Six match-days were played over the past three months, concluding last week with 16 deserving sides advancing to compete for the of UEFA Champions League trophy. Along the way, some teams like Ajax previously thought mere also-rans have emerged as contenders. At the same time, some big names (e.g. Barcelona) failed to rise up to the occasion, bowing out of the competition. We take a detailed look at what transpired in each group and what was the turning point for each team.
RB Leipzig had decent odds to upset and knockout either Man City or PSG, but both qualifying clubs have eyes set on winning the whole competition. Group A was one of the most difficult, but qualification was decided as early as MD-4 when PSG held Leipzig to a 2-2 draw and Man City defeated Brugge 4-1 at home. Those results left Brugge four points from survival and Leipzig dead last. The Germans’ late awakening against Brugge in MD-5 only fixed PSG’s position in second regardless of the 1-2 loss to Man City. Leipzig went on to defeat a heavily rotated Man City on MD-6 to secure Europa League qualification.
Atletico Madrid languished outside the qualification positions until MD-6. Surprisingly, the Spaniards’ defensive performance was one of their best even though Stefan Savic, Jose Maria Gimenez and Felipe (key central defenders) missed the match for various reasons. Diego Simeone managed to defeat FC Porto 3-1, the opponents’ goal a late concession. Liverpool had a stroll in this group despite early suggestions that the Reds would have a competitive struggle until the end. The English club secured qualification and first spot by MD-4, rendering the last couple of matches as training grounds for player/formation experimenting. AC Milan started off with an over the top performance, keeping Liverpool fans on the edge of their seats back in September before losing 2-3. The Italians then went on to underachieve, ending their UCL campaign out of Europe. It seems that most third-place clubs this season played well enough to advance to the round of 16. Porto was unable last week to repeat the 1st-leg result 0-0 against Atletico Madrid in MD-1 and therefore, the Portuguese ticket to Europa League is booked.
Besiktas is the only club to end its UCL campaign without even one point to its credit. Ajax had no trouble this season in seeing off all opposition, scoring the second most goals (20). Dortmund’s unexpected knockout came at the hands of Ajax. The Germans were expected to top this group, but the injury crisis highlighted by Erling Haaland’s absence led to an early exit. Sporting followed both Ajax victories over Dortmund with the final blow in MD-5. Winning by two goals meant that Dortmund had no chance to recover in MD-6. Sebastian Haller is in direct competition with Europe’s best forwards for the top goal-scorer. He is currently at the top with 10.
Remember one year back when Shakhtar Donetsk fought to a 0-0 draw against Inter Milan to qualify for the Europa League, leaving the Italians without Europian football for the rest of the season. But unburdened Milan went on to win Serie-A, breaking Juventus’ decade+ dominance. That title qualified them for this season’s UCL group stage where they were reunited with Real Madrid and Shakhtar Donetsk. This time Inter demonstrated growth, securing second position by MD-5. Real Madrid’s 1-2 loss to Sheriff in MD-2 shocked Europe, but it mainly awakened one Vicious Junior to lead Real Madrid to four straight UCL wins plus top spot in La Liga. Sheriff held on for third place to move on to Europa League, leaving Shakhtar Donetsk only domestic football for the rest of the season.
Bayern Munich joins Liverpool and Ajax among the elite clubs that brought home maximum points from the group stage. The Bavarians dominated in all six matches, leaving no room for doubt. Barcelona’s struggles came to a sad end. The quality of the team reached a point where any strong performance will never be enough to defeat Bayern on MD-6. Dynamo Kyiv’s touch in front of goal also allowed an easy win for Benfica to climb over Barcelona, making that 3-0 victory in MD-2 over the Catalan club worth its celebrations. Barcelona will move on to play in Europa League knockout stages, licking wounds and rebuilding for the future.
Despite all the trouble Man United went through — poor results, the sacking of Ole Solskjaer, and the transition period before hiring Ralf Rangnick — the Red Devils maintained first place throughout the group stage. They won the group on MD-5 by defeating Villarreal 2-0 thanks to Cristiano Ronaldo and Jadon Sancho goals. Villarreal had to wait almost 24 hours due to for their MD-6 match against Atalanta to secure the second qualifying spot. Atalanta can attribute their knockout to many reasons — leaking goals against Young Boys on MD-5, Ronaldo’s godly performances in MD-3 and MD-4, plus three woodwork hits in the last minutes of the 2-3 MD-6 loss to Villarreal. The Italians end their third consecutive UCL campaign with a performance that I personally cannot wait to watch again next season.
Many spectators, critics and fans expected Barcelona to be knocked out, Atalanta to be overwhelmed by Man United and Villarreal, or Dortmund to fail as soon as Haaland injury was announced, but Sevilla’s exit comes as a huge surprise considering their players were in high demand by fantasy players since MD-1. Salzburg and Lille managed to qualify from this group after mediocre performances from all clubs with a few positive highlights such as Karim Adeyemi’s potential, but it does not seem that either of them will be moving past the round of 16.
Predicting qualifiers from this group was not a difficult task; Juventus and Chelsea have tons of quality compared to Zenit and Malmo. Juventus won the group as a result of a shaky Chelsea on MD-6, underscoring the fact that Chelsea has not kept a single clean sheet in any competition since defeating Juventus on MD-5. Chelsea has been winning left and right since Thomas Tuchel took the helm, but those victories should have looked more like Ajax or Bayern victories — instead they were not; as soon as the defense started to allow goals, winning became a struggle. Zenit exploited Chelsea’s defensive woes on MD-6, the London club suffering gifting Juventus Group H’s first place. Hats off to Malmo for participating!
UCL Round of 16 Draw
The UEFA Champions League R-16 draw is to be held on Monday December 13 in Nyon, Switzerland. Considering the set rules for seeded and unseeded teams as well as which teams cannot be drawn against each other. The fewest possible opponents is Chelsea’s four followed by Real Madrid’s five. Considering how few opponents each has, the odds that they draw each other is the highest among all possible match-ups. With top-seeded teams in the left column and 2nd-seeded across the top, the possibilities are colored green below:
Top 3 Statistics
If you love numbers and statistics, then here is your official source for the group stage. We will take a look here at the most important ones:
- Goals Scored (Club)
- Bayern: 22
- Ajax: 20
- Man City: 18
- Discipline (Club)
- Wolfsburg (26 yellow and 2 red)
- Sevilla (21 yellow and 2 red)
- Lille (23 yellow) / Porto (17 yellow and 3 red)
- Goals Scored (Player)
- Haller (10)
- Lewandowski (9)
- Salah / Nkunku (7)
- Assists (Player)
- Bruno Fernandes (6)
- Antony (5)
- Mbappe / Sane (4)
- Saves (Player)
- Athanasiadis (29)
- Mingolet (28)
- Vlachodimos / Courtois (22)
Which pairing are you hoping to see during tomorrow’s UCL draw?
Chelsea can be drawn against one of the following four clubs, how lucky will they be?
This poll is closed
If they could not finish the job against Zenit then they should draw either Real Madrid or Bayern Munich!
They had the best route last season and won the tournament, hopefully it is a repeat! They will draw either Lille or Ajax and have a better chance to qualify.
They will be extremely lucky and draw Lille
I am indifferent towards Chelsea’s R16 draw