It's noontime in the summer of 1989; an anthropomorphic tiger checks on his six-year-old best friend who is seen playing pretend in his sandbox with miniature cars, trucks, bucket and a pail. Hobbes the tiger asks him about his school project, to which Calvin replies, "I'm waiting for inspiration. You can't just turn on creativity like a faucet. You have to be in the right mood." "What mood is that?" enquires Hobbes. "Last minute panic," says Calvin. And with that Bill Watterson captured the essence of the next three generations of procrastinators, from freelancers, creative professionals, to football clubs.
No one perhaps does deadlines as well or as badly as European football clubs do, from the madness deadline day transfers that are like putting in 50 million dollars worth of dime for a single go at a slot machine, hoping for a good return; to the eleventh-hour on-pitch epiphanies, a game that normalise miracles into a bi-weekly happenings.
Or as one of the champions of wonder, GK.Chesterton, puts it so very well: "The most incredible thing about miracles is that they happen. There is in life an element of elfin coincidence which people on the prosaic may perpetually miss, wisdom should not reckon on the unforeseen." If he, the forefather of English humour and 'prince of paradox', was alive today, we have reason to believe that he would have definitely a fan of Champions League football, as very few spectacles in the world offer such a heady concoction of all that defined his work.
Defending champions Liverpool, no stranger to miracles themselves find themselves in a funny spot (as they routinely do). Despite topping the table in gameweek 5, they head into the final group stage gameweek at the risk of being knocked out of the competition altogether. Elsewhere, Chelsea, Dortmund, Atletico Madrid, Lyon could also be evicted.
Here, we take a quick round-up off all the big European teams whose qualification hinges on the inspiration the last minute panic provides on gameweek 6.
Status: Atletico Madrid 7 points, Bayer Leverkusen 6.
Juventus qualified with 13 points.
Matches: Atletico Madrid vs Lokomotiv Moscow, Bayer Leverkusen vs Juventus
Second in the domestic league, Maurizio Sarri's Juventus will be travelling to Bayer Arena knowing that qualification is in the bag. This will tempt him to give his second-stringers a run out vs Peter Bosz's Leverkusen. This can be both a good thing and bad: Sarri has been notorious for nearly playing the same 11 in the league for nine consecutive league fixtures with little or no rotation. This will provide an incentive for the likes of Paulo Dybala to prove themselves on the pitch (the scorer of the decisive goal in the fixture vs Atletico), while there may be lapses of concentration for a patient Leverkusen to capitalise on.
Bayer welcome the defending Italian champions on the front foot having notched five wins and one draw in their last six home league games. The tag of chokers aimed at the German club is not without reason, however, which is to say that on the bigger stage their home form reads only two wins in their last eight Champions League fixtures.
Diego Simeone's Atletico are expected to have a favourable match vs Lokomotiv Moscow, despite a lack of consistent goals at the Wanda Metropolitana.
Liverpool 10 points, Napoli 9, Red Bull Salzburg 7.
Genk bottom with 1 point.
Matches: Red Bull Salzburg vs Liverpool, Napoli vs Genk
You'd think the footballing gods use Liverpool as a pawn in their cosmic board game. If so, it is lady luck who kisses the dice before whosoever up there rolls it on the deck. Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool have been unrelenting in the domestic league competition, now having a 14-point lead over their rivals Manchester City, and remain unbeaten in matches that outnumber the fingers we've been afforded to count on without losing track. But in Europe, the winds don't always blow into their sails early on. On both occasions that Liverpool have reached back-to-back Champions League finals, they edged out in the group stage in the final gameweek.
They travel to Salzburg's Red Bull Arena with the intention of being the proverbial bulls in a china shop. They dare not lose, for if they do (to Salzburg with a score of 4-3 or better) and Napoli posts an exaggerated scoreline at Genk, then Salzburg and Napoli eke into the round of sixteen on head-to-head advantage.
Jurgen Klopp is well-aware of the impetus that is them: "Everybody knows it's a final. We knew it since two weeks ago and we are ready. We will go for everything, we will run for our lives " that's what we are. We will fight for each challenge, 100 percent."
Lying in wait for them with their beartrap-tactics is Jesse Marsch's team primed to play on the counter-attack: Takumi Minamino, Hwang Hee-chan, Erling Braut HÃ¥land.
Status: Inter Milan 7 points, Borussia Dortmund 7.
Barcelona qualified with 11 points.
Matches: Inter Milan vs Barcelona, Dortmund vs Slavia Praha
Inter Milan will look forward to host Barcelona at the San Siro with a knife between their teeth. As things stand, Inter have every chance of joining the 5-time UEFA Champions League winners in the round of 16. This is owing to two things: a) Dortmund entertains bottom-placed Slavia Prague and will need to score three more goals than Inter to qualify b) Barcelona hate coming to Italy, and more specifically, Inter. A decade's worth of memory of that fateful night when Jose Mourinho neutered one of Barcelona's best-ever teams in 2010 will come flooding back to the parties involved. For Leo Messi and Barcelona, it will hold trauma, while for Inter the memory of winning their third Champions League.
Ernesto Valverde will look to bury the ghost with a young side of second-teamers and starlets such as Ansu Fati against a full-strength Inter featuring De Vrij, Romelu Lukaku, and man of many battles Diego Godin.
A Paco Alcacer-less Borussia Dortmund will head into the match vs Slavia Praha with the perfect warm-up having thumped Fortuna Dusseldorf in the Bundesliga in the weekend, knowing that any win will have to be an emphatic one.
Status: RB Leipzig 10 points, Zenit St Petersburg 7, Lyon 7.
Benfica bottom with 4 points and -4 goal difference. Leipzig qualified with 10 points but need a draw to top group.
Matches: Lyon vs RB Leipzig, Benfica vs Zenit.
This is second of three Mexican standoffs on offer at gameweek six. You know, the kind of situation in the Sergio Leone's Spaghetti Western 'The Good, Bad and The Ugly' where you find yourself in a triangle with two rivals across you having two loaded barrels? No one knows who's going to shoot down who?
Lyon have fate in their own hands, provided they don't have slippery fingers. A draw vs a feisty Julian Nagelsmann led RB Leipzig will be good enough granted Benfica outdraws Zenit. To that end Leipzig only need a solitary point; but Zenit can hedge their bets on the Bundesliga side, as they have won seven out of their eight fixtures and remain unbeaten since October.
Lyon will be forced to field a somewhat understrength side with Dubois, Kone, Tatarusanu, Rafael, Cornet all doubtful for the encounter.
Benfica on the other side of the table will look to muster some pride at home vs Zenit on the back of being unbeaten in six in all competitions; but will have to make do without Rafa Silva, David Tavares and Andre Almeida. That is measly compared to Zenit with seven in their squad either out or doubtful with injuries.
Status: Ajax 10 points, Valencia 8, Chelsea 8.
Lille bottom with 1 point.
Matches: Ajax vs Valencia, Chelsea vs Lille
Frank Lampard and Chelsea would have preferred that their last group match was away. Despite being prolific away in their 2019-20 Champions League campaign so far, their home from suffers from many stutters. His young team has been unable to hold onto a lead at the half-time lead from as early as the end of August. This suggests while Chelsea pepper the goal, they are ill poised when it comes to defending their own, and the lack of a killer instinct.
Lampard alludes to that in his pre-match presser: "Away from home we've gone and racked up some goals and some really good performances, and scored early in the game. But when you play well at home but don't score for 45 minutes you kind of add the pressure on yourselves."
If Chelsea are to get a result vs Lille, have to surmount the scrutiny from the home fans and put in a performance leaden with fire for them to cheer about in the first place.
A draw could be enough for the London club provided Ajax make an example out of Valencia, but that would make for an intensely nervy night at the Bridge with fans constantly refreshing their football apps for the latest score elsewhere in Group H.
To add to their chances, Lampard may recall Emerson and Fikayo Tomori into the starting line-up, while Christian Pulisic, Tammy Abraham and Mason Mount lead the front line.