The final UEFA Champions League group stage games are make or break for four Spanish teams, whose European future very much hangs in the balance.
While Real Madrid entertain Inter Milan knowing their place in the last 16 of the tournament is already assured with only top spot in their group to be decided, FC Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Sevilla and Villarreal all face the very real prospect of crashing out of the tournament.
Barcelona visit Bayern Munich on Wednesday knowing that they have to win to progress if Benfica beat bottom side Dynamo Kiev in the other group game.
Barca’s recent meetings with Bayern have been painful for the Catalans, with Bayern cruising to a 3-0 win in the Camp Nou earlier in the season, while nobody has forgotten the 8-2 hammering they suffered at the Germans’ hands a year and a half ago.
The only slight advantage for Barca, who are still without Ansu Fati, is that the game will be played behind closed doors due to the recent surge in COVID-19 cases in Germany.
Sevilla also need to win away to Red Bull Salzburg, but will be without key players Youssef En-Neysri, Eric Lamela, Jesus Navas, Suso and possibly left-back Marcos Acuna, who picked up a knock in their 1-0 win at home to Villarreal on Saturday.
While a win would assure Sevilla’s place in the last 16, defeat could leave them out of Europe altogether in a group where all four teams are separated by just three points.
A draw will be enough to put Villarreal into the knockout stages, but Unai Emery’s side have to survive a visit to Atalanta, who have been unstoppable in domestic competition with five wins in five games in Serie A over the past month.
Emery will hope to have Arnaut Danjuma available, as one of his side’s main problems in recent weeks has been a failure to convert chances.
Finally, Atletico Madrid visit Porto on Tuesday night knowing that their fate is not in their own hands, with Diego Simeone’s men needing to win in Portugal while hoping that AC Milan don’t beat Liverpool, who are already secure as group winners.
Atletico travel without injured central defender Stefan Savic and with Jose Gimenez also a doubt, while the team were stunned by a 2-1 defeat at home to Mallorca on Saturday evening, which again raised big questions over their play.
Atletico have been a Jekyll and Hyde team this season and if they can hit form, attacking players such as Joao Felix, Antoine Griezmann, Angel Correa and Luis Suarez are easily capable of beating Porto, but another display like Saturday’s would mean their only involvement in Europe in the new year will be in front of the TV screen.