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The permutations for Wednesday

The Champions League group stages will come to a conclusion on Wednesday night and in our group, we still have a chance of getting into the knockout stages. If we can't manage to do that, we can potentially go into the Europa League.

Going into the fifth round of matches, there was a possibility of our home game against AC Milan being a complete dead rubber for us if we lost away to PSG whilst the Serie A outfit beat Borussia Dortmund at home. That would've left us five points behind the Ligue 1 champions and four behind Stefano Pioli's side whilst we would've also had no chance of finishing above the Bundesliga side as head-to-head records are used before goal difference when two teams are level on points in UEFA competitions and they beat us in both games.


However, despite a controversial VAR decision to give PSG a stoppage time penalty, which Kylian Mbappé scored to deny us a famous win, our 1-1 draw at the Parc de Princes gives us a chance of reaching the round of 16 and with AC Milan losing 3-1 at home to Borussia Dortmund, we moved back above them in the group before they come to St James' Park. We are currently level on points with the Italian side and drew 0-0 with them in the San Siro in the first round of matches so it then goes down to overall goal difference in all the group matches and we have the upper hand in that, definitely helped by our stunning 4-1 win over PSG in on 4 October whilst the Rosseneri haven't been helped by by losing 3-0 in Paris on 25 October or conceding three goals at home to Borussia Dortmund in the last round of matches.


So what does that mean for the final round of group games? Well even if we got the win in Paris (or UEFA used overall goal difference before head-to-head records), we would be unable to finish above Borussia Dortmund, who are top of the group with ten points. Edin Terzic's side lost 2-0 away to PSG in their opening game before drawing 0-0 at home to AC Milan in their second game, leaving them bottom of the group with one point but have turned things around by beating us in both games and their win in Milan sealed their place in the round of 16.

Had PSG beaten us two weeks ago, they'd be through and just simply battling it out with the German outfit for top spot whilst we'd be needing to beat AC Milan to pip them to a Europa League place. Because we avoided defeat, we have a chance to overtake them and get a place in the round of 16 but to do so, we need to win on Wednesday and hope that they don't beat Borussia Dortmund. With the games we played against them ending in a win and a draw, we have the head-to-head advantage over them, should we finish level on points with them.

AC Milan also need a win on Wednesday to have a chance of staying in the competition but PSG have head-to-head advantage over them so they will also need Luis Enrique's side to lose in Dortmund to qualify. If we do lose to them, that will be the end of our European campaign and they will go into the Europa League unless PSG lose and they progress into the knock-out stages. If it ends in a draw, we would be level with them on head-to-head but have the better goal difference so we would go into the Europa League.

As well as having won their last three group games, Borussia Dortmund are also unbeaten in their last seven Champions League home games, having only conceded one goal (Tanguy Nianzou's opener when Sevilla drew 1-1 at the Signal Iduna Park in last season's group stages). PSG have also lost both their away games in the competition so far but with the German side already through, that could be beneficial to Luis Enrique's outfit, however, the hosts will need to avoid defeat if they are to top the group as their French counterparts sit three points behind them but would have head-to-head advantage over them should they get the win to finish level on points with them.


Going into Wednesday, both ourselves and AC Milan have injury problems. We still have nine players (not including those ineligible for the Champions League) injured or suspended whilst the Italian side reportedly have Fikayo Tomori as their only fit centre-back, with left-back Theo Hernandez likely to fill in alongside the Englishman. However, both teams will be boosted by forwards returning from injury with Callum Wilson coming on and setting up Joelinton's consolation goal in our 4-1 loss at Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday whilst Rafael Leão, who scored in their 2-1 win over PSG on 7 November, is set to return, having been out with a thigh strain that he suffered in their 2-2 draw away to Lecce four days later.


So we just need to avoid defeat in our final game for our European campaign to continue but would need a win to have a chance of reaching the Champions League knock-out stages for the first time. if we were to go into the Europa League, it is a competition that we would have a chance of winning. Of course, if we were to lose and finish bottom of the group, it would mean not having to play as many games in the second half of the season and hopefully, the experiences we've gained this season will be beneficial if we do qualify for Europe again next season. That being said, if our European campaign does continue, we would have the January transfer window to strengthen before it resumes in February, whether we play a Champions League group winner in the round of 16 or a Europa League group runner-up in the knock-out play-offs. Regardless of what happens though, it has been wonderful to see Champions League football at St James' Park for the first time in 20 years and hopefully, it won't be too long until we are able to do so again but we can have some European football for next season, even if it is Europa or Conference League.


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