By Christian Radnedge
LONDON (Reuters) – The bid to reach the knockout stages of the Champions League reaches its climax this week with Inter Milan, Paris St Germain and Liverpool among seven clubs sweating on taking the remaining four places for the last 16.
Tuesday includes a number of blockbuster encounters as Liverpool hope for one of those magical European nights at Anfield against Napoli in Group C, while Inter will be relying on Group B winners Barcelona to do them a favour and see off Tottenham Hotspur.
Juergen Klopp’s Liverpool, sitting third in the group on six points behind PSG (eight) and leaders Napoli (nine), must win to have any chance of progress while the Serie A side need just a draw at Anfield to guarantee their spot in the next round.
Napoli could even lose and still go through if PSG lose to Red Star Belgrade.
Should Neymar and co prevail in Serbia, Liverpool would need to win 1-0 or by two goals or more due to pip Napoli on their head-to-head record. Liverpool’s Egypt striker Mo Salah certainly looks capable having scored a superb hat-trick at Bournemouth in the Premier League on Saturday.
If Napoli, PSG and Liverpool all finish on nine points, the Merseyside club would finish top with second place determined by the scoreline at Anfield.
A group stage exit for PSG would be humiliating for new manager Thomas Tuchel given the club’s Qatari owners’ desperation to see the French champions conquer Europe.
They have reached the knockout stages of the Champions League in every season since 2012-13 but have never gone on to reach the final.
After claiming one point from their first three matches in Group B Tottenham looked out of contention but consecutive wins against PSV Eindhoven and Inter mean they head to the Nou Camp in second place and knowing a win will guarantee them a place in the last-16 for the third time.
Luciano Spalletti’s Inter side, who are level with Tottenham on seven points but below them on head-to-head, lost 1-0 to Serie A leaders Juventus on Friday but will be heavy favourites at home to bottom side PSV who have just one point from seven matches in the Champions League this season.
Tottenham lost 4-2 against Barcelona in the home leg at Wembley, but may have an advantage in the fact that Barca have already qualified as group winners and may take a leisurely approach as they wind down for the mid-season break.
Mauricio Pochettino’s team also do not necessarily need a win, as merely matching Inter’s result will do.
On Wednesday, Lyon and Shakhtar Donetsk will face each other in the final showdown for a last 16 place in Group F.
The French side sit second on seven points, two ahead of the Ukrainians and so only need a draw to qualify.
Shakhtar must get maximum points to seal their fifth appearance in the competition’s round of 16.
The 12 teams who have qualified already for the knockout stages are Ajax, Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Juventus, Manchester City, Manchester United, Porto, Real Madrid, Roma and Schalke 04.
However, only Barca, Porto and Real have clinched top spot in their respective groups.
(Reporting by Christian Radnedge; Editing by Martyn Herman)