Champions League group stage review

The first part of the competition has now concluded, so we look back on the action from the last three months.

Benfica will be extremely disappointed with how they acquitted themselves in this year’s edition of the tournament, with the Portuguese champions failing to pick up a single point in Group A. They also managed to score only one goal, which was 11 fewer than group winners Manchester United – Jose Mourinho’s men won five and drew one of their six encounters. The Red Devils go through to the round of 16 alongside Basel, who triumphed on four occasions and picked up three more points than third-placed CSKA Moscow.

Group B was split into two, with PSG and Bayern Munich both accumulating 15 points and Celtic and Anderlecht managing only three each. It was the Ligue 1 giants who finished in first place thanks to their superior head-to-head record to Bayern, who lost 3-0 at the Parc des Princes and only managed to beat Unai Emery’s side 3-1 in the reverse fixture on matchday six. In the other half of the standings, Celtic edged out Anderlecht to qualify for the Europa League thanks to their 3-0 triumph over the Belgian outfit away from home.

Atletico Madrid were the casualties in Group C, with the 2014 and 2016 runners-up finishing third after winning only one of their six matches. Diego Simeone’s side were only beaten once themselves, but four draws – particularly back-to-back stalemates with tournament debutants Qarabag – proved fatal to their chances of making it through. Roma and Chelsea both qualified for the knockout phase with 11 points each, but the former’s superior head-to-head record gave them the edge in the race for top spot.

Barcelona got off to a fantastic start in Group D, dispatching of Juventus 3-0 at the Camp Nou in their opening fixture. A 0-0 draw at the Allianz Stadium sealed the Catalan club’s place in the knockout rounds with a game to spare, while Juve needed a final-night victory over Olympiacos to make sure of second spot. The Greek outfit only managed one point from a possible 18, with Sporting CP comfortably beating them to third – which brings with it a place in the Europa League knockout stage.

Liverpool rounded off their group stage campaign in style, thrashing Spartak Moscow by seven goals to nil at Anfield on matchday six. That win made sure of their progression as winners of Group E, with Jurgen Klopp’s side accumulating 12 points after three victories and three draws. Spartak’s thrashing on Merseyside leaves them in the Europa League, with the Reds joined in the round of 16 by Sevilla. Maribor finished bottom on three points, but they did at least avoid defeat in half of their encounters.

Manchester City dominated in Group F, winning five of their six games and only losing their final one after Pep Guardiola heavily rotated his starting XI against Shakhtar Donetsk. The Ukrainians duly secured a 2-1 victory and qualified for the knockouts in second spot, with Napoli missing out after falling to a surprise defeat by last-placed Feyenoord in gameweek six. Maurizio Sarri’s side drop into the Europa League, where they will be among the favourites to go all the way.

Group G was thought to be the most open group when the draw was made back in August, but last season’s semi-finalists Monaco failed to compete and were eliminated with just two points to their name. Besiktas were the surprise winners of this segment, winning four and drawing two of their outings to advance with relative ease, with RB Leipzig edged out by Porto in the battle for second – the Portuguese side’s 5-2 win earlier in December ultimately settled the race in their favour.

Borussia Dortmund were arguably the group stage’s biggest disappointment, despite the fact they were drawn in a tough section. The German outfit only managed to collect two points from their six matches, which was still enough for them to seal the Europa League qualification place ahead of APOEL. Tottenham Hotspur did brilliantly to top the group with five wins and a draw, with defending champions Real Madrid finishing second with a tally of 13 points.

By Greg Lea

Greg Lea is a freelance football writer for FourFourTwo, The Blizzard and various others. Follow his Twitter account @GregLeaFootball for anything and everything related to soccer and more.