The first section of the UEFA Champions League is finally over and we can finally start the real competition. This is when shit gets real and the good teams prevail, unless of course we are talking about the year the Chelsea somehow won the trophy, but the less said about that the better (they didn’t deserve to win the trophy).
To be honest the group stages are easily the worst part of the Champions League, with very few groups actually being interesting and most of the big teams qualifying prior to the last match, often making it meaningless. This year was no different, with only a handful of competitive matches in the final round. I wrote about the Champions League after the draw for the group stage and you can read that here. Anyway on to the actual group stage and the results that it produced.
Pre-group stage I had Utd finishing 1st and Leverkusen finishing 2nd, so it’s always nice to see that I got that right. Beyond that I think you have to be disappointed with every team in this group that wasn’t Man Utd. Leverkusen got through, but got humiliated in their two games against Utd, Shakhtar were at best average and Sociedad looked like a deer in the headlights and totally incapable of playing at this level (1 point for a team from Spain is shit). Leverkusen isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, and are likely to pick up a hard draw.
Man Utd on the other hand actually had an excellent group stage, which is ironic because their domestic form has left little to be desired. 4 wins and 2 draws in this group is the stuff of dreams, Utd only conceded 3 goals (kept 4 consecutive clean sheets) and beat one of the best teams in Germany 9-2 over two legs. You have to applaud Moyes for how well he has done in Europe so far, and chances are Utd will pick up an easy draw in the last 16 (unlike last season). Can Utd win it? Probably not, but then Chelsea shouldn’t have won the Champions League when they did, so you never really know. I’d personally say that I would choose at least 5 teams in front of Utd if I had to pick, beyond those five you never really know because it will really depend on the draw.
I expected Real to win the group; I don’t think I expected them to walk the group quite as easily as they did. However something I certainly didn’t expect was that Juventus would be so horrible (I like most people had them 2nd). How can the champions of Italy, only manage to take 6 points from what is a reasonable group? How do Juventus only win one game out of six, with that being against Copenhagen? It really does make you question everything you thought you knew about football, I doubt anyone really thought that this would happen and is clearly the biggest shocker of the group stages. You have to applaud Galatasaray because you have to put yourself in a position to take advantage of Juve’s inabilities, but it says a lot that you get through to the last 16 of the Champions League with a -6 goal difference.
Galatasaray will not challenge in any way at all and are unlikely to make it past the next round, however Real are very much in the mix. With Cristiano Ronaldo playing the way he is (set group stage goal record), and young exciting attacking talent surrounding him, you have to think that Real are very much in the mix. In my preview I said that I thought that Real would be my pick to win the tournament if I were to make it right then, about four months later and I still think that is the case. Real’s one big problem is whether or not they pick up a hard draw, with both Arsenal and Man City being potential banana skins that they will want to avoid, they’d still be favourites to go through in both cases but that doesn’t mean it will work out that way.
I had PSG winning the group and Benfica coming 2nd, although the second part of this didn’t come to pass, I did say at the time that Benfica were very lucky with the draw because they were a very weak first seed team.
There isn’t much you can really say about this group, other than neither of the teams that have qualified are going to do anything in the latter stages of the tournament. I said in the preview that PSG were one of the most over rated teams in Europe, and in what was an incredibly weak group they showed that this was the case with a number of lacklustre performances. If they avoid Arsenal and City, then PSG will make the quarters but they won’t go further than that. Olmpiacos probably wouldn’t make it through the groups in almost any of the other groups, and they will undoubtedly pick up a hard draw and not see the quarters, all the first seeds are hoping for Olympiacos.
I had Bayern finishing 1st and City finishing 2nd, as I’m sure most people had in the most clear cut group of them all. The biggest shock about this group was that City beat Bayern in Munich after being 2-0 down. I also have to give a shout out to Plzen who I thought wouldn’t even get a point, and instead they managed to finish 3rd and receive a Europa League place, well done to them and hold you head in shame CSKA.
Both Bayern and City are contenders for the title with one big difference between the two of them, and that would be the draw. Unless Bayern pick up Arsenal they will walk through to the next round (even if they pick up Arsenal), whereas City will pick up one of Dortmund, PSG, Barca, Real or Atletico, which of course begs the question of how the hell doesn’t your manager know the rules? I like Pellegrini but this was embarrassing, whether or not they would have actually scored is irrelevant, the fact he didn’t realise how close they were could cost them hugely as they are guaranteed a very hard draw (PSG would be the best available). I don’t think either of these two teams will win the tournament, although I would say City are the more likely of the two to do so in my opinion (there’s a reason no team has ever retained the Champions League).
Pre-tournament I felt that this was easily the worst group of the draw (I was wrong) and naturally had Chelsea and Schalke going through in that order, as they did.
If either team had been in a group with a capable third team, they wouldn’t necessarily be sitting in this position now. Worse than the two teams that actually qualified though is Basel who somehow managed to beat Chelsea twice and not make it to the last 16. How is that even possible? They drew against Steaua twice? Are you shitting me? You can beat Chelsea twice but you can’t Steaua once? Fuck sake. Anyway Schalke are possibly the weakest second seeded team available and will go out in the next round, and Chelsea probably won’t fare much better (they will make it to at least the quarters).
Excellent group with three top teams in it, I had Dortmund and Napoli going through (in that order) but of course we saw Dortmund win the group with Arsenal finishing 2nd. Napoli had that horrible moment of going out on 12 points and seeing numerous teams who they are better than going through to the next round because they were in much easier groups. On a lighter note, how shit are Marseille? I said in my preview that they could feasibly not gain any points from this group but I thought it was unlikely, well guess what, that is exactly what they did, officially making them the worst team in this year’s Champions League.
I have to applaud Arsenal for actually getting through the group, I honestly thought that this was going to be the year where it didn’t happen and they proved me wrong. When they were beaten by Dortmund in London I thought that was it, only for them to go and pick up a very impressive result in Dortmund when only a win was good enough, very respectable.
As long as Dortmund avoid City they should make it to at least the quarter finals, and they are certainly a good enough side to go further than that (as shown last year). Arsenal on the other hand must be criticised for not getting at least a draw in Naples when that would have put them in a much stronger position going forward in the tournament. Now they are looking at drawing one of Bayern, Atletico, Barca, Real or PSG; similarly to City they are guaranteed an incredibly hard draw and are paying the price for not finishing 1st in their group.
Group G turned out to be by far the weakest group in this years Champions League, to the extent where you were wishing UEFA changed their rules so that only one team could get through (they do have a history of changing their rules mid-tournament after all). I had Atletico taking 1st and Zenit taking 2nd, which turned out to be right, but god knows how.
Zenit somehow snuck through (undeservedly) to the last 16 with the lowest qualifying total ever (6 points), this is made worse when you consider a team like Napoli went out with double the points Zenit went through with, but you can only play what is around you I guess. Zenit’s qualifying sticks further in the throat when in the last game they were beaten 4-1 by Austria Vienna, the team I ranked as the worst in the competition. You have to marvel at Vienna’s performance in this year’s Champions League, taking 5 points (the same as the top seeds Porto) but still sadly finishing 4th. On the other hand you have to question what is happening at Porto, only managing 1 point at home and throwing away a gift of a chance to make it through in front of what turned out to be a poor Zenit side.
Atletico will be looking at the draw very nervously, hoping that they are able to avoid Arsenal and City (much like all the first seed teams). If they do, then Atletico could well be a dark horse for the tournament.
The glamour group of this year’s Champions League group stage saw Barca finishing 1st and AC coming 2nd (like I had in my preview).
In typical Italian fashion (Juve should read the script) AC managed to go through to the next round without being impressive at all and despite not actually deserving to go through at all. I’m sure Jonas Eriksson (the referee from the 1-1 draw with Ajax) will be receiving a gift basket for handing AC the path into the next round with one of the worst penalty decisions I have ever seen (Balotelli fouls defender and gets a penalty…). AC are shit, they have been shit for years and won’t be feeling that quarter finals feeling because they will receive a hard draw. We can only hope whoever gets them in the last 16 will absolutely pump them.
I honestly thought that Ajax would beat AC in the last match, but it was disappointing to see that the game finished 0-0. I didn’t watch the game, so maybe it isn’t fair of me to criticise Ajax for not trying hard enough, but when you must win a game at all costs and the result is 0-0, you deserve criticism.
I was very disappointed with Celtic’s performance in this seasons Champions League, it felt like they regressed massively after last year’s success. It is always going to be hard when you sell a number of your best players, but the drop off was massive and the team showed a huge level of naivety, especially in both games against AC (where they actually played well). It will be back to the drawing board for Celtic next year, although it is likely to be harder for them as it is likely that they will lose more of their big players.
Barca as expected strolled through the group (although with a very poor performance against Ajax thrown in there). Going forward I think that Barca are deservedly one of the favourites for the Champions League, but I don’t think they will win it. Their total over reliance on Leo Messi has become even more apparent recently, and it seems that his play has dropped off slightly (still the 2nd best player in the world, at worst). I think Barca’s performance last season against Bayern in the semi’s showed that Barca are no longer the best team in Europe, and I would personally put them as the 5th most likely team to win the tournament.
Overall my predictions were pretty solid, getting 13/16 of the teams that went through correct, 13/16 in the correct order and 8/8 of the first placed teams correct, which I think is pretty good. The only teams I got wrong were Galatasaray going through instead of Juve (which I doubt anyone seen coming), Olmypiacos going through instead of Benfica (which was close) and Arsenal going through instead of Napoli (which was close as well).
It is obviously very difficult to talk about who is going through to the quarters when you haven’t seen the draw yet, but I think that Man Utd and Chelsea are guaranteed to go through despite their draw, and the top seeded teams who avoid Arsenal and City are also guaranteed to go through. It is remarkable how weak all the second seeded teams are in comparison to the first seeded teams, almost making the last 16 a formality for a number of teams.
I thought Real Madrid were the team to win the Champions League pre-tournament, with Dortmund being my second choice and I would still stick by those choices. For me, there are five obvious teams who will be competing to win the tournament; Bayern, Dortmund, Real, Barca and City. It will hence be very interesting to see who City draw in the last 16, because if it is one of the other four (obviously not Bayern) then it will open the door for another team. I do think that we could see an unexpected team win this year’s Champions League, with Man Utd, Atletico and to a lesser extent Chelsea and Arsenal all having a chance, but it would be very dependent on the draw throughout the tournament.
So what did you think of this year’s Champions League? Who do you think are the likely winners? Leave a comment and share your opinions. Plus find all the latest updates for bm23sportsreviews on Facebook and Twitter.