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Champions League: Atleti on the brink as Group B goes to the wire


Champions League: Atleti on the brink as Group B goes to the wire

Liverpool's demolition job in Group B has paved the way for a thrilling last-night battle for the other qualification place in the section with Atletico Madrid needing a win and help from elsewhere if they are to make it into the last 16.

Three-time Champions League finalists Atletico have reached the knockout stage in seven of the last eight seasons but are currently 1/4 not to make it this time as a calamitous campaign comes to a fascinating climax.

To accompany Liverpool into the last 16, Diego Simeone's side need to win at Porto and hope Milan do not beat Jurgen Klopp's men at the San Siro - and given that Klopp can rest as many players as he likes, it's certainly looking bleak for the Spanish giants.

Judgement night for Simeone

"There are two responses," proclaimed Simeone following Atletico's La Liga loss at home to Mallorca on Saturday and ahead of their Group B decider at Porto, "depression or rebellion."

It's a familiar war-cry from the Argentine, a fearless, teak-tough midfielder back in the day who has taken those traits into management and in doing so has turned Atletico into one of the most supremely disciplined forces in European football. Until this season.

Rebellion rather than depression was always a non-negotiable, but suddenly Simeone's class of 2021-22 looks to have a softer centre than usual and they are acutely aware that qualification for the next stage of the tournament is very much out of their hands.

They go into the final round of games bottom on four points, the same as Milan who they trail on goal difference. Porto are currently second on five points and 4/5 to qualify.

The first part of the equation for Atletico is simple enough - they need to win in Porto for what would be just their second victory of the group phase. The first - 2-1 in Milan - was against ten men and clinched in the seventh minute of injury time with a Luis Suarez penalty.

They head to Porto minus central defenders Felipe (suspended) and Stefan Savic (injured) and needing to find the net, something they haven't done since the first half of their matchday three defeat at home to Liverpool.

If Atletico do win and move to seven points they then need Milan not to beat Liverpool.

Stefano Pioli's men were pointless after three rounds and still looked doomed going into the final few minutes of their last game at the Metropolitano in Madrid, when Junior Messias scored to earn Milan a priceless 1-0 win and a last-gasp lifeline.

They are still 2/7 not to qualify because they also need a favourable result from Porto - either a draw or low-scoring away win - but couldn't be taking on Liverpool at a better time with Klopp inevitably going to ring some changes four days before they meet Steven Gerrard's improving Aston Villa in the Premier League.

City on cruise control

There may be plenty to play for in Group B but it's all done and dusted in Groups A and C. Manchester City fans might have had grounds when the draw was made for thinking their last-day showdown at Leipzig would be a hugely important fixture against rock-solid opponents with maybe even qualification on the line, but as it has turned out nothing could be further from the truth.

Pep Guardiola's men have dotted up as group winners leaving third-placed Leipzig locked in a battle with Club Brugge for the "honour" of simply hotfooting it across to the Europa League.

Leipzig, who sacked boss Jesse Marsch after Friday's 2-1 loss at Union Berlin which left them 14th in the Bundesliga, are currently 3/1 to see off City.

Group C is completely settled, the only thing left to sort out whether or not Ajax can complete the perfect campaign and make it six wins out of six. They are 3/10 to achieve it by toppling Sporting Lisbon in Amsterdam.

Inter look to defy the odds at the Bernabeu

Real Madrid and Inter Milan are safely through from Group D - though the meeting of these two juggernauts in the Bernabeu will determine who will go through to Monday's draw as the seeded team.

Real are in the box seat with a two-point edge over their visitors and are 2/5 to clinch top spot.

It looks like they will have to do so without their and Spanish football's top scorer, Karim Benzema, who limped out of Saturday night's 2-0 win at Sociedad, their eighth win in a row.

This is the fourth meeting between these teams over the past 13 months and Real have won all of the previous three.

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