The captain of the Poland football team, Robert Lewandowski, considered the decision “appropriate” to suspend Russia from their World Cup playoff semi-final which had been due to take place later this month, with Poland advancing to the final. ‘Probably each of us could not have imagined a different situation’, he said.
On Tuesday, FIFA confirmed that Russia have been removed from the qualification process for the 2022 World Cup. The decision comes in the wake of the country’s ongoing war in Ukraine, with Poland given a bye into the Path B playoff final on March 29.
Poland had been due to face Russia in the semi-final of the playoff process days earlier, but following the invasion of Ukraine, the Polish FA and players made it clear that they did not want to face Russia.
Poland will now face either Sweden or the Czech Republic in the final.
‘Probably each of us could not have imagined a different situation. I think this is the right decision. It would be difficult to choose the team with whom we could play in the qualification semi-finals (instead of Russia – editorial note), because any of those that would not be selected would feel disadvantaged. ’
‘For us, the most important thing will be to focus on the preparations on the final game, play it as best we can and do everything we can to advance to the final stage of the World Cup in Qatar’ – Lewandowski said in an interview with Polsat Sport after a record-breaking Champions League performance for Bayern Munich.
Poland will play for the promotion to the World Cup Final on March 29 with the winner between Sweden and the Czech Republic.
‘The final qualification match will be interesting. The training under our new coach will be beneficial for us. It doesn’t matter if we would play two games or one. In terms of the fact that we only have to win one match and surely we will be in the World Cup Final Stage.’ Lewandowski analyzed.
At the beginning of this week, the Bayern Munich and Poland star, Lewandowski cut his ties with Huawei amid reports the Chinese technology company is helping Russia amid invasion of Ukraine.
Manchester United was mistakenly drawn with Villarreal, even though both teams faced each other in the group stage while the Premier League side’s ball was not added to the bowl as a potential opponent for Atletico Madrid.
Manchester United was mistakenly drawn with Villarreal, even though both teams faced each other in the group stage while the Premier League side’s ball was not added to the bowl as a potential opponent for Atletico Madrid.
The last 16 ties will be played in February and March.
UEFA blamed a “material error” due to a “technical problem with the software of an external service provider” as it announced that the draw for the first knockout round of its flagship competition would be redone at 2 p.m.GMT.
Key players, rankings, ones to watch: all you need to know about the 16 teams through.
There are nine former winners among the teams through to the UEFA Champions League round of 16. UEFA.com profiles all these high-flying contenders.
Champions League round of 16 draw
The draw will be streamed live on UEFA.com and on the official UEFA Champions League app from midday CET on Monday. Two seeding pots will be formed: one consisting of the eight group winners (seeded teams) and the other of the eight runners-up (unseeded teams). No team can play a club from their group or any side from their own
UEFA ranking: 17 Group C: winners (W6 D0 L0 F20 A5) Last season: group stage (UEFA Europa League quarter-finals) European Cup best: winners (1970/71, 1971/72, 1972/73, 1994/95)
Campaign in ten words: Fearless, dynamic, inventive and relentlessly attack-minded: at home and away.
UEFA.com Ajax reporter: Yet another Ajax side shaped in the totaalvoetbal mould. Every player in the team – keeper included – is comfortable in possession and can take the ball even when under extreme pressure. They switch positions effortlessly, excel at creating and exploiting space, and are committed to flowing, creative football. What’s not to like?
Coach: Erik ten Hag Ten Hag has done a magnificent job with a squad that is constantly evolving. After taking Ajax to the brink of the Champions League final in 2018/19, he lost many key players that summer, but has simply rebuilt the side: same script, different actors.
Key player: Sébastien Haller The first player ever to score nine goals in his first five Champions League matches. The Ivory Coast striker has taken to the top tier with aplomb.
Did you know? Ten-goal Haller is only the second player to score in all six group games in a single season, following in the footsteps of Cristiano Ronaldo in 2017/18.
UEFA coefficient ranking: 10 Group B: runners-up (W2 D1 L3 F7 A8) Last season: round of 16 (L 0-3agg vs Chelsea) Best European Cup performance: runners-up (1973/74, 2013/14, 2015/16)
Campaign in ten words: Struggled in a tough group but produced when it mattered.
UEFA.com Atlético reporter: A campaign that never really got going until the win against Porto on Matchday 6. A goalless draw with the same opponents on Matchday 1 was followed by a last-gasp win in Milan which did not have the galvanising effect many had anticipated. Successive defeats by Liverpool left them with their backs against the wall, but that’s just how they like it.
Coach: Diego Simeone Simeone has coached the Rojiblancos to two UEFA Europa League titles, two UEFA Super Cups and two Champions League finals. Last season, he added a second Liga crown to show his powers remain undiminished.
Key player: Luis Suárez Signed from Barcelona in summer 2020, the Uruguay striker has proved an inspired acquisition. He plundered 21 league goals in 2020/21, the last of them guaranteeing his club would claim their first championship for seven years.
Did you know? The only time Atleti failed to get out of the Champions League group stage under Simeone, in 2017/18, they went on to win the Europa League.
UEFA ranking: 1 Group E: winners (W6 D0 L0 F22 A3) Last season: quarter-finals (L on away goals vs Paris) European Cup best: winners (1973/74, 1974/75, 1975/76, 2000/01, 2012/13, 2019/20)
Campaign in ten words: Scoring freely, hungry and deeply committed to title number seven.
UEFA.com Bayern reporter: Despite all their limitations through injuries and illness this season, it’s been relatively smooth sailing results wise and Bayern will again be major contenders in the spring if they continue to build on this rhythm. The tactical ploys new coach Julian Nagelsmann is currently implementing should also become even more visible as the campaign progresses.0 seconds of 0 secondsVolume 0% Lewandowski’s best Champions League goals
Coach: Julian Nagelsmann The 34-year-old has been diligent as successor to Hansi Flick, overseeing some fine displays and a cruise through the group stage. In 2016, he became the youngest coach in Bundesliga history when he took the Hoffenheim reins aged 28, leading them into the Champions League by finishing fourth the following season. He continued to impress across two seasons at Leipzig prior to joining Bayern last summer.
Key player: Robert Lewandowski The relentless Polish marksman hit new heights last term, scoring a record 41 German league goals as Bayern sealed a ninth straight championship. He has maintained that form this season with nine goals in six group fixtures and sits third on the list of all-time scorers in the Champions League.
Did you know? Bayern have extended their record unbeaten streak in Champions League away games to 21 matches.
UEFA ranking: 29 Group E: runners-up (W2 D2 L2 F7 A9) Last season: third qualifying round (L 1-2 vs PAOK) European Cup best: winners (1960/61, 1961/62)
Campaign in ten words: Finishing above Barcelona looked impossible but Benfica pulled it off.
UEFA.com Benfica reporter: Group winners Bayern were just too strong, but Benfica – starting the campaign as clear underdogs – finished above Barcelona with the help of an impressive 3-0 win in Lisbon. Darwin Nuñez’s goals, Rafa Silva’s pace and Nicolás Otamendi’s resilience at the back made sure the Eagles got the job done.
Coach: Jorge Jesus During his first stint, from 2009 to 2015, Jorge Jesus became the most successful coach in the club’s history by winning ten trophies: three Liga titles, a Portuguese Cup, a Super Cup and five League Cups. He returned in 2020.
Key player: João Mário The 28-year-old won a Portuguese title last term with Sporting CP while on loan from Inter. He only arrived at Benfica in July but has made an instant impact with his organisational skills, vision and ability to dictate the pace of games. “He adds class to the team,” says Jesus of the midfielder, a UEFA EURO 2016 winner with Portugal.
Did you know? The Lisbon giants have reached seven European Cup finals but have lost their last five (most recently against Milan in 1990).
UEFA ranking: 4 Group H: runners-up (W4 D1 L1 F13 A4) Last season: winners (W 1-0 vs Man. City) European Cup best: winners (2011/12, 2020/21)
Campaign in ten words: Defensively outstanding with the attacking variety to challenge the best.
UEFA.com Chelsea reporter: This is some team. Everything Thomas Tuchel touches seems to turn to gold and his side have once again been a joy to watch. The Matchday 2 reverse in Turin aside, they look just as ruthlessly efficient as they were during last season’s knockout phase. It will take something special to stop them.0 seconds of 7 minutes, 49 secondsVolume 0%00:0007:49 All Chelsea’s 2020/21 Champions League goals
Coach: Thomas Tuchel The coach took over last January and immediately went 14 games unbeaten. The former Mainz and Dortmund boss was a runner-up with Paris in 2020 before going one better with the Blues last season. His Midas touch is yet to desert him.
Key player: Jorginho The 2020/21 UEFA Men’s Player of the Year is a metronomic presence in midfield who more often than not dictates the tempo of his team and the match.
Did you know? The Blues had conceded just three goals in 12 Champions League games since Tuchel’s arrival before their 3-3 draw with Zenit on Matchday 6.
UEFA ranking: 24 Group D: runners-up (W3 D1 L2 F8 A5) Last season: group stage European Cup best: winners (1963/64, 1964/65, 2009/10)
Campaign in ten words: Strong defensively and creating plenty of opportunities but not clinical.
UEFA.com Inter reporter: Simone Inzaghi’s Inter may be less solid than Antonio Conte’s version, despite the same 3-5-2 system, but the Nerazzurri are certainly playing more attacking football compared with last season. They have missed an incredible number of chances, particularly against Real Madrid and Shakhtar. Should they become more clinical up front, they could go a long way.
Coach: Simone Inzaghi A Serie A and three-time Coppa Italia winner as a player with Lazio, the 45-year-old also brought a domestic cup to Rome during his five seasons in charge. From a tactical viewpoint, he is another exponent of the 3-5-2, like his predecessor Conte.
Key player: Marcelo Brozović The Croatian international has the perfect attitude in putting himself at the service of the team both defensively and going forward; indeed he often leads the ‘distance covered’ stats after a game. The key phases of play often go through him and he has the sort of mentality every coach loves. A real leader.
Did you know? European champions in 2010, Inter have reached the knockout stage for the first time in a decade.
UEFA ranking: 8 Group H: winners (W5 D0 L1 F10 A6) Last season: round of 16 (L on away goals vs Porto) European Cup best: winners (1984/85, 1995/96)
Campaign in ten words: Blend of impressive veterans and youngsters with potential; lacking consistency.
UEFA.com Juventus reporter: Massimiliano Allegri rejoined Juventus in May but he is still searching for the magic dust that carried the team to two finals during his first spell. Very inconsistent in Serie A, Juve were impressive with four wins in as many games to start their European campaign but the 4-0 loss at Chelsea on Matchday 5 brought the Bianconeri down to earth.
Coach: Massimiliano Allegri The 54-year-old returned to the bench with a mission after two sabbatical years. He steered Juve to the Champions League finals of 2015 and 2017 but lost on both occasions.
Key player: Federico Chiesa After tasting EURO glory with Italy, the winger is continuing his progression and turning into a real leader of this Juve team. He scored the only goal in the crucial victory over Chelsea in Turin.
Did you know? The Bianconeri have made the final five times since their last triumph in 1996 but are still waiting for a third success in the competition. No club have lost more finals than their seven defeats.
UEFA ranking: 3 Group B: winners (W6 D0 L0 F17 A6) Last season: quarter-finals (L 1-3agg vs Real Madrid) European Cup best: winners (1976/77, 1977/78, 1980/81, 1983/84, 2004/05, 2018/19)
Campaign in ten words: A perfect group stage facilitated by an in-form attacking unit.
UEFA.com Liverpool reporter: The Reds have left their challengers for dust, storming to the Group B summit without dropping a point. It’s not been plain sailing, though, as they have had to show some mettle to battle back against top-quality opposition in AC Milan and Atlético.
Coach: Jürgen Klopp Liverpool boss since 2015, Klopp guided the Reds to continental glory in 2018/19 and to their first English title in 30 years the next season. A striker turned defender at Mainz, he lifted two Bundesliga titles with Dortmund before heading to Anfield.0 seconds of 0 secondsVolume 0% Thiago’s sensational Liverpool strike
Key player: Mohamed Salah The Egypt forward has been the face of this Liverpool side since arriving from Roma in 2017. A star at Basel, he first landed in England with Chelsea in 2014, but has proved a major talent on Merseyside, his pace, intelligence and finishing helping him bag 32 Champions League goals for the club. He has seemingly gone up another notch this term.
Did you know? Liverpool have been European champions six times – more than any other English team. That is as many titles as Bayern, with Milan and Real Madrid the only sides to have won more.
UEFA ranking: 62 Group G: winners (W3 D2 L1 F7 A4) Last season: UEFA Europa League round of 32 (L 2-4agg vs Ajax) European Cup best: round of 16 (2006/07)
Campaign in ten words: Surprise French champions keen to cause more upsets in Europe.
UEFA.com LOSC reporter: After collecting two points from their opening three games, few would have expected LOSC to reach the last 16. Nevertheless, Jocelyn Gourvennec’s men eventually found their feet at this level, earning their first group stage win in nine years on Matchday 4 and building on that victory to clinch a first knockout round berth since 2006/07.
Coach: Jocelyn Gourvennec The boss made his name in six seasons with Guingamp, winning the French Cup for only the second time in their history in 2014. He had a second spell there following a stint at Bordeaux and returned to the touchline last summer after two years without a club.
Key player: Jonathan David The 21-year-old Canada striker was the most expensive player in LOSC’s history when he joined in August 2020 from Gent, and he truly began to deliver during the business end of the club’s French title charge last season. Even more prolific this term, David weighed in with vital goals on Matchdays 4, 5 and 6.
Did you know? This is just the second time in eight attempts that LOSC have advanced beyond the group stage.
UEFA ranking: 2 Group A: winners (W4 D0 L2 F18 A10) Last season: runners-up (L 0-1 vs Chelsea) European Cup best: runners-up (2020/21)
Campaign in ten words: Guardiola’s free-flowing outfit have been mesmerising to watch at times.
UEFA.com Man. City reporter: City have arguably taken their game to another level this season. They came so close to that elusive first title last term and Josep Guardiola has raised the bar once more as he chases a first Champions League triumph since 2011. When on song, their football is peerless.0 seconds of 45 secondsVolume 0%00:0000:45 Watch Man. City’s winner against Paris
Coach: Josep Guardiola One of the most decorated coaches in the game, the 50-year-old won this competition twice with Barcelona. He has scooped three league titles apiece at the helm of the Catalan club, Bayern and City.
Key player: Kevin De Bruyne The 30-year-old schemer passed 250 appearances for the club last season and remains a talismanic figure in their midfield despite the riches around him. He has endured something of a stilted campaign but remains key.
Did you know? Guardiola reached his eighth Champions League semi-final last season – the joint-most in the competition’s history alongside José Mourinho.
UEFA ranking: 9 Group F: winners (W3 D2 L1 F11 A8) Last season: group stage (UEFA Europa League runners-up) European Cup best: winners (1967/68, 1998/99, 2007/08)
Campaign in ten words: Ronaldo has brought salvation to a topsy-turvy season so far.
UEFA.com Man. United reporter: Jadon Sancho thumped home his first Red Devils goal to confirm their spot in the knockouts with a game to spare. In the midst of a turbulent Premier League campaign, United recovered from an opening-day upset against Young Boys to stabilise their European season at least.0 seconds of 2 minutes, 26 secondsVolume 0%00:0002:26 Cristiano Ronaldo’s last-gasp goals
Coach: Ralf Rangnick The 63-year-old ‘professor of football’ has replaced Ole Gunnar Solskjær as United’s interim manager until the end of the season. Having coached clubs including Hoffenheim and Schalke – whom he guided to the semi-finals in 2011 – Rangnick then oversaw Leipzig’s meteoric rise from fourth tier to Bundesliga and Europe’s elite.
Key player: Cristiano Ronaldo The Portuguese veteran has justified his summer return to Old Trafford, scoring six times in five group appearances. His last-gasp heroics against Villarreal and Atalanta secured United’s last-16 berth.
Did you know? United have been English champions a record 20 times, but have won only two major trophies – the 2015/16 FA Cup and the 2016/17 UEFA Europa League – since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013 after 27 years in charge.
UEFA ranking: 7 Group A: runners-up (W3 D2 L1 F13 A8) Last season: semi-finals (L 1-4agg vs Man. City) European Cup best: runners-up (2019/20)
Campaign in ten words: Star-studded team with huge potential still seeking the right balance.
UEFA.com Paris reporter: Despite coming second in their group to Manchester City, Paris remain among the chief contenders for the trophy. The 2019/20 runners-up have everything required to go one better this term – not least attacking talent aplenty in Kylian Mbappé, Lionel Messi and Neymar – but they must improve their consistency in Europe and Mauricio Pochettino needs to find the best way to support his ‘MNM’ spearhead.0 seconds of 0 secondsVolume 0%00:0000:00 In the Zone: Paris’ counterattack against Leipzig
Coach: Mauricio Pochettino The brains behind Tottenham’s surprise run to the 2019 final, the Argentinian replaced Tuchel at the Paris helm in January 2020, some 20 years after signing for the club as a defender.
Key player: Kylian Mbappé Competing for the limelight with Messi, Neymar and Ángel Di María, the France starlet has been the main source of goals for Paris in this season’s tournament, providing devastating runs into the final third, assists and lethal finishes.
Did you know? When Paris overcame Bayern in the 2020/21 quarter-finals, it was the first instance in Champions League history of the previous season’s runners-up eliminating the holders in the knockout stage.
UEFA ranking: 5 Group D: winners (W5 D0 L1 F14 A3) Last season: semi-finals (L 1-3agg vs Chelsea) European Cup best: winners (1955/56, 1956/57, 1957/58, 1958/59, 1959/60, 1965/66, 1997/98, 1999/2000, 2001/02, 2013/14, 2015/16, 2016/17, 2017/18)
Campaign in ten words: Looking ominously back to their best after a shaky start.
UEFA.com Real Madrid reporter: Madrid’s strong form on the road – three wins, nine goals, none conceded – underpinned their progress. With Karim Benzema and Vinícius Júnior delivering the goods, the Merengues could afford a surprise stumble at home to debutants Sheriff. Madrid are where they want to be, and from here they’re always a threat.
Coach: Carlo Ancelotti The manager who steered Madrid to ‘La Décima’ in 2014 returned last summer for a second stint in charge. He is one of just three coaches to have won the European Cup/Champions League on three occasions.
Key player: Karim Benzema Many people wondered where Real Madrid’s goals would come from when Cristiano Ronaldo left in 2018, but the France forward has more than stepped up to the plate to become the club’s talisman. Fittingly, he scored Madrid’s 1,000th European Cup goal against Shakhtar earlier this campaign.
Did you know? Madrid have never failed to make it through the group stage of the Champions League.
UEFA ranking: 22 Group G: runners-up (W3 D1 L2 F8 A6) Last season: group stage (UEFA Europa League round of 32) European Cup best: group stage (1994/95, 2019/20, 2020/21, 2021/22)
Campaign in ten words: Nerves jangled after a brilliant start, but potential is there.
UEFA.com Salzburg reporter: Salzburg looked to be cruising after taking seven points from their first three games, but faltered as they prepared to take the final step towards the knockouts. Results have not been quite as sparkling since November, but this exciting young team will be a force to be reckoned with once they regain their composure.
Coach: Matthias Jaissle It was a considerable surprise when Salzburg announced that a 33-year-old former Hoffenheim defender, who had never coached a top-flight team, would be their new boss last summer. He made the move up after two years in command of their U18s.
Key player: Karim Adeyemi The striker has big boots to fill but could be the next top-class forward to come off the Salzburg production line, after Patson Daka and Erling Haaland. The 19-year-old is quick, versatile and shows no mercy in front of goal. He has also worked his way into the senior Germany team.
One to watch: Luka Sučić What the 19-year-old midfielder lacks in experience, he makes up for in quality. Already a central component in Salzburg’s system, his success in the Champions League earned him a first cap for Croatia.
Did you know? Salzburg have made it to the round of 16 for the first time in their history; they reached the final of the UEFA Cup in 1994, losing 2-0 on aggregate to Inter.
UEFA ranking: 28 Group C: runners-up (W3 D0 L3 F14 A12) Last season: UEFA Europa League play-offs (L 1-4 vs LASK) European Cup best: quarter-finals (1982/83)
Campaign in ten words: Mightily impressive recovery after September setbacks for vibrant young side.
UEFA.com Sporting reporter: The outlook was bleak after the Lions opened their first group stage in four years with back-to-back defeats but three straight wins – and big ones at that – saw them through to the knockouts for only the second time. Some debut campaign for 37-year-old coach Rúben Amorim.
Coach: Rúben Amorim The former Portugal midfielder masterminded Sporting’s first Liga title in 19 years during his first full season as coach. The Lions set a league record for the longest unbeaten sequence in a single campaign – 32 matches unbowed – and dispatched Braga in the League Cup final.
Key player: Pedro Gonçalves He had netted just seven career goals for Famalicão before joining Sporting in August 2020 but ended his first term in Lisbon as the league’s top scorer with 23. The 23-year-old started this campaign in similar form after winning his first two Portugal caps in June.
Did you know? Sporting had progressed from the group stage on only one of their eight previous attempts in the Champions League era.
UEFA coefficient ranking: 21 Group F: runners-up (W3 D1 L2 F12 A9) Last season: UEFA Europa League winners (W on penalties vs Man. United) Best European Cup performance: semi-finals (2005/06)
Campaign in ten words: Lack of a finisher nearly cost them a knockout place.
UEFA.com Villarreal reporter: The Yellow Submarine played some excellent football during the group stage, in particular dominating Manchester United for large swathes at Old Trafford. Gerard Moreno’s injury issues meant that they lacked a natural goalscorer, which cost them dearly on more than one occasion, but they got the job done.
Coach: Unai Emery The former Almería and Valencia coach made the Europa League his own with a hat-trick of successes at Sevilla. Led Paris to the treble in 2017/18 and Arsenal to a European final a year later, before joining Villarreal in summer 2020 – and promptly winning the Europa League again.
Key player: Arnaut Danjuma A summer arrival from the English second tier might not have had fans overly excited, but the Dutchman has been a revelation both domestically and in Europe for Villarreal, terrorising defences with his skill, pace and directness – as well as his eye for goal.
Did you know? Just under half of Villarreal’s 52,000 inhabitants can fit inside their 23,500-seater stadium.
Welcome to the final matchday of the Champions League group stage! Let’s have a quick look at what will happen in the final matches.
Game of the Week
Bayern Munich vs Barcelona
1, It proved to be a fantastic weekend for Bayern Munich who brushed aside great rivals Borussia Dortmund 3-2 in a chaotic ‘Der Klassiker’ showdown to move four points clear at the top of the Bundesliga standings. Here, they enter this clash with Barcelona, having already sealed top spot in UEFA Champions League (UCL) Group E after winning all five of their previous group stage matches, netting a whopping average of 3.8 goals per fixture.
2, That included a mammoth 3-0 away H2H victory at Camp Nou on matchday one, a result that extended their streak to three straight wins against Barça – the longest such streak suffered by the visitors against any opposition in European football history. Bayern have also won a remarkable 22 of their 23 prior UCL home group stage matches (D1), a run dating back to 2013/14, which will further increase confidence here.
3, A late 1-0 home defeat to Real Betis over the weekend was hardly ideal preparation for this crucial UCL clash for Barcelona, especially as that defeat ended their previous six-game run without a loss (W3, D3). Sitting two points clear of Benfica in second spot in Group E, only a victory here would guarantee that the Catalans would qualify for the knockout stages given their negative H2H record versus the Portuguese outfit.
4, That could prove an extremely tough task as Barcelona have now netted just four goals across their previous eight UCL clashes, whilst they’ve also failed to score more than once in a UCL match since December 2020 – their longest ever such run in competition history.
5, Players to watch: Bayern’s Thomas Müller loves this fixture as he’s scored seven goals in six previous UCL matches vs Barcelona, including the opener in the reverse H2H. Barça’s Ousmane Dembélé is expected to be fit for this match and has three goal contributions in four previous H2Hs with Bayern (G1, A2).
6, Hot stat: Bayern have scored two or more goals in their last 11 home UCL outings.
7, Apex prediction: Bayern 2-0 Barcelona
Miracle in Milan?
AC Milan vs Liverpool
1, Seven-time European champions AC Milan have a mountain to climb to advance to the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League (UCL), needing a win over six-time champions Liverpool to stand any chance. The footballing gods will ultimately decide their fate though, as whilst a draw in the Porto vs Atlético Madrid match would put Milan through (if they win here), a win for Porto would see Milan finish outside the top two, as would a win for Atlético if it came by a higher margin than any Milan victory.
2, The Serie A leaders could also finish last in Group B and fall out of European competition all together if they don’t show up ready for a war. But the ‘Rossoneri’ will have to find at least another gear here based on the fact they’ve lost five of their last six matches (W1) when English opposition have visited the San Siro in European competition (excluding qualifiers), notably failing to score in four of those defeats.
3, Liverpool will still be on a high after scoring a 94th minute winner over Wolves last time out, securing their fourth win ‘to nil’ in their last five games. Boss Jürgen Klopp has the luxury of rotating his squad should he wish given that their Round of 16 status is already guaranteed, although a win would make Liverpool the first English club to navigate the UCL group stages with a 100% record.
4, The ‘Reds’ have been marauders this UCL campaign, scoring first in all of their group games. Milan did give Liverpool a scare in the reverse fixture though, leading 2-1 at the break – the only time across Liverpool’s 22 games played this season that the Merseysiders trailed at half-time.
5, Players to watch: Milan could use some Franck Kessié magic here, as they’ve never lost when the midfielder has found the net (W26, D4), while Divock Origi’s heroics at the weekend could earn him a start, and his last six Liverpool goals have come away from home.
6,Hot stat: Milan have seen the opening goal arrive before the half-hour mark in 12 of their last 14 matches.
7, Apex prediction: Milan 2-1 Liverpool
‘Group of the Week’
1, For the first time since 2009, all four teams go into the final matchday with a chance of progression. That’s the case in Group G which features Lille, Salzburg, Sevilla and Wolfsburg who are fighting it out for two places.
2, While there will be plenty of twists and turns along the way, the situation is relatively straightforward. The top two (Lille and Salzburg) can secure qualification by avoiding defeat and they don’t play each other, while Sevilla and Wolfsburg in the chasing pack must win to stand any chance. But every team knows three points will see them through. Talk about perfectly poised.
3, Salzburg vs Sevilla: Amid a host of permutations in Group G, one thing is clear – the winner of this final UEFA Champions League (UCL) group stage clash between Salzburg and Sevilla will advance to the knockout stages. After winning both of their two previous home games during this group stage, the advantage rests with the Austrians, who prepared for this clash with another home league victory to maintain their near-perfect home record in all 2021/22 competitions (W11, D1). Though Salzburg were declared warm favourites on all 12 of those occasions, it remains to be seen how they’ll rise to the additional challenge offered by Sevilla, having lost three of their last four games at home to Spanish opposition.
4, Wolfsburg vs Lille: Bottom-placed Wolfsburg will end the night either in the UCL last 16 for the first time since 2015/16 or eliminated from Europe entirely. Only a victory here can see them avoid the latter scenario, and while the reverse meeting on matchday one (D 0-0) showed their defensive resilience, it remains their last clean sheet in this competition, and their record since (W1, D1, L2) is poor.
1, Players to watch: With just five games under his belt, Ajax’s Sébastien Haller is the fastest player in UCL history to reach nine goals. Memorably, four of those goals came in the reverse fixture! While none of Paulinho’s six competitive goals this season have been crucial to the result, he has found the net in three of Sporting’s five UCL group games.
2, The seemingly unstoppable form of Ajax continued unabated over the weekend, as they swept aside Willem II 5-0 to make it ten games unbeaten (W8, D2). While this UEFA Champions League (UCL) fixture will undoubtedly pose more of a challenge, Ajax have their sights set on joining an elite group of only six other clubs to pick up maximum points in a UCL group stage.
3, Even though all four places are already set in stone in this group, it is unlikely that group winners Ajax will take their foot off the pedal here. Indeed, only Bayern Munich and Manchester City have scored more goals than Ajax’s 3.2 per match on average, while only UCL holders Chelsea can boast fewer goals conceded ahead of this final match day.
4, Feeling vengeful after their comprehensive 5-1 defeat in the reverse fixture, Sporting Lisbon arrive in Amsterdam after putting together a 12-game winning streak in all competitions. Yet, with the ‘Leões’ picking up just two wins across their last 12 UCL away games in the competition proper (D1, L9), they seem well deserving of pre-match underdog status.
5, Current winning run aside, the case for Sporting mainly lies in their solid away record on Dutch soil (W5, D1, L3). However, Sporting shouldn’t lack any motivation, after winning their last three UCL games at any venue, especially as they have never previously won four consecutive games in the UCL.
6, Hot stat: Ajax have scored at least twice in eight of their last ten UCL games.
7, Apex Prediction: Ajax 3-1 Sporting
Apex Predictions (FULL)
Real Madrid vs Inter
Real Madrid lead Group D by two points and come into this midweek welcome of Inter in superb form. Indeed, Los Blancos are on an 11-game unbeaten run and have won their last eight in all competitions. Inter, too, are unbeaten in 11 and a 3-0 win at Roma on Saturday extended their winning run to five games. They did lose the reverse fixture late on back in September and have lost their last three meetings with Real Madrid. A point is enough for Real Madrid to secure first and the pair could well play out a draw at the Bernabeu. So, Madrid 1-1 Inter?
Porto vs Atletico Madrid
Atletico Madrid are at the bottom of Group B but they can still finish second if they beat Porto and Liverpool beat Milan. However, they have lost their last three Champions League game and have only won three of their last 10 in all competitions in total. FC Porto are on point clear of both Atletico and AC Milan in Group B. A draw would be good enough here as long as Milan fail to beat Liverpool. Porto are winless across their last three away matches in the Champions League. So, Porto 2-1 Atletico?
Zenit vs Chelsea
Zenit have third place secured no matter what happens on Wednesday due to their superior head-to-head record over fourth place Malmo. Chelsea just need to match Juventus’ result in order to secure top spot but Thomas Tuchel’s side find themselves in a rut. Defeat at the weekend was only their first lose in 13 matches but there have been warning signs in recent weeks. Chelsea have conceded in each of their last three matches and injuries are starting to pick up for Thomas Tuchel’s side. While they remain favourites on Wednesday, they should expect a very tricky game against Zenit. So, Zenit 0-1 Chelsea?
Juventus vs Malmoe FF
Chelsea’s superior head-to-head record over Juventus means the Old Lady need to win here and hope Zenit can do them a favour in Russia. The Italian side have won back-to-back league matches, and have won six of their last eight at home. Malmoe FF have been the Group F whipping boys and it is now impossible for them to secure European football in the New Year. They have earned just one point from their five matches, but have won their last three away games. Nevertheless, this should be a routine home win for Juventus. So, Juve 3-0 Malmoe FF?
Atlanta vs Villarreal
Serie A side Atlanta must beat Villarreal to leapfrog the Spanish side into second place in Group F. Atalanta will finish bottom of the group if they fail to win on Wednesday and Young Boys beat Manchester United. Villarreal must avoid defeat to secure Champions League knockout football next year. Villarreal have lost their last three matches with top-flight clubs, while Atalanta are unbeaten in 10. So, Atlanta 2-1 Villarreal?
Benfica vs Dynamo Kyiv
Benfica know that if they beat bottom side Dynamo Kyiv and Barcelona fail to beat group winners Bayern Munich then they will finish second and qualify for the knock-out stage of the competition for the first time since 2016/17. Dynamo Kyiv are bottom of Group E and cannot improve on that. While Benfica will naturally think they should beat the worst team in the group, they did only manage a 0-0 draw with them in the reverse meeting and that result would see them finish third. So, Benfica 2-0 Kyiv?
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Argentina and Paris Saint-Germain forward Lionel Messi won the 2021 Ballon d’Or, his record-extending seventh player of the year award in his career. He beat out Bayern Munich and Poland forward Robert Lewandowski, who was the other top contender.
FC Barcelona star attacking midfielder Alexia Putellas won the women’s award, PSG goalkeeper Gigi Donnarumma was voted the best goalkeeper in the world, and another Barcelona player, 19-year-old Pedri, was named the best men’s Under-21 player in the world.
Robert Lewandowski was named the inaugural Striker of the Year as the top scorer for club and country, while Chelsea FC took home the Club of the Year with the most candidates across the Ballon d’Or awards.
LIONEL MESSI WINS HIS SEVENTH BALLON D’OR🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆
Lionel Messi has won an historic seventh Ballon d’Or after picking up the prestigious individual award at a ceremony in Paris.
The 34-year-old has now won the Ballon d’Or in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2015, 2019 and 2021, meaning he has lifted the prize handed to the best player in world football more times than any other male player in its history, two clear of Cristiano Ronaldo.
Messi beat out Robert Lewandowski who finished in second place and Chelsea midfielder Jorghino who was ranked third in the voting.
The forward added to his 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2015 and 2019 trophies after winning the Copa America for the first time with his country last July.
“It’s incredible to be here again. Two years ago I thought it was the last time. Winning the Copa America was key”, Messi said at the Theatre du Chatelet in Paris.
Messi, who joined Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer from Barcelona during the summer, collected 613 points, with Bayern Munich’s Lewandowski, named best striker on Monday, getting 580.
Jorginho, who won the Champions League with Chelsea and the European Championship with Italy, ended up third on 460, ahead of France’s Karim Benzema and N’Golo Kante in fourth and fifth places respectively.
Club of the year: Chelsea FC
2021 was a memorable one for Chelsea and they have been handed the award for the Club of the Year!
Of course, Thomas Tuchel’s team won the Champions League and are top of the Premier League while Emma Hayes’ side made the final of the Women’s Champions League last season.
N’Golo Kante: 5th in the Ballon d’Or
Jorginho: 3rd in the Ballon d’Or
Chelsea: 2021 Club of the Year
What a run for Chelsea!
Best Goalscorer Award
Bayern Munich and Poland striker Lewandowski has won the Striker of the Year award! He enjoyed an excellent 2021, breaking Gerd Muller’s long-standing record for the most Bundesliga goals in a single season!
Italy and PSG goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma has won the 2021 Yashin Trophy, beating out Chelsea’s Edouard Mendy who had been tipped for the award.
Donnarumma won the Best Player award at Euro 2020 and made the switch from AC Milan to the French capital in the summer.
Gianluigi Donnarumma beats out the likes of Edouard Mendy (2nd), Jan Oblak (3rd), Ederson (4th), Manuel Neuer (5th), Emiliano Martinez (6th).
Women’s Ballon d’Or
What an extraordinary year it’s been for Women’s Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas, who is crowned the winner ahead of stars Jenni Hermoso, Sam Kerr and Vivianne Miedema.
Pedri has won the Kopa trophy handed to the best male player age 21 or under. It’s certainly true that the teenager had an incredible year for Barcelona and Spain!
Bukayo Saka came sixth in the voting with Mason Greenwood fifth and Jude Bellingham in second place!
2021 Kopa Trophy Ranking:
1 | Pedri 2 | Jude Bellingham 3 | Jamal Musiala 4 | Nuno Mendes 5 | Mason Greenwood 6 | Bukayo Saka 7 | Florian Wirtz 8 | Ryan Gravenberch 9 | Giovanni Reyna 9 | Jérémy Doku
More to follow… Keep refreshing the page to getting more information!
Men’s Ballon d’Or Rankings (2nd to 10th)
Lewandowski at 2nd place in the Ballon d’Or rankings
Kante 5th, Benzema 4th, Jorginho 3rd!
Ronaldo 6th, Salah 7th De Bruyne 8th
There will be no sixth Ballon d’Or for Cristiano Ronaldo this evening with the Portuguese forward finishing sixth in the ranking! Sixth-place Ronaldo finishes outside the top five in the Ballon d’Or for the first time since 2010.
Kevin de Bruyne has been ranked sixth in the Ballon d’Or voting with Mohamed Salah in seventh place! Both players have enjoyed brilliant years with Salah arguably in the form of his life right now!
Of course, de Bruyne helped Manchester City to their third Premier League title in four years.
The Blaugrana president has full confidence in side’s chances to advance to the Champions League knockout stage
Barcelona president Joan Laporta is “convinced” his club will defeat Bayern Munich in their final Champions League group game on December 8.
He has said the appointment of Xavi as manager has inspired more respect from opponents, which could be a factor in what he has predicted to be a “miracle” win at the Allianz Arena.
The Blaugrana could still advance to the knockout stage without toppling their German opponent, but leaving Munich with a win is the only way to 100 per cent assure advancement regardless of what happens in Benfica vs Dynamo Kyiv.
What has been said?
“Beating Bayern is something that can be achieved,” Laporta said to AS. “There is going to be a miracle, I am convinced that we are going to win.
“Xavi is very motivated and very strong. I hope everything goes well for us, I think that at the moment Xavi’s arrival has generated a little respect from our opponents. They know we can do it again.”
Barcelona lost 3-0 to Bayern Munich at Camp Nou earlier in the campaign, and their general form this season has been below typical standards as they sit in seventh place in La Liga.
There is also the matter of their infamous 8-2 loss against Bayern Munich in 2020, which they will be reminded of by rival fans in the build-up to the December 8 clash.
However, the Bavarians may be fielding a weakened starting line-up as they have already clinched first place in the group and could be hesitant to risk injury.
Laporta also believes the Xavi boost in spirit will translate to a passionate display on the pitch.
Barcelona will seal a place in the last 16 if they beat Bayern Munich; if they draw or lose at the Allianz Arena they would need Benfica to draw or lose their match against Dynamo Kyiv in order to advance.
Welcome! We’re on matchday five of the Champions League now, and here’re all you need to know before the Tuesday matches start! Before our preview begins, please do not hesitate to subscribe to the matches you’re waiting for on our ‘Opera Football’ app, you will surely receive one of the quickest and best livescores & event pushes once the match starts!
Villarreal vs Manchester Utd
Both teams are on seven points at the top of this UEFA Champions League (UCL) group, and depending on Atalanta’s result, Group F can be won with a matchday to spare. Villarreal enter this clash with something to prove, having dropped two points despite leading at half-time in their weekend match at Celta Vigo, although that was a fourth game unbeaten across their last five (W2, D2, L1). A Villarreal win would see them equal the ten-point tally that was sufficient to win a group containing Manchester United back in their debut UCL campaign (2005/06). History awaits if the hosts can utilise home advantage from the start, as the ‘Yellow Submarine’ are yet to win a H2H (D5, L1) or score before half-time in a UCL clash against the ‘Red Devils’.
The sole defeat in that record came via a devastating stoppage-time winner from Man United’s Cristiano Ronaldo in the reverse clash on matchday two. Times have changed though, and United travel after a bruising 4-1 defeat to Watford on Saturday. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was sacked following, after a third defeat by a 2+ goal margin in five matches. A win here at the Estadio de la Cerámica should all but secure top spot for United, given their relatively easier finish to this group stage with a game at home to Young Boys on the final matchday. That said, the three-time European champions have conceded 2+ goals in each of their last four UCL away games (D1, L3), illustrating the task that lies ahead for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s replacement. Players to watch: Villarreal’s Arnaut Danjuma has seen two of his last four goals come in stoppage time of either half. Ronaldo could be ready to haunt Villarreal again though, as he’s closed the scoring in each of Man United’s last three UCL outings (W2, D1). Hot stat: Each of Villarreal’s UCL games this term have seen at least one goal beyond the 80th minute. Our prediction: Villarreal 1-1 Manchester Utd
Dyn. Kyiv vs Bayern Munich
A 6-1 victory at the weekend pushed Dynamo Kiev top of the Ukrainian Premier League by virtue of goal difference (W12, D2, L1) although the hosts need to improve upon their UEFA Champions League (UCL) form if they’re to qualify from Group E. Sat five points behind second-placed Barcelona with two matches to play, that’s likely to prove a tall order but a third-placed finish and potential Europa League campaign could prove a handy consolation. The hosts’ attacking output will need to improve drastically if that’s a possibility though. That’s because Dynamo have failed to score in their four UCL matches this campaign (D1, L3) whilst they’ve mustered just nine shots on target, three less than Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski has managed on his own (12)!
Visiting Bayern suffered a shock 2-1 Bundesliga loss to Augsburg last time out, but with the German champions already guaranteed qualification from UCL Group E after four wins from four outings, the pressure is off for this long trip to Ukraine. In fact, top spot in the group will be secured with a game to spare if Bayern can avoid defeat here. What will be a cause for concern though, is Bayern’s poor recent away record against Ukrainian opposition. The visitors are winless in their last three such matches (D2, L1) and were defeated 2-0 in their last away H2H in 2000. They’re unlikely to be held goalless again here however, as Julian Nagelsmann’s outfit are currently averaging a whopping four goals per match across all competitions this season. Players to watch: Dynamo’s Vitaliy Buyalskyi has eight goals in 13 league outings this campaign after netting a brace in his last match. Bayern’s Lewandowski has scored in his last eight UCL appearances and is looking to become the first player in competition history to net in nine straight matches on more than one occasion. Hot stat: Bayern could become the first ever team to score four or more goals in four straight UCL matches. Our prediction: Dyn. Kyiv 1-4 Bayern Munich
Barcelona vs Benfica
A season record 74,418 fans at the Camp Nou witnessed club legend Xavi Hernández’s Barcelona managerial bow in a 1-0 win over Espanyol last weekend. As Xavi etches his name into the record books as the fifth individual to both play for and manage the ‘Blaugrana’ in the UEFA Champions League (UCL), the need for three points supersedes emotion as a win will guarantee progress from the group stages for an 18th season in a row, something which looked beyond reach after starting with consecutive 3-0 losses. While back-to-back 1-0 UCL wins have put them in pole position for second place, Barça remain shot-shy with only Malmö (four) having fewer shots on target in the competition than their six. Yet, their 11 first-half shots over the weekend vs Espanyol (four on target) is Barça’s season-best for the first period in all competitions, hinting at a change of focus and possibly fortunes.
The scars of a 3-0 loss to Benfica are still fresh though, with that win ending the Portuguese side’s 60-year wait for a win over Barcelona. Back-to-back domestic wins before this trip just plaster over their diminishing UCL form, as Benfica have conceded nine goals across their last two matchdays after starting the group stage with two clean sheets. Benfica last progressed from the UCL group stages in 2016/17, with the ‘Eagles’ winning just once across their last 13 UCL competition proper away games (W1, D3, L9), and conceding an average of 2.85 goals per game. Whilst a win here would see them leapfrog their hosts – with an easier final matchday ahead – the fanfare surrounding the homecoming of Xavi will make this a difficult assignment for the visitors. Players to watch: Memphis Depay’s match-winning penalty over the weekend for Barcelona made it a joint-league high seven La Liga points won via his goals (seven) this season. Meanwhile, Benfica’s history-chasing Darwin Núñez has three UCL goals this season and can become just the third player to net three against Barcelona in a single group stage, after his brace in Lisbon. Hot stat: The team scoring first has lost only once in Barcelona’s 17 competitive matches this Our prediction: Barcelona 1-0 Benfica
Chelsea vs Juventus
It’s going swimmingly in the Premier League for Chelsea who currently sit at the top of the table, yet there’s work to be done if they want to finish top of UEFA Champions League (UCL) Group H (W3, L1). Their one defeat, which came against Juventus in the reverse fixture (1-0), was also the only game in which they conceded in this competition. Consequently they’re three points off the Italian giants with two rounds to play, making this a real six-pointer. With qualification into the knockout stage all but secure, it’ll be revenge and finishing first that will be the driving motivation heading into this clash. Not only did the ‘Blues’ suffer their first UCL defeat since April against the ‘Old Lady’, but that fixture also extended their winless H2H run against the two-time competition winners to four matches (D2, L2), the last two of which ended in defeat ‘to nil’.
Another win for Massimiliano Allegri’s Juventus would create history. Not only would his team become the first to record three consecutive UCL victories against Chelsea, but they’d also be the first to win four consecutive UCL/European Cup away matches against English opponents. This is a feat they’ll surely be backing themselves to do given their 100% record in the competition so far. Whilst success on the continent has masked their domestic woes this season – they currently sit outside Serie A’s top six – overall form does look to be on an upward trajectory. They’ve lost only two of their last 11 competitive matches (W8, D1), restricting their opponents to one goal or less in seven of those clashes. Players to watch: Chelsea’s ever-present creative threat Reece James has registered an assist in three of his last four matches for club and country, whilst Juventus’ Federico Chiesa scored second-half goals in the last H2H and in his team’s most recent UCL win. Hot stat: Chelsea have won just one of their last ten UCL matches vs Italian opposition (D3, L6). Our prediction: Chelsea 2-0 Juventus
Lille vs Salzburg
After domestic stalemates over the weekend, Lille and Salzburg turn their attention to their penultimate Group G fixture of the 2021/22 UEFA Champions League (UCL). Starting this matchday occupying the top two places in the group, both clubs could almost certainly book their place in the next stage of the tournament if they get a result, a welcome surprise given that neither team has advanced from a UCL group stage for 15 years! Lille have hosted two scoreless draws in this group stage against the other two Group G clubs to date (Wolfsburg and Sevilla) and after registering a further three draws from their last four Ligue 1 fixtures – albeit with goals scored in all three – the hosts will be challenging for the title of biggest forearms in Europe after all the arm wrestling they’ve participated in!
Salzburg’s attackers are in need of an energy drink after the team registered just two goals across their last three matches in all competitions (W1, D1, L1). Whilst consecutive clean sheets in the league has kept their enormous lead at the top of the Austria Bundesliga intact, both teams have scored in all six of their UEFA matches this season and thus their recent solid defending appears unlikely to continue. They’ll even do well to keep Lille off the scoresheet in the first half, having registered three 1-1 results at the break across their four group stage games so far, although the exception did come in their 2-1 home win in the reverse fixture. With an inaugural Round of 16 place to be secured with victory, there’ll be no shortage of both nerves and motivation for the Austrian outfit. Players to watch: Lille striker Jonathan David has scored first for his club or country in five of his last six appearances of at least 20 minutes, whilst Karim Adeyemi has found the back of the net in three of his last seven Salzburg games in all competitions. Hot stat: The half-time result has been replicated at full-time in just one of the last eight competitive matches involving either team. Our prediction: Lille 1-1 Salzburg
With only four points separating those at the top and bottom of UEFA Champions League (UCL) Group G, an enticing climax is in store with any outcome possible heading into the penultimate round. Even last-placed Sevilla have destiny in their own hands. They’ve been involved in both a fiesty and fruitless campaign so far, with two of their matches producing a red card (D3, L1), but a pair of victories in their last two group games would be enough to secure progression to the next round. Home was a sanctuary for ‘Sevillistas Rojiblancos’ this season, until Lille handed them their first defeat of the campaign on their own turf in all competitions last round (W5, D2). A visit from Wolfsburg will have the Sevilla faithful on the edge of their seats, with their team only previously securing two wins in their nine UCL fixtures against German opposition (D4, L3 – excluding qualifiers). Wolfsburg know they need a positive result in order to avoid requiring favours from others come the final round of the group stages. Anything but a loss will set up what will essentially be a playoff with Lille on the final matchday, as the visitors are currently deadlocked on five points with the reigning Ligue 1 champions. Manager Florian Kohfeldt will be instructing his troops to focus on their concentration here given that they dropped two valuable points against Sevilla in the 87th minute in the reverse fixture. But winning only three of their previous ten UCL road games shows the magnitude of the task that awaits the ‘Wolves’ should they wish to progress (D1, L6). Players to watch: Sevilla midfielder Ivan Rakitić, who scored in the reverse, has never lost a UCL game when getting on the scoresheet (W7, D2). Opposing him is Lukas Nmecha, who has seen five of his last seven goals come away from home for Wolfsburg. Hot stat: Sevilla have failed to win any of their last five UCL group games on matchday five (D1, L4). Our prediction: Sevilla 2-2 Wolfsburg
Young Boys vs Atalanta
On this penultimate matchday of the UEFA Champions League (UCL) group stage, things are looking wide open in terms of qualification in Group F. All four teams can technically still finish in the top two, although Atalanta would condemn Young Boys to bottom spot if they win here at the Wankdorf Stadium after the Swiss outfit lost all of their group games following their shock matchday one victory vs Manchester United. Another defeat here for the hosts would give Swiss Champions Young Boys an unwanted record too – their first set of four consecutive defeats in a major European competition. Indeed, a four-game winless run in all competitions coming into this game doesn’t give David Wagner’s men much confidence (D1, L3), although they do hold a solid home record vs Italian opposition (W3, L1). While Atalanta didn’t make their debut in Europe’s premier competition until 2018/19, they have progressed to the knockout stages in both of their prior group stage appearances. As such, the Bergamo-based outfit will want to make it three for three this time around and they will likely set up a straight shootout for qualification with Villarreal on the final day if they can win here. It’s been tough for Atalanta on their European travels this season, as they’ve failed to win both of their away group games this term despite scoring twice in both. However, this game is certainly the easiest on paper after travelling to Man United and Villarreal prior, so a callback to last season’s perfect away group return would be welcome here. Players to watch: With their league top scorer injured, Young Boys may rely on Jordan Siebatcheu for a goal here – but just three of his ten competitive strikes this term were match openers. Atalanta’s Duván Zapata has contributed to more goals in this UCL group (G1, A3) than Young Boys have scored altogether (three). Hot stat: Just four of the 32 UCL group sides have received fewer than Atalanta’s six yellow cards so far. Our prediction: Young Boys 0-2 Atalanta
Malmo FF vs Zenit
Rooted to the foot of Group H in this season’s UEFA Champions League (UCL), Swedish champions Malmö will need a drastic change of fortune to avoid finishing dead-last this time round. They’ve collected the wooden spoon in their previous two UCL group stage appearances, but managed to pick up a win in both those previous campaigns too. The Eleda Stadium has played host to both of Malmö’s prior UCL victories, with those results including their only clean sheets kept in the continent’s showpiece club competition. A rare feat indeed for ‘Di blåe’, who have lost all their other 14 UCL group games by an astonishing aggregate of 48-2. One of those heavy defeats came against Zenit Saint Petersburg, who registered their largest ever margin of victory in the UCL (excluding qualifiers) with their 4-0 trouncing of the hosts in the reverse fixture. A win here for Zenit would at least guarantee them entry into the preliminary knockout round of the UEFA Europa League, while keeping alive their slim hopes of snatching second place if results elsewhere also go their way. The Russian side are looking for a first victory on their UCL travels since securing back-to-back victories in the 2015/16 season, losing nine of their ten away games since. They’ll be favourites in their first-ever trip to Sweden, as the champions of the Russian Premier League battle it out with the champions of the Allsvenskan. Players to watch: Malmö’s Veljko Birmančević has scored his last five domestic goals in the first half. Albeit in qualifiers, two of Birmančević’s four UCL goals have proven decisive. Often key to the opposition’s best attacking moves, Artem Dzyuba has contributed seven goals in his last five appearances for Zenit (G5, A2). Hot stat: Zenit have seen nine of the 12 total goals scored in their UCL games this season come beyond half-time. Our prediction: Malmo FF 1-3 Zenit