority of the groups. Scottish teams Celtic and Glasgow Rangers will be in the center of attention, as both are within reach of the knockout stages. Whereas Celtic need a single point at home versus perfect Salzburg to stay ahead of RB Leipzig, Rangers require a victory away to the other Austrian side in the competition – Rapid Vienna. All teams from that group (Group G) are actually in play, as first-placed Villarreal (who host Spartak Moscow) and last-placed Spartak are separated by two points. The situation is similar in Group I, although Besiktas and Genk have the upper hand there, as they host their Scandinavian opponents Malmo and Sarpsborg respectively.

Sevilla need a win versus Krasnodar in order to book a place in the next round. With Krasnodar virtually qualified, it shouldn’t be a problem for the Spanish Europa League experts to advance. AC Milan are in a very good position heading into the visit to Olympiakos (three-point advantage, better goal difference, 3-1 home victory). However, Greek teams tend to be tough outs, so Gattuso’s men better be careful.

The weekend offers one must-watch match when Liverpool hosts Manchester United as the late PL fixture on Sunday. Other than that, there isn’t anything spectacular coming along, but there are a few interesting fixtures worthy of your attention such as: Hoffenheim – Borussia Monchengladbach (Saturday, 15:30 CET), Torino – Juventus (Saturday, 20:30 CET), Lyon – Monaco (Sunday, 13:00 CET) and Atalanta – Lazio (Monday, 20:30 CET).

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