We’ve reached a critical point in the Champions League group stage. Here’s what to look out for ahead of the matches this week:
Time running out for Tottenham
In the last round of Champions League fixtures, Mauricio Pochettino suffered a 1-0 loss that perhaps marked his lowest point as Tottenham manager.
Bayer Leverkusen subjected Spurs to their second successive defeat at their temporary European home of Wembley to prolong a run of six games without a win with a defeat that has pushed them toward a premature Champions League exit.
The anguish could be seen that night. It was a “bad moment,” as Pochettino put it. That run then stretched to seven games, but because the next match was a 1-1 draw away to Arsenal in which they came from behind, there was a sense of the tide turning.
Then, all the emotion was turned in the space of two minutes on Saturday. That was the time it took for Spurs to come back from 2-1 down to West Ham United to win 3-2. That was the time it took for everything at the club to feel different again. They badly need to take that through to this must-win match against a Monaco side who have already beaten them at Wembley and lead Group E.
It would reinvigorate Spurs’ Champions League campaign as much as the team. Further layering this match is the fact that Leverkusen, who sit in second, two points behind Monaco and two ahead of Spurs, face an awkward trip to CSKA Moscow.
This is the game of the week, with the most riding on it. Monaco know a draw puts them through. Spurs need a win to stay in it.
Group A leadership at stake in Arsenal vs. Paris Saint-Germain
Both Arsenal and PSG have already qualified for the round of 16, but because they were placed together in a forgiving group, that was never really in doubt. Rather, Group A has all been building to this: A showdown with top spot on offer.
It would mean even more to Arsenal because they haven’t topped a Champions League group since 2012 and have so often paid the price, drawing a series of elite sides in the knockout stage and subsequently losing. They are probably a better side than PSG right now, though, even if they have dipped a little in the past few weeks with draws against Tottenham and Manchester United as well as suffering injuries to Hector Bellerin and Santi Cazorla.
Meanwhile, PSG are still struggling to adapt to new manager Unai Emery’s methods and sit at third in Ligue 1, three points off leaders Nice. And Emery’s men are in danger of finishing second in Europe, especially if Arsenal can restore the energetic attacking football of the Champions League so far or build on Olivier Giroud’s fine late equaliser at the weekend. It would just be manager Arsene Wenger’s luck, however, if securing top spot meant facing one of the elite sides that could finish second in their respective groups this season.
Qualifying positions set to be settled
It’s only the penultimate round of group games, but there could be a sense of finality for a few teams. With five already through, the remaining 11 could be settled over the next two days. If Manchester City draw away to Borussia Monchengladbach, for example, both they and Barcelona will go through.
If Spurs lose to Monaco and Leverkusen draw with CSKA Moscow, both the German and French side will go through.
Elsewhere, If Cristiano Ronaldo’s return to Sporting Lisbon means Real Madrid avoid defeat, they go through with already-qualified Borussia Dortmund. If Porto beat Copenhagen, both they and Leicester go through, though the latter need only a draw at home to Club Brugge.
Lyon, meanwhile, must win away to Dinamo Zagreb, or Sevilla and Juventus will go through regardless of what happens between them.
Then there is Group B, and that could yet be the most electric of all …
Can Besiktas continue their comeback?
Besiktas offered one of the most epic performances of the Champions League season so far by winning 3-2 away to Napoli in dramatic circumstances on Oct. 19, and if they can build on that and do something similar at home to Benfica, it would represent an impressive surge.
It would also set up a thrilling final day in Group B, as Besiktas — third with six points — would leap ahead of a Benfica side in second with eight. If Napoli claim an expected win at home to Dynamo Kyiv, they would be top with 10 points, but that also raises the stakes for resurgent Besiktas.
If they lose to Benfica, and Napoli win, the Turkish side are out. This is one to watch.