The group stage of the biggest club tournament in the world just got over and we are already super excited at the thought of some high-octane, mouth-watering, mega clashes in the Round of 16 of the UEFA Champions’ League. From the exquisite performers like Lionel Messi, Robert Lewandowski and Sadio Mane to the surprise packages […]
The group stage of the biggest club tournament in the world just got over and we are already super excited at the thought of some high-octane, mouth-watering, mega clashes in the Round of 16 of the UEFA Champions’ League. From the exquisite performers like Lionel Messi, Robert Lewandowski and Sadio Mane to the surprise packages of the season like Erling Haaland and Rodrygo, the group stages saw some brilliant individual performances.
Speaking of the teams, Serie A leaders Inter Milan endured a disappointing run, getting eliminated at the group stages. Most of the other teams expected to go through to the knock-outs, including defending champions Liverpool, record trophy holders Real Madrid, traditional powerhouses Juventus, Barcelona and Bayern Munich, and other strong contenders for the championship all managed to get through, making for a stunning line-up of teams going into the draw for the Round of 16.
However, before we dive into the excitement of the draw for the next round of the UEFA Champions’ League, to be held on Monday, 16th December, let’s take a look back at what happened during the 4 months of excitement in all 8 groups.
Teams – Paris Saint Germain, Real Madrid, Club Brugge and Galatasaray
When the draw for the group stage took place back in August, the very first group threw up one of the most exciting battles. European royalty Real Madrid were pitted against PSG, the team that has been hoping to make a mark in Europe for the last few seasons. As expected the two games between these two teams led to goal fests. The first game between PSG and Real Madrid, taking place at PSG’s home ground, ended in a convincing 3-0 victory for the hosts. Former Madrid player Angel Di Maria came back to haunt his old team, scoring an impressive brace and helped PSG dominate the game against the 13-time UEFA Champions’ League winners. The return leg was a more balanced game, with both teams going full throttle in attack at the Santiago Bernabeu and the game ending 2-2.
The other teams in the group expectedly didn’t trouble PSG and Real Madrid at all, as expected. Club Brugge finished third and qualified for the Europa League after earning just 3 points and Galatasaray going home, 1 point behind Club Brugge. PSG won the group, with Real Madrid now facing the possibility of a tricky draw against one of the other group winners in the tournament.
Teams – Bayern Munich, Tottenham Hotspurs, Olympiacos and Crvena Zvezda
Another group that featured two strong teams with two relative minnows. German champions Bayern Munich and last edition’s runners-up Tottenham fighting for first place in the group. The Germans comfortably came out on top in both the clashes, destroying Spurs 7-2 in the first leg in London, and a comfortable 3-1 victory in the return leg. Bayern Munich maintained a 100% record in the group stage, winning all 6 games handsomely. The undoubted star of the show was goal machine Robert Lewandowski, who scored 10 goals in 5 matches, hitting ridiculous levels of consistency. For Tottenham, it has been a season of ups and downs so far, which led to Mauricio Pochettino losing his job midway through the first half of the campaign. Jose Mourinho was brought in, and while he oversaw an upturn in fortunes of the team, securing a 4-2 victory against Olympiacos, Spurs lost their final game of the group, indicating that there is still a lot of work to be done. Olympiacos came in third in the group, securing a place in the Europa League.
Teams – Manchester City, Atalanta, Shakhtar Donetsk and Dinamo Zagreb
In what is possibly the most straightforward group in the UEFA Champions’ League for the last few seasons, Manchester City were drawn with 3 relative minnows. As expected, the English Premier League champions won the group without being tested heavily. The team went unbeaten through the group stage, winning 4 games and drawing 2. The biggest surprise from this group was the team making its Champions League debut – Atalanta. The Italians made their way to the group stage of Europe’s premier club competition for the first time in their history, and went on to pull off a bit of a miracle. Despite picking just a single point from their first four games in the competition, Atalanta won their last matches and qualified for the knockouts at the expense of the more illustrious Shakhtar Donetsk and Dinamo Zagreb. Surely tougher tests lie ahead, with the team destined to face one of the group winners, but no team will be taking Atalanta lightly.
Teams – Juventus, Atletico Madrid, Bayer Leverkusen and Lokomotiv Moscow
With a repeat of last edition’s quarterfinal on the cards, Group D was one of the more exciting groups in the tournament. Italian champions Juventus and La Liga heavyweights Atletico Madrid resumed an interesting rivalry, with the presence of Cristiano Ronaldo adding more zing to the battle. In the first leg, the two teams played out an exciting 2-2 draw, with the return leg being won by Juventus 1-0 at home. Atletico even lost a game unexpectedly to Bayer Leverkusen, but eventually managed to qualify for the knockouts being placed second in their group. Juventus, managed another unbeaten qualifying campaign, with five wins and one draw in their kitty. German team Bayer Leverkusen qualified for the Europa League from Group D.
Teams – Liverpool, Napoli, Redbull Salzburg and Genk
Trust Liverpool to make heavy-weather of qualifying from their group to the knockout stages. And, trust Liverpool to trust Napoli with a level of respect and fear they don’t show to even the Barcelonas and the Bayern Munichs. The current holders of the UEFA Champions’ League went into the group as favourites, but that they ended up needing a victory from their last game against Redbull Salzburg just shows they never want to do things easily. A defeat in their opening game against Napoli in Naples, and a draw against the same team at Anfield, combined with the results elsewhere, left the group open till the last day. However, the defending champions put in a professional performance against Salzburg and won the group in the process. They now go into Monday’s draw knowing that they are yet to hit top gear, and facing a complicated draw as the likes of Real Madrid, Borrusia Dortmund and Atletico Madrid stand in wait having finished second in their respective groups. Napoli finished second in the group, while the impressive Redbull Salzburg side had to settle for a place in the Europa League.
Teams – Barcelona, Borrusia Dortmund, Inter Milan and Slavia Praha
The ‘group of death’ for this edition’s UEFA Champions’ League group stages, and boy was it a heavy one! Barcelona, out to recover from the heartbreaks of the last two seasons were clubbed with German heavyweights Dortmund and Italian side Inter Milan, which has been in ascendance under Antonio Conte. After a spate of exciting matches, Lionel Messi inspired Barcelona went through the group in the first place, staying unbeaten in the process. Dortmund were the other team to progress from the group, leaving Inter Milan to rue some missed opportunities and having to make peace with a place in the Europa League.
UEFA Champions’ League Group G
Teams – RB Leipzig, Olympique Lyon, Benfica and Zenit St. Petersburg
This group was termed as one of the most evenly matched groups in the tournament, in terms of ability or lack thereof. What the group lacked in terms of star power, it made up for with some exciting football, with no team going unbeaten and team finishing second just one point above the teams in third and fourth. RB Leipzig lived up to their group favourite’s tag, winning the group with 11 points in the bag. Lyon, finished second in the group with Benfica dropping down to the Europa League. Both Leipzig and Lyon will be tested in the knockout stages, with some really strong teams lying in wait and these two teams being perceived the weaker ones in the Round of 16.
UEFA Champions’ League Group H
Teams – Valencia, Chelsea, Ajax and Lille
In what was the most exciting group of this edition of UEFA Champions’ League, Group H entertained the most with the quality of football on display. Valencia, currently 8th in the Spanish top flight, secured a crucial victory against Ajax on matchday 6, to qualify for the knockouts in the first place from the group. English premier league team Chelsea finished second in the group, while last year’s semi-finalists Ajax were surprisingly knocked out and will now be competing in the Europa League. Valencia, even though finished as the group winners, would be the team to draw for most of the second placed teams from the other groups in the UEFA Champions’ League round of 16 draw on Monday.
So there it is, a roundup of what transpired in the group stage of the UEFA Champions League. We are super excited for the potential match-ups the round of 16 draw will throw up, with some heavyweight casualties sure to lie at the end of the round 16 matches. Watch this space for more updates on the draw!