Andy Schooler previews the final set of group matches in the Champions League with Liverpool looking to qualify for the last 16.
Liverpool v Spartak Moscow (1945 GMT, BT Sport 2)
Liverpool only need a draw to qualify but Spartak have to win.
That creates an interesting dynamic but sadly from a betting point of view, the bookies appear all over the potential for goals with over 3.5 only a shade of odds-against.
With Liverpool’s front line having fired in eight goals in the past two Premier League games, it’s probably no surprise to see the layers being cautious.
Much has been made of Mohamed Salah’s start to life at Anfield, and rightly so, but Roberto Firmino is a player who has contributed much, while Sadio Mane will probably slot back in here, too.
Liverpool were the better side in the reverse fixture dominating possession and creating many more chances than their opponents but profligate finishing cost them on that occasion.
Back on home turf against the same team, you’d expect them to get the job done with something to spare, but again the odds are very restrictive with the fact that Spartak have not won away from home in Europe since 2011 having something to do with that.
Even in the -1 handicap market, Liverpool are only 13/20 and I’d certainly be wary of backing them on any of the higher lines given a Merseyside derby looms on Sunday.
If Liverpool do go two up, are they really going to keep going full pelt? I think the answer to that is ‘no’ and it’s easy to see Jurgen Klopp taking off some of his star forwards and replacing them with more defensive players, especially after what happened in Sevilla when a 3-0 lead was squandered.
If pushed for a bet I’d probably go for both teams to score at 19/20.
Liverpool’s defensive weakness is long standing and they will again be without Joel Matip.
Spartak do have forwards capable of troubling the hosts – ex-Milan striker Luiz Adriano has four goals in his last four games, while Quincy Promes is a Dutch international already into double figures for the season.
Seven of their last eight games have seen both teams score (it’s four of the last six for Liverpool) and given how the group is set up, there seems every chance of both finding the net on this occasion.
Prediction: Liverpool 2-1 Spartak Moscow
Shakhtar Donetsk v Manchester City (1945 GMT, BT Sport ESPN)
After a club record 20 wins in a row, City will doubtless have their backers in this one at 15/8.
It seems a big price about a side in such form but there are reasons for it.
City have already won the group so have nothing, bar their winning streak, to play for. However, with the Manchester derby looming on Sunday, they have a much bigger priority this week. Win at Old Trafford and they will be 11 points clear in the Premier League.
Pep Guardiola has named four youngsters, including the highly-talented Phil Foden, in his 20-man squad. He is sure to make changes, more than just the enforced ones given that Kevin De Bruyne is suspended and David Silva injured.
He still has plenty of talent to choose from, of course, but will those who play really be operating at their peak level?
There will be no doubts about Shakhtar’s approach. They need a draw to qualify for the last 16 and do have the talent to collect it.
I’ve raved about their passing football on these pages in the past and they gave a good account of themselves at the Etihad in September before going down 2-0, City’s second coming in the last minute.
While I’ll stop short of suggesting you back them at 17/10 – creative force Taison is a doubt, while the fact they only need a draw could see them shut up shop if they are level heading into the final quarter – the bet I do like the look of is star striker Facundo Ferreyra to score at any time.
he Argentine is enjoying the most productive season of his career in front of goal and has already hit 20 goals (in 26 games). They include goals in both home Champions League games so far (against Napoli and Feyenoord).
He spurned a great chance at the Etihad but I can see him getting more here given the weakness City have displayed at the back in recent games.
You can get close to 2/1 about the form striker of the favoured home team scoring during this game. Frankly that, and prices of 6/4 upwards, seems worthy of support.
Prediction: Shakhtar Donetsk 2-1 Man City
Tottenham v APOEL Nicosia (1945 GMT, BT Sport 3)
Like City, Spurs have already won their group and so will surely be thinking more about beating Stoke and Brighton in the Premier League over the next week than doing a number on the Cypriots.
Having slipped up domestically since their impressive win over Real Madrid in this competition, Spurs are in real need of Premier League points and Dele Alli won’t be the only one of the regulars missing against APOEL.
Harry Kane, Christian Eriksen, Eric Dier, Kieran Trippier and Hugo Lloris will also get the night off so there will be plenty of rusty stand-ins at Wembley.
In contrast, the visitors do have plenty to play for. They are battling with Borussia Dortmund for third place and a spot in the Europa League post-Christmas, a competition they impressed in last season.
With the Germans away to Real Madrid, APOEL are by no means out of the running in that race and a point here could well be enough.
They’ve already drawn away to Dortmund, who they also held at home, and having seen off Athletic Bilbao during that Europa run of 12 months ago, they’ve shown they can perform on big stages and in big games.
OK, they are now operating under a different manager – last season’s leader Thomas Christensen is now at Leeds – but they arrive in good form having won their last five in their domestic league, scoring 19 goals in the process.
Admittedly they are stepping up in standard considerably but that said there’s every chance they face an XI which has never played together before and there’s real potential for Spurs to be somewhat disjointed.
Confidence is hardly sky high in the North London camp right now any way and prices of 3/1 and bigger about APOEL in the double-chance market does look tempting once all the circumstances are taken into account.
Prediction: Tottenham 1-1 APOEL Nicosia
Best of the rest
As with Tuesday night’s coupon, there’s a treble in which three sides needing wins take on teams who have nothing to play for.
Porto will qualify for the next stage if they beat Monaco at home; Napoli need to win away at Feyenoord to stand any chance; and Sevilla, chasing both qualification and top spot in Liverpool’s group, head to Maribor.
Sadly the treble only pays 5/4 but it looks a solid platform on which to build an acca if that’s your bag.
There was a cards bet I had my eye on in the Sevilla game but sadly the player in question, Maribor’s Blaz Vrhovec, has not been priced up.
He’s likely to be worked hard in his defensive midfield position by a free-scoring team seeking a victory.
Sevilla have won seven and drawn one of their last nine games. In eight of those they’ve scored at least twice with the odd-one-out being a 2-1 defeat away to Barcelona.
Essentially, the Spaniards are in fine form and it could be another painful night for the Slovenians, who were pummelled 7-0 by Liverpool on home soil in October. The international star was one of three home players booked that night as frustration grew.
Vrhovec has been booked on four of his last seven starts, while overall this season he’s received a card in nine of 24 games.
If you can find a bookie taking such a bet – and more markets may go up on Wednesday – then it could well be worth backing.