We are halfway through the Group Stage in the Champions League, and we have three groups that have leaders with the maximum of nine points. While they are not yet assured of advancing to the knockout phase, their chances are much higher, and they can be sealed up with wins on Matchday 4 in two weeks.
We also have two clubs with zero points through three matches, so they would have to go on and amazing run to redeem their Champions League play and possibly qualify for the Europa League by finishing in third place in their groups. However, neither club – Lokomotiv Moscow and AEK Athens – were favorites to advance coming in, and they have shown with their play thus far that people were right.
Finally, we have two of our own “favorite” clubs in the tournament – Red Star Belgrade and Young Boys – that are probably going to miss out on Europa as well. While they have both scored one point through three games, they are far behind their groups in fourth place with terrible goal differentials. I have higher hopes for Young Boys moving up to third, if only because they just drew with the club ahead of them in the group, but they will need to find three points against two clubs that have already defeated them easily.
Here are some of the more shocking results of the first round of matches from around Europe (based on UEFA rankings heading into the match or location). Home teams are listed first:
Borussia Dortmund 4-0 Atletico Madrid
Atlético Madrid entered the Champions League Group Stage as the second-ranked club in UEFA; Borussia Dortmund entered in 10th. One would expect a competitive match under those circumstances, not a 4-0 destruction. Maybe Atletico chose not to send their Best XI to the match because they were tied with Dortmund with six points heading into the match, far ahead of the other two clubs in Group A. Maybe they knew that Matchday 4 would see a rematch, except at home in Madrid, so they expect to even the score then. Either way, both clubs are still the overwhelming favorites to advance out of the Group, and will fight for the first position, if only to face off against another group’s second finisher. But the only other matches in the Champions League that have had as lopsided of a score were matches between top clubs and qualifiers, not from two of the top 10 clubs in the tournament.
PSV Eindhoven 2-2 Tottenham Hotspur
The battle for third place in Group B took place in Eindhoven, and Tottenham Hotspur almost escaped with a win, and the three points that would have placed them alone in third place, only to see PSV Eindhoven equalize in the 87th minute. As expected, Barcelona is running away with the group, is perhaps one point away with clinching advancement to the knockout phase. The Spurs are only up on PSV based on head-to-head away goals, and will require some work to compete for second in the group over the next three matches. A good start would be picking up the three points against PSV at home in two weeks, while also hoping that Barcelona repeats its performance against Inter in Milan.
Ajax 1-0 Benfica
A club of Ajax‘s stature should be expected to defend their home pitch. Benfica entered the Group Stage as the 15th-ranked club (to Ajax’s 31st), so this could be charted as a slight upset. But Ajax was propelled to the top spot in Group E, thanks to a draw against Bayern on Matchday 2 (they earn the tiebreaker for scoring an away goal in that match), and now have two matches to cement their spot before the Matchday 6 rematch with Bayern in Amsterdam. Benfica should hold onto third place, but they have to be disappointed if they end up in Europa League, even if they have already improved on last season’s Champions League performance.
Manchester United 0-1 Juventus
Thanks to Manchester United, Juventus is assured of finishing no worse than third in Group H (though they currently have a 96% chance to win the group outright, something they can lock-up in their Matchday 4 home match against this same Manchester United club). Manchester United, on the other hand, failed in front of the Old Trafford faithful to garner even one point, which has been par for the course on the season for them. They are currently sitting in 2nd place in Group H with four points, and a repeat of the first three matches should be enough to advance them on to the knockout stage, though with two of the three matches away from home, that could prove difficult. But even if they manage to make it, I don’t see them advancing past that stage unless there is some serious improvement in the quality of their play.
Matchday 4 of 6 kicks off on November 6th, so we are only a few weeks away from the first matches that might see some clubs punch their tickets to the Knockout Stage. Manchester City remains the heavy favorite to win the whole thing, and have won two straight since losing its opener to Lyon. It helps that they’ve remained strong in Premier League play as well, but they are only up by one point currently in Group F, and locking in the first spot might ease their path towards the championship a bit.
Until next time…