All options are open for struggling Manchester United and injury-hit Newcastle in their final Champions League group games this week: Advance to the round of 16, drop into the Europa League, or suffer the financial and sporting blow of outright elimination.
Man United must rebound from an embarrassing 3-0 loss Saturday at home to Bournemouth in the Premier League and needs to beat Bayern Munich, which already advanced a month ago.
Newcastle hosts AC Milan in a must-win meeting of two teams facing the same jeopardy in the competition’s tightest group, where Paris Saint-Germain and Kylian Mbappé can yet deny them both.
Four places in the round of 16 are left to fight for and the Premier League risks having just Manchester City and Arsenal in the draw on Dec. 18.
That would be England’s weakest challenge in the knockout draw for 11 years and at the worst possible time. Bonus extra entries in the revamped 36-team Champions League next season are given to the two countries whose teams have the best collective record across the three UEFA competitions this season.
Man United is last in the Group A standings, one point behind both Copenhagen and Galatasaray, and must beat Bayern while hoping the other two play to a draw in Denmark.
Newcastle and seven-time champion Milan are tied on five points in Group F and only a win Wednesday can lift either above PSG two points ahead in second place.
PSG heads to group leader Borussia Dortmund knowing a point is enough to seal the head-to-head tiebreaker against Milan, but not against Newcastle. Dortmund already secured its round of 16 place.
The other two round of 16 places — worth an initial UEFA prize money payment of 9.6 million euros ($10.3 million) — will be decided in showdown games where teams in second place host a third-place opponent.
Napoli needs only a draw against Braga on Tuesday, and would advance even with a loss by one goal because its overall group difference is better. Real Madrid already won that group before visiting Union Berlin.
A draw would suit Porto against Shakhtar Donetsk on Wednesday because of beating the Ukrainian champion in the group opener in September. Barcelona leads the group and finishes at Royal Antwerp, the only team with five straight losses.
Though Inter Milan and Real Sociedad will be in the round of 16, they meet in Italy on Tuesday with leadership of Group D at stake. A draw is enough for Sociedad to ensure being seeded in the round of 16 draw as the group winner – and avoid facing Man City or Bayern next.
Atletico Madrid hosts Lazio on Wednesday with a similar scenario in play for Group E.
ROUND OF 16 TEAMS
Group winners (seeded in Dec. 18 draw): Arsenal, Bayern Munich, Manchester City, Real Madrid.
Runners-up (unseeded): Leipzig, PSV Eindhoven.
Qualified, still competing to win group: Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Borussia Dortmund, Inter Milan, Lazio, Real Sociedad.
In the round of 16, teams cannot play an opponent from their own country or a team they already faced in the group stage.
EUROPA LEAGUE QUALIFICATION
Third-place teams in Champions League groups keep playing in February in the knockout playoffs for the second-tier Europa League.
Feyenoord and Young Boys are assured of being in the Europa League playoffs, and either Porto or Shakhtar will join them. The picture is uncertain elsewhere.
The showdown games next week with third place at stake for teams eliminated from Champions League contention include Lens hosting Sevilla and Salzburg hosting Benfica. Newcastle vs Milan could end up in this category if PSG is winning at Dortmund.
Sevilla is the supreme Europa League team with a record seven titles, all in the past 20 years. The latest Europa title in May is why Sevilla got into the Champions League this season after a lowly 12th place in La Liga. Sevilla must win at Lens on Tuesday.
The Europa League knockout playoffs draw also is made Dec. 18. In it, Champions League third-place teams are unseeded playing home legs first against runners-up in the Europa League groups, which could include Roma, Brighton and Sporting Lisbon.
Winners advance to the round of 16 joining Europa League group winners like Liverpool, Bayer Leverkusen and Atalanta.
AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/Soccer
Graham Dunbar, The Associated Press