First and foremost, welcome to December, ladies and gentlemen. It is a month of family, busy shopping, intensive cooking and extensive eating and drinking. Hope you enjoy it, ho-ho-ho!
Luckily for football fans, December is as well the most intense month for the Premier League teams, who are not only competing in the League itself, but have to finish their business in the UEFA Champions League and the Europa League (not in the scope of this article though). Chelsea, Tottenham and Manchester City are already through. The Spurs and Citizens qualified as the group winners, whereas the Blues are yet to secure the 1st spot.
The aforementioned trio joined an honorable company of the Europe’s mightiest and already qualified teams, including Barcelona, Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain, Bayern Munich and Besiktas. What is left for the last match day?
- Groups A-D will kick off all at the same time this Tuesday, December 5 at 8:45 pm CET.
- Groups E-H will kick off all at the same time on Wednesday, December 6 at 8:45 pm CET.
Benfica v. Basel
Manchester United is all but there. There is still a scenario where they lose the 1st spot, but that’s highly unlikely. The last game day is about Basel and CSKA Moscow, who are fighting for the 2nd qualification ticket. The Russians will have an uphill battle to at least not lose while facing a ravenous crowd at Old Trafford. Basel travels to Portugal, where they will be tested by the already relegated and doomed Benfica side.
Bayern Munich v. Paris Saint-Germain
Celtic v. Anderlecht
Nothing is really happening in this group, as the roles are already all set. Bayern can only overcome PSG if they beat them by more than three goals. Same applies to Celtic, who will lose their Europa League qualification if Anderlecht manages to win by the same 3-goal margin. This looks like a chance for reserves and hopefully no injuries to the main performers. Boring...
Chelsea v. Atletico Madrid
AS Roma v. FK Qarabag
- Chelsea will almost assuredly take second if they don’t win this one, and I don’t think they want it.
- Roma qualifies if they win.
- Atletico’s only chance is to win in London and hope that Qarabag can produce a shock result.
- Qarabag is out and plays for pride.
Barcelona v. Sporting
Olympiakos v. Juventus
Sporting needs to win at the Camp Nou and hope that Juventus is surprised in Greece by Olympiakos. Can’t see this happening, so I expect it to be a close game, maybe even a draw in Barcelona, but Juve should still be too strong for Olympiacos. Sorry Sporting, it might be the Europa League after all.
NK Maribor v. Sevilla
This group will give us the most exciting game of the final day. Liverpool can settle for one point, but Spartak needs all three. I expect this to be a great game of football with emotions flying high all around the Kop. At the same time in Slovenia, Sevilla will be testing Maribor’s defense, knowing that a win will bring them into the play-offs.
Feyenoord v. Napoli
Shakhtar Donetsk v. Manchester City
It’s pretty simple in this group: Will Manchester City take it seriously and compete against the Ukranians or just appear on the pitch? The Citizens are guaranteed to be top of the group and have the Manchester derby next weekend. I envision only a couple of players from the main squad to start, which can give Shakhtar a chance to grab at least a point. This point would be sufficient for qualification regardless of Napoli’s efforts in the parallel game. Summing up: win or draw for Shakhtar - they qualify; loss for Shakhtar and win for Napoli - change in fortunes as the Ukranians would head only to the Europa League.
RB Leipzig v. Besiktas
FC Porto v. Monaco
Monaco is out, so Porto should comfortably beat them at the Dragao and secure a second spot. Leipzig needs a win and will hope for Monaco’s fighting spirit. Besiktas is first and will not put much effort into this one.
Real Madrid v. Borussia Dortmund
Tottenham v. Apoel Nicosia
Spurs are first (oh dear, at what cost, looking at their current Premier League struggles). Madrid are second. Borussia and Apoel are competing for Europa League, but I sincerely wonder if the Germans actually need it this year. I don’t expect anything out of this group except perhaps Cristiano banging a penta-trick to boost his scoring record. What else is this game for?
Based on the fixtures and team goals, who can bring some well-needed spark to your fantasy squads, before you have a chance to re-group your team and strategy?
Qarabag can’t score, Roma’s game is a must win. Do you need anything else?
Michel Vorm (Tottenham)
Spurs’ quality should be enough to keep Apoel quiet.
Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus)
A must-win game for the legendary Italian. A bit sentimental, but they should qualify and he will be the lord-protector of the goal.
Craig Gordon (Celtic)
Their only clean sheet and solid win came against Anderlecht, but in Belgium. Now they play at home and I can’t see them losing or even conceding.
Aleksandar Kolarov (Roma)
He is a constant goal threat, on top of owning most of their free kicks. Roma’s game is a must-win and he will bombard sorry Qarabag.
Alex Telles (Porto)
Monaco is relegated, and Porto needs a win to be safely through. Telles is responsible for the crosses and is pretty active down his flank.
Davinson Sanchez (Tottenham)
He is nailed to start after earning a three-match domestic suspension on Saturday.
Raul Albiol (Napoli)
If Napoli wants to progress, they need this clean sheet and a comfortable bunch of goals while waiting to see how the Chelsea v. Ateltico game develops.
Clement Lenglet (Sevilla)
Maribor is goal shy, and it is a must-win for Sevilla. Lenglet seems to be their most consistent starter.
Raoul Petretta (Basel)
Costs you a penny and should start this crucial game for the Swiss champions. It was his delivery that defeated Manchester United in the previous game week.
Taison / Marlos / Bernard (Shakhtar)
Shakhtar has a seemingly easy task -- don’t lose at home to City. BUT Manchester City can score anytime, and their scores can come from anyone in their attacking line. With this in mind, Shakhtar’s Brazilians must perform to advance into the play-offs. It is a coin toss among them, but my flip gives me Marlos.
Piotr Zielinski (Napoli)
The Polish winger is in the form of his life and should get his starting spot back from Allan after the weekend’s loss to Juve.
Paul Pogba (Man United)
He will miss the Manchester derby next weekend after his silly red card, but he is confirmed to play in this one. And he will want redemption, rest assured.
Alexander Golovin (CSKA)
CSKA will miss their Swedish hitman Vernbloom, so Golovin should be pulling the strings from midfield for CSKA to have any chance of winning against United.
Quincy Promes / Denis Glushakov (Spartak)
It’s a must-win game for the Russian champions, and they will be very spirited after two successive tough wins in the Russian Premier league.
Philippe Coutinho (Liverpool)
This trio of Coutinho / Mane / Salah is probably one of the deadliest in the European football nowadays. They will get one more chance to demonstrate. It is Coutinho for me personally.
Emil Forsberg (Leipzig)
Another must-win game, and he was very lively in the weekend’s defeat to Hoffenheim. Additionally, he is Leipzig’s best performer in this Champions League season.
Edin Dzeko (Roma)
Faces Qarabag in Rome and is due for an explosion. My captain.
Wissam Ben Yedder (Sevilla)
It’s his season, and he already scored a bunch of important goals in this CL. He should be at his best, trying to crack that Maribor defense and qualify into the play-offs.
Roberto Firmino / Sadio Mane / Mohamed Salah (Liverpool)
There is a slight concern about Firmino’s starting status, but Klopp doesn’t want to let this qualification slip. So my bet is that all the best start and destroy Spartak’s shaky backline.
Vincent Aboubakar (Porto)
A big strong striker should score, and Aboubakor needs to for Porto to progress into the play-offs.
Dries Mertens (Napoli)
Napoli’s chances are very thin, but they exist. They need a simple win plus hope that City’s 2nd tier plays to impress against Shakhtar in the parallel game. Mertens is Napoli’s main goal scorer, so he should be well-prepared for this responsibility.
Moussa Dembele (Celtic)
Just facing sluggish Anderlecht at home. He is Celtic’s best attacker and has to provide solid returns if they score at all, which they should.
Marcus Rashford (Manchester United)
Among all my picks, I prioritized the players that have something to play for. So Marcus is playing for his career, as he has recently found himself benched too often. I think he will get a start and prove his coach wrong.
Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid)
CR7 is misfiring in La Liga this season where the numbers are simply disastrous. In the Champions League however, he can still get the Golden Boot if he improves quickly. Dortmund are relegated, and I don’t think they want to go to the Europa League. With this in mind, I see Ronaldo leading a high-scoring demolition of the Germans.
That’s it for the last game day of the Champions League. After this round we will receive one more Wildcard to update our teams, so don’t stress a lot if your players didn't qualify into the next round. I’m stuck at around 100k in the rankings and will be facing an uphill battle of my own to hit my early season target of 10k finish.
This is my line-up:
Moreno / Ramos / Kurzawa / Kolarov
Promes / Quaresma / Forsberg
Dzeko (C) / Neymar / Salah
How are you doing so far this season? Will Atletico & Napoli magically survive? Is there a chance that all big clubs simply play their reserves and we get a headache of assembling a starting 11?
Let me know your thoughts in the comments and good luck!
Thanks for reading us, as always.