Willian eases Chelsea into last 16 after early red card ends Qarabag chances

There was no mass celebration from Antonio Conte and his players at the final whistle, polite handshakes replacing joyous punches of the air, but all in the visitors’ ranks could take pride in a job professionally done. Comfortable victory in Baku has prolonged Chelsea’s Champions League campaign into the new year and, in the process, lessened the significance of next month’s final group fixture against Atlético Madrid.

They may not feel it at Anfield on Saturday, when aching limbs must deal with Liverpool, but the 5,000-mile round trip to Azerbaijan has been distinctly worthwhile. When the section was drawn that last meeting with the Spanish had felt potentially awkward, even daunting. Now it will merely determine whether the Premier League side progress as group winners or runners-up and, in a crammed schedule in which margin for error is at such a premium, a relatively relaxed evening in early December is to be cherished.

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via Football | The Guardian

Basel v Manchester United: Champions League – live!

Hello and welcome. Manchester United have already booked their place in the knockout stages but a draw or better in Switzerland today would ensure that they go through as winners of a decidedly modest group. Basel, who, like CSKA Moscow, are still fighting hard for a place in the last 16 and still have a notional chance of beating United to top spot, will do their utmost to make things difficult for Jose Mourinho’s team and they have a proud record of beating English teams at home in recent years, with victims including United in 2011 plus Chelsea, Liverpool and Middlesbrough (you could add Sheffield Wednesday to that list if you really wanted to, although the Owls took the 1995 Inter-Toto Cup match so seriously that they sent out a side featuring five ‘guest’ players, including John Pearson, who had left the club nine years previously).

The pitch could prove an additional complication today, as the surface at St-Jakob Park has been relaid since last week’s messy 0-0 draw between Northern Ireland and Switzerland. Even so, Jose Mourinho has declared that he intends to start with Paul Pogba, who has only just returned from his second hamstring injury in five months. That is certainly not a risk on a par with, say, giving a suffering player six injections before a friendly, but it might be a tad surprising given Pogba’s importance to United. Alternatively, it could be seen as a valuable opportunity for Pogba to hone his match sharpness, which is presumably the view that Mourinho has taken. The manager also said that Chris Smalling will start even though United can ill-afford an injury to another centreback at the moment. We, meanwhile, have nothing more onerous to do than sit back and see how it all pans out. Spiffing.

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via Football | The Guardian

Juventus v Barcelona: Champions League – live!

Bryan will be here shortly. In the meantime, here’s Sid Lowe’s latest La Liga blog:

FC Barcelona pulled out of Butarque on an angular blue and orange bus that looked like it had been borrowed from a school trip in the 90s a bit before seven on Saturday evening and headed 30 kilometres north up the M40 to the airport at Barajas, their work done. Half of it, anyway. Nearby, just about visible from the terminal, stood the Wanda Metropolitano, where the rest of it was done for them. Not long after Barça had set off, and a couple of hours after Alavés had passed on their way north back up the A1 to Euskadi, Real Madrid embarked upon the shortest journey they’ve undertaken in La Liga, making the 10-minute trip from their HQ at Valdebebas to Atlético’s new home. It was a short trip, but when they returned a little before midnight, broken and bloodied, it felt like a long way back. For Barcelona, it had been a grand day out.

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via Football | The Guardian

PSG v Celtic: Champions League – live!

Celtic can’t make it through to the knockout stage, but significant reward could be theirs tonight nonetheless. Should they beat Paris Saint-Germain, they’ll be guaranteed a place in the Europa League in the new year. And a draw might even be enough, if elsewhere Anderlecht fail to stop Bayern Munich. A most acceptable consolation prize is Celtic’s for the taking.

Problem is, taking is a big ask. PSG are on something of a roll in Europe; they’ve won all four of their games in Group B, scoring 17 goals and conceding none. They’ve spanked Bayern Munich 3-0 and Anderlecht 5-0 at the Parc des Princes. More worryingly for Brendan Rodgers side, they won 5-0 at Parkhead as well, a result which stands as Celtic’s record European home defeat.

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via Football | The Guardian