The final round of the UEFA Champions League group stage will lead people to concentrate on "dead rubbers," but rather than dwell on nuances of the format or regrets that you're not getting Mega Club FC versus FC Super Team, let's look for the drama. At the top, groups A, B, and C are still up-for-grabs, even if it's top two teams have been identified, but considering the likes of Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Chelsea and Real Madrid have already clinched their groups, the difference between first and second place is already pronounced. Win your group, you'll be drawn against the second place finishers. Slip - as Manchester United and Spurs can still do - and your Round of 16 life becomes problematic.
Between potential group wins and Europa League qualification, there is only one true dead rubber on Tuesday, which is not to say some matches aren't more meaningful than others. Matches in Lisbon and Manchester will have the most significance, while the race at the top of Group A, which will play out in Enschede and Bremen, may be more compelling, with a first time Champions League entrant looking to relegate the holders to the second pot:
All matches start a 2:45 p.m. Eastern time. Thank the WIkipedia community for the tables.
|Group A ||Pld||W||D||L||GF||GA||GD||Pts|
Matches: Twente versus Tottenham Hotspur; Werder Bremen versus Internazionale.
The two hosts have their futures set. Werder, hosting Inter, is out, and embarrassingly so considering they were expected to challenge Tottenham for second place. Spurs have put those low expectations behind them, fighting for first at Twente, the Dutch champions having nothing but fame to gain from the match.
Inter will be hoping for a sign of inexperience from Tottenham, but having won only one in six domestically, the Nerazzurri have greater worries. For instance, they're not actually very good right now.
Given Rafa Benítez's injury list, we're unlikely to see an uptick in form. Inter will be without (deep breath) Wesley Sneijder, Lucio, Julio Cesar, Maicon, Walter Samuel, Dejan Stankoivc, Coutinho, Joel Obi, Diego Milito and Cristian Chivu. Yeesh - how is going to play?
In contrast, Werder is relatively healthy. They'll miss Naldo but the rest of their major contributors are maybes at worst.
Tottenham are still without Younes Kaboul, Rafael van der Vaart, and Ledley King, though none of those absences will loom as large as Bryan Ruiz's. Twente's best player is out until mid-January with a knee injury.
|Group B ||Pld||W||D||L||GF||GA||GD||Pts|
|Hapoel Tel Aviv||5||1||1||3||5||8||−3||4|
Matches: Benfica versus Schalke; Lyon versus Hapoel.
Schalke is bearly out of the drop in to Bundesliga but can clinch this group with a win in Lisbon. Benfica's loss last round in Tel Aviv means they need a result to advance, though that assumes Hapoel can get points at the Stade Gerland.
Considering last year's Israel representative failed to get a point, Hapoel's practically trail blazing, though that doesn't mean they can get a result in Lyon, particularly with OL experiencing a minor resurgence. Expect Claude Puel's side to get three and force Schalke to win in Portugal.
The only major injury in Group B sees Lyon without Yoann Gourcuff, the French international suffering with a knee injury just as he was starting to show glimpses of his 2008-09 self. While OL is also without Cesar Delgado, they are getting Jeremy Toulalan and Cris back. Health won't be an excuse.
|Group C ||Pld||W||D||L||GF||GA||GD||Pts|
Matches: Manchester Untied versus Valencia; Bursaspor versus Rangers
Rangers' trip to Turkey is the day's only dead rubber, though Bursaspor will be remiss not to get their first Champions League win against the Scottish champions. During their first appearance in this competition, Bursa's put together one of the more ignominious campaigns in Champions League history. A point against an already Europa-bound Rangers will remove them from the debate of the worst UCL teams of the modern era, a discussion that's (probably inappropriately) limited to the teams that get no points.
Meanwhile, Valencia goes to Old Trafford, with the only thing separating these two sides is United's 1-0, second round win at the Mestella. That would hint Manchester United is favored in this one, but with Alex Ferguson's squad selection for Champions League group stage, it's hard to have too much confidence in the Red Devils. Ferguson's developed a habit of playing half a team at this stage of the competition, and while he started a strong team in Valencia, a draw being as good as a win might have the Untied manager planning for Monday's visit from Arsenal.
A half-team from Manchester United may meet a corresponding crew from Los Che, who have a handful of injury concerns ahead of today's match. David Navarro, Manuel Fernandez, Mehmet Topal and Jeremy Mathieu are all out, and with Valencia slumping out of the top four in the Primera Division, Unai Emery is facing a shift in priorities ahead of his England sojourn.
|Group D ||Pld||W||D||L||GF||GA||GD||Pts|
Matches: Barcelona versus Rubin Kazan; Copenhagen vs. Panathinaikos
It would have been nice if Rubin Kazan's return to the Nou Camp meant something for both teams, but given Barcelona's Group D partners, it wasn't meant to be. Barça clinched the group last round in Athens, increasing Rubin's chances to take second from Copenhagen. Those odds are still slim, however, given they need three in Cataluyna and Panathinaikos's first win of the tournament. Barring that (estimated) 40-to-1 shot coming home, Rubin's set for another trip to Europa League, a spot they've already been assured.
With Russia's season over, Rubin's alleviated of the Europe-domestic juggling act. Barcelona, however, will use today's match as a chance to rest the likes of Xavi, Daniel Alves, Pedro and David Villa. At least.
|A||Twente||Tottenham Hotspur||2-1, Spurs|
|Werder Bremen||Internazionale||2-1, Werder|
|Lyon||Hapoel Tel Aviv||2-0, Lyon|
|C||Manchester United||Valencia||1-0, United|
|D||Barcelona||Rubin Kazan||2-0, Barcelona|