By Lucien Betancourt and Diego De Souza
The group stage of the Champions League has officially come to an end. The 16 teams that will go on to the Round of 16 are set, and the 8 third-place teams that will head to the Europa League (the second tier of European champion soccer) are set as well. Everything is set to go for February, where the Round of 16 games will occur. In these games, each team has a turn to play at home, meaning 2 games per group. The winner of either more games or the scorer of more goals advances to the next round. The group stage was very interesting, with huge upsets, Cinderella stories, and an improbable ending. Here, we will be reviewing how the Group Stage went for every club and what went right or wrong.
Groups A-D (Diego):
FINAL TABLE: Group A
The expectation for this group was that Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid would go through, and there were no surprises in that department. Bayern are the current treble winners, winning the league, domestic cup, and Champions League and are the favorites to repeat as the winners of the Champions League. They absolutely stormed through this group, including a very impressive 4-0 win against Atletico Madrid. Last year, they were the only team in Champions League history to win every single game. That won’t happen again, as they dropped the second game to Atletico but it was a game that didn’t matter, as they were so good that they had already won the group in 4 games! Atletico Madrid actually struggled to advance, losing the aforementioned 4-0 game to Bayern and drawing twice with Lokomotiv Moscow. But in the last game vs RB Salzburg, they won 2-0 to go through. American coach Jesse March’s RB Salzburg are a thrilling side to watch, and they played very well despite not managing to move on. Despite what the score lines might say, they played well vs Bayern Munich both times. 3rd place is a decent achievement for them, and I’m excited to see them in the Europa League. Last and definitely least, Lokomotiv Moscow did have some decent moments, such as two draws vs. Atletico, but they don’t have a good enough squad to compete with these teams, and they finished in 4th.
FINAL TABLE: Group B
This group was absolute madness, as detailed in Lucien’s article about how it was a perfect storm. First, there was Shakhtar Donetsk, who shocked the world by beating Real Madrid 3-2 in Madrid despite having over 10 players missing with COVID-19, and then beat them again 2-0 in an insane series. They also got two draws against Inter Milan. But all of that was for nothing, as they got crushed by a combined 10 goal against Borussia Monchengladbach and crashed into the Europa League. Monchengladbach surprisingly went through, in large part because of those two games. They also tied once vs Inter Milan and Real Madrid. Inter Milan were a huge disappointment in this group. Not only did they not qualify but they finished in 4th. Their only hope to advance was beating Shakhtar Donetsk, But they couldn’t do it. They drew 0-0 to Shakhtar Donetsk. Finally, we have Real Madrid, who had one of the craziest group stages I have ever seen. They lost twice to Shakhtar, as mentioned before, but won twice vs Inter Milan. They tied Monchengladbach the first time in the last minute, so entering the last matchday they needed a win to advance. Somewhat surprisingly, they won comfortably vs Monchengladbach and somehow won this surprisingly crazy group.
FINAL TABLE: Group C
In this group, Manchester City, as expected, dominated the competition. They won 5 out of their 6 games, with their only blemish being a 0-0 draw with Porto which was enough to clinch top spot in the group. Porto also went through without much of a problem, smashing Marseille and Olympiacos in all 4 of their games against them. The latter two sides really didn’t have much to offer. Marseille in particular were really disappointing, only scoring 2 goals and going 1-0-5. Olympiacos gets third place and a Europa League spot due to goal differential.
FINAL TABLE: Group D
When this draw was made, the biggest question of this group was who would go through between Ajax and Atalanta. Liverpool were the big favorites to win the group, let alone advance, and they did so comfortably despite having many injuries. New side Midtjylland were in the Champions League for the first time in their history and were naturally huge underdogs in every game they played. They did reasonably well by getting two draws, but still got 4th in the group. As was suspected, it came down to the final matchday between Atalanta and Ajax, where Atalanta won 1-0. Gasperini’s Atalanta will progress and will try to repeat some of last year’s magic, where they nearly made the semifinals. Ajax will drop down to the Europa League for the second year in a row, and I think they have a good shot at winning it.
Groups E-H (Lucien):
FINAL TABLE: Group E
Here we have Group E, a rather easy group for both European Giants Sevilla and Chelsea, no surprises here. That said, Sevilla’s defense is an issue, and it shows. Sevilla conceded 8 goals in just 6 matches, which in the grand scheme of football, isn’t a lot. But half of those goals were against Chelsea, where they got hammered 4-0 at home. Their offense is also shaky. But this is classic Sevilla, they show less than what they really are, and other teams know this. Sevilla will be no pushover, especially after their incredible run last year in the Europa League, winning the whole thing against Inter Milan. In some way or another, they’ll manage to do well. Now to Chelsea. They stocked up on players this Champions League campaign, and can go far as one of the strongest teams in the league. Last year’s loss to Bayern is in the past. Their defense is 100 times better, and their offense now has an identity. With Krasnodar, they’ve been expected to crash out completely. But they made it to Europa league, so good for them. Finally Rennes, as debutantes of the Champions League, there’s no surprise they got hammered by every team they faced. Extremely poor showing from them, especially for a team who came third in Ligue 1, the top tier of French football. Everything went wrong.
FINAL TABLE: Group F
Just like Group E, no surprises here. Dortmund’s offense and defense are stronger than ever, and they will be contenders this year if Jadon Sancho and Erling Haaland can keep form. Lazio are not as strong as many thought they were. Their offense is strong, with Ciro Immobile, Milinkovic Savic, and Luis Alberto leading the reins, but their defense is an issue, conceding 7 goals to their opponent, leading to their staggering 4 draws. Club Brugge almost ran away with an upset against Lazio to go on to the Round of 16, but are now in the Europa League, where they are most certainly one of the stronger teams. A few more pieces on defense and they will be a true force to be reckoned with. Lastly, and most disappointingly, let’s talk about Zenit St. Petersburg. Zenit are the strongest team in the Russian Premier League, and they have a well rounded team. However, their attack stalled and their defense was no match for the likes of Lazio nor Dortmund. It’s disappointing that they couldn’t even make the Europa League.
FINAL TABLE: Group G
Still no surprises here. Both of this group’s giants, Juventus and Barcelona, have gone through with minimal issues. Both have good defenses and fantastic offenses, even for a Barcelona team who is struggling in the League. Dynamo Kyiv barely scraped together 4 points but it was enough for Europa League. As for Ferencvaros… no comment.
FINAL TABLE: Group H
Finally, Group H. Considered by many to be the real “Group of Death” this year, it came down to the last game of the stage. RB Leipzig had to beat Manchester United to advance on, and Paris Saint-Germain breezed through Basaksehir. Leipzig prevailed once again, coming back from a 5-0 loss at Old Trafford to shock Manchester United, reach the 2nd place spot, and go on to the knockout stage. Manchester United could have made an improbable run to the round of 16 but yet again, disaster struck. They lost 3 straight games and bounced out on their way to the Europa League. Istanbul Basaksehir could have ran away with a win against RB Leipzig, but faltered because of their incompetence to close out games whilst holding a lead. They can potentially build on this in the future but for now, they should focus on their domestic league.