The group stage of the Champions League has finished today and I thought this would be a great time to take a look back at this round and give you some of my thoughts. We will take a look at all of the group winners and group runner’s up. Then we will talk about who I think was the biggest winner, biggest loser, best goal, best player, and most disappointing player and manager.
These teams finished on the top of their groups and will advance to the knockout stage to face a team from the runner-ups:
Real Madrid – The most successful club in this competition makes it to the Round of 16 for the 19th straight year. They have made it to the Round of 16 every year since it was expanded in 1997.
Wolfsburg – This is the first time since the UEFA Champions League started in 1992 that Wolfsburg has made it to the Round of 16.
Atletico Madrid – The runners up two years ago are back in the knockout stage, having won their group thanks to a 2-1 win over Benfica on the last match day.
Manchester City – This is their first time winning the group and is a massive step for the club, as the last two times they advanced to the knockout stage, they lost in the round of 16 to Barcelona. They will avoid them now.
Barcelona – The defending champions advanced as group winners, despite getting off to a slow start. They won the four games in the middle and drew the first and last game. They are looking to become the first team to repeat as champions since the tournament was renamed the Champions League.
Bayern Munich – One of the three big favorites to win the tournament qualified with ease as they lost just one game during qualifying. The question with them is can they get back to the final having made it all the way to the semi finals each of the last two years.
Chelsea – Despite their league woes, the English champions qualified as group winners following their 2-0 win over Porto. They now will hope to avoid a big name in the Round of 16 and make a run at their second title.
Zenit Saint Petersburg – The Russia side were the last side to lose a point in the Champions League having lost 2-1 to Gent.
Group Runner Ups
These teams finished in second place and will advance to the knockout stage and will face a group winner in the next round
Paris Saint-Germain – Probably the biggest club to finish second in the group. They won all their games not against Real Madrid and that was the difference. They will be a team that the group winners want to avoid.
PSV Eindhoven – They came in second thanks to big wins on the first and last day of the competition. They jumped Manchester United thanks to a 2-1 win over CSKA Moscow.
Benfica – This Portuguese side had a chance to win the group but lost on the final day to Atletico. This means that they may now have to face one of the big teams.
Juventus – The defending champions slipped up on the final day and finished one point behind Manchester City. This could create a nightmare match up for them as they may have to face Barcelona, Real Madrid, or Bayern Munich in the next round.
Roma – The team from the Italian capital advanced thanks to their 3-2 win over Leverkusen on match day 4. Since both teams ended with 6 points each, Roma advances. They will be a tricky out for a group winner.
Arsenal – The London club pulled the great escape after earning no points in their first two games, they went on to win 3 out of their last four and advanced thanks to their 3-0 win in Greece.
Dynamo Kyiv – The Ukranian side has finally qualified for the knockout stage following 11 straight times exiting at the group stage. They might be the surprise side of the season.
Gent – In their first ever appearance in the Champions League, this Belgium side has qualified over the likes of Valencia and Lyon. They are the surprise team of the knockout stage and the team all the big boys want to face.
The draw for the Round of 16 will be held on December 14th and the first legs will be played on the 16th, 17th, 23rd, and 24th of February and the second legs will be played on the 8th, 9th, 15th, and 16th of March.
Biggest Winner – For me this has to be Manchester City. They have finally advanced as group winners and will avoid Barcelona in the Round of 16. They were not favored to win the group, but they came up with big performances when they needed them.
Biggest Loser – I am going to stay in the same city here and go with Manchester United. While there are no easy groups in the Champions League, a club the size of Manchester United should have easily qualified for the Round of 16. It has to be disappointing when you see that they earned just 1 point from their two games against PSV. Two wins out of six is not good enough.
Best Goal – For me was back on match day one when Alessandro Florenzi curled in an absolute beauty from just inside the halfway line. What a strike.
Best Player – This has to go to Cristiano Ronaldo. He scored a massive 11 goals in the group stage and helped Real Madrid to an undefeated group stage run. He capped this off with 4 goals against Malmo. He also added 3 assists during the group stage.
Best Manager – Andre Villas-Boas of Zenit Saint Petersburg is my choice for this, since he was the only manager to go a perfect 5 for 5 in the first five group games. He has his Zenit side playing very well right now. He did announce that he is returning to Portugal because of his family after the season. In his last couple months as Zenit manager, he will look to make them special.
Most Disappointing Player – I am going to go with Alexandre Lacazette of Lyon. Lyon was supposed to be fighting for the top spot in the group, to having nothing to play for on the final day since they were already eliminated. Lacazette was one of the hottest players last year and in the summer. However, he only scored 2 goals during qualifying as Lyon managed just 5 goals in 6 games. It was a very disappointing show for him.
Most Disappointing Manager – Louis van Gaal of Manchester United for one reason, subbing off his most creative player, Juan Mata, when he was down 2-1 and needed to win the match to advance. Why he made that change I am not sure and it was just one example of how things went horribly wrong for him and for United.
The following teams are entering the Round of 32 in the Europa League after finishing third in their group: Shakhtar Donetsk, Manchester United, Galatasaray, Sevilla, Bayer Leverkusen, Olympiacos, Porto, and Valencia.
I will follow up with a blog next week on the draw for both the Champions League and the Europa League.