In the English Premier League, there are a number of teams that haven't yet reached double figures in the goalscoring stakes. Let's take a look at those sides shall we? Crystal Palace have scored seven goals, Sunderland have reached eight, three teams are tied on nine, and Norwich have edged into double figures on ten lovely goalscoring numbers. Those three sides tied on nine goals are Hull City West Ham, and Tottenham Hotspur. Of those six sides, Liverpool have played two of them and inflicted 3-1 defeats on both sides. The remaining four teams are the next four teams Liverpool will face. Make of that what you will.
The first side of the four to come is Steve Bruce's Hull City at the KC Stadium. Liverpool's away record has been decent this season and Brendan Rodgers' side begins a run of three games where maximum points are expected to continue Liverpool's presence in the top four. Naturally, each game should be taken as it arrives in the inbox of Liverpool's management team but Hull (away), Norwich (home), and West Ham (home) offer Liverpool an opportunity to seize the necessary momentum to head into a taxing end of year schedule.
Getting results against teams such as Tottenham, Chelsea, and Manchester City would boost morale in the squad, solidify a start of considerable promise, and strengthen the attractiveness of the club as a January window proposition for a player or two. We'd also feel happy at beating cannon fodder as well as big hitters but the proverbial champagne may need to remain nestled in that vat of ice. For now, anyway.
The top four remains the aim and with only twelve league games played, there is everything to gain. The Champions League remains the only destination for anyone associated with the Liverpool FC nation and that is precisely where this edition of ETW is headed. For anyone interested in the Europa League, please accept ETW's most insincere of apologies.
Who lives and who dies in the land of Milk and Honey?
ETW thought that Manchester United would struggle in this group after David Moyes' "adaptation issues" in replacing the Dark Lord Ferg. The former mage of the night was one of the best conjurers of all time in applying his wicked spells on the opposition domestically. While he managed to reign in Europe once for Aberdeen and twice for the Red Devils, one can be sure that he desired greater domination than even Emperor Palpatine. Alas, Moyes has navigated through the group stages but Shakhtar Donetsk and Bayer Leverkusen could still join Manchester United in the last 16. Leverkusen's heavy home defeat to United means that they must travel to Real Sociedad and win to have any chance of qualification. Shakhtar can still top the group but will they win at Old Trafford? Sociedad are only playing for pride and a chance to add to a solitary point that sits in the corner, quietly and faithfully.
Real Madrid have been sensational in the Champions League group stages and this group wasn't a walkover. Juventus are one of the best sides in Europe and Galatasary boast some big names who have experience of big occasions. FC Copenhagen are better than many realise and their youth academy has a good reputation. No matter, Cristiano Ronaldo is tied with the the man you are blessed to know as Zlatan with eight Champions League goals at the top of the goalscoring charts. Real will be in the last 16 as group winners and it was quite easy for the Spanish giants, far easier than predicted. Juventus are two points ahead of their rivals but must travel to Hell to find any redemption for a sluggish group campaign. Copenhagen must beat Madrid to have any chance of qualification, which is unlikely even if
Zidane or Perez Ancelotti's raised brow decrees a wholesale change of personnel for his final group game. A big name could fall in this group if Sneijder, Drogba, and company can deliver damnation on the Juventus defence. Juventus got a home win against Copenhagen when they needed to in midweek but what will a fiery trip produce?
Carlo Ancelotti's former employers, Paris Saint-Germain, are top of the group and through on 13 points. Just like Real Madrid. Zlatan and Ronaldo are tied on eight goals as mentioned previously and another footballing aristocrat will grace the last 16. Anderlecht have no chance of the Europa League wooden spoon so will have to settle for the group wooden spoon, which could actually be the better prize. I jest. Actually...I don't. Olympiakos and Benfica are tied on seven points but have to win at home to be sure of qualification. Both could win but that will be unlikely. Again, the level of rotation implemented by a side that has already secured qualification and top spot could affect who qualifies in second spot. Any side that has earned qualification so early reserves the right to act accordingly and for their own concerns.
Manchester City and Bayern Munich have qualified and will play each other in Munich in the last game. Three points separate the two sides and Manchester City still have an opportunity to finish in top spot if an away victory can be snared from probably the best side in Europe. Bayern will rotate as that is what Guardiola likes to do in games such as this and the squad is deep enough to see a number of changes. Jerome Boateng had an poor game in possession against Borussia Dortmund and was substituted by Pep so it will be interesting to see if he'll start this game. Bayern's victory over Dortmund was convincing even if Dortmund had their entire first-choice backline out and the likes of Götze and Thiago could start. CSKA Moscow and Viktoria Plzen will battle it out for a Europa League spot but Plzen will need to get their first points and win of the group stages to finish in third. Also, a two-goal home victory is required by Plzen so good luck with that.
Chelsea are through but have been unconvincing in this group. Not going to get into any Rafa-Mourinho comparisons and double standard barbs as that wouldn't be right would it? Would it? So, onto who could join Chelsea in the last 16. Basle can and beat Chelsea at home in midweek to complete a sterling double over the London club. Schalke may regret the away draw with the Romanian side, Steaua Bucharest, in midweek. Max Meyer is a talented kid but he struggled in the game as he has done throughout most of the group stages. He's only 18 years-old and will grow. Julian Draxler started the game on the bench but his magic will be needed from the start against Basel in Gelsenkirchen. A draw will be good enough for Basel but travelling to Schalke in that position is dangerous as the home support will ferociously push for a rousing victory. Murat Yakin will have his men prepared for what should be a game to watch. Jose Mourinho can secure top spot for
himself Chelsea with a home win against Steaua.
Arsenal. Borussia Dortmund. Napoli. That's the only way to introduce this group and Marseille have proven to be a mere footnote in the autumn's battles in Group F. ETW thought Marseille would prove to be more competitive yet that was perhaps a tad too optimistic. Marseille sit in fourth spot domestically, five points away from Monaco in third but their European journey is virtually over. Arsenal are top on 12 points while both Napoli and Dortmund sit on 9 points each. Dortmund are ahead by virtue of the aggregate results between the two sides. Jürgen Klopp was delighted as his side recovered from a home defeat to rivals Bayern to defeat Napoli 3-1 on Tuesday. Win against Marseille in the Stade Vélodrome and they're through. Napoli face Arsenal at the Stadio San Paolo. If Dortmund draw and Napoli draw then it'll be Arsenal in first spot and Dortmund in second spot. Rafa Benítez must better Klopp's result to qualify while Arsenal are virtually assured of qualification barring a disastrous last game against Napoli. Even if Napoli won heavily against Arsenal, Dortmund would need to win to knock Arsenal out. Essentially, Napoli have a very tough task of qualifying and it's likely that they'll be the side to fear in the Europa League. Two in a row for Rafa?
There are two big sides in Madrid now. Read all about it, read all about it indeed. Do the Champions League dark horses reside in this group? Atlético Madrid qualified like European royalty with four wins from four and sit on 13 points with qualification and top spot wrapped up in time for Christmas. Beat that Santa Claus. Diego Simeone's men are looking good at home and on the continent. FC Porto and Zenit are separated by a single point heading into the last round of fixtures. Zenit have the point advantage and the easier away trip to bottom of the table Austria Vienna. Paulo Fonseca's FC Porto must win in Spain. Ouch.
Barcelona are through but must win at home to Celtic to secure top spot. It has been an interesting group and the fact that Barcelona have ten points with a game to go is telling. The Catalans are only two points clear of AC Milan and three ahead of Ajax. Who loves last game Champions League shootouts? Lots of hands there. Who loves last game Champions League shootouts where the manager will lose his job if he loses and he's been on thin ice anyway so even a victory might very well be a stay of execution especially as politically the owner will look to take his fury out on somebody? This may be the most important game of Max Allegri's AC Milan tenure. AC Milan are in 13th spot in Serie A, ahead of Cagliari by virtue of goal difference. Illustrious. 14 points from 13 games and ten points away from a Europa League spot that Fiorentina currently occupy in fifth. Not qualifying for the last 16 would be unenviable for Italy's most successful Champions League side and the only option against Ajax at the San Siro is to win. Anything else would be disastrous. That away win against Celtic was much needed. Speaking of Celtic, the Scottish champions tried their best but it was a tough group. Playing Barcelona, Ajax, and AC Milan will be an experience for management and players.