The Champions League group stage continued this week, and over the past two days, the “top” 32 clubs met all over Europe for the second of six matches during the stage. While no club has exactly clinched a spot in the knockout stage, which doesn’t begin until February, a handful of clubs have nearly made it a foregone conclusion.
We are about seven months from the final on 30 May at Atatürk Olympic Stadium on 30 May 2020, and a lot of the familiar names are at the top of the list as favored to win the entire thing per FiveThirtyEight. Manchester City remains the club that everyone else is chasing, checking in with a 30% chance to win the final. Two other clubs – Bayern Munich (19%) and defending champion Liverpool (11%) – check in with odds greater than 10%. “The field” is currently led by Paris Saint-German and Barcelona, with each club checking in at 7%.
Matchday 2 played out about as expected for most of the draw, with 11 of 16 matches ending with the favorites on top. Of the other five matches, all variances were greater than 16%, and three underdogs walked away victorious at the end of the day.
While you await the kickoff of today’s Europa League action, here’s a brief look back at what transpired on Matchday 2 in Champions League:
The Biggest “Upsets”
The largest variance of Matchday 2 occurred in a match that ended in a draw. Real Madrid entered their match with Club Brugge as overwhelming favorites, winning in 70% of FiveThirtyEight simulations. Per the odds, the Belgian club had a better chance of forcing a draw (19%) than winning outright (11%), and a draw was where we ended.
It was looking like Club Brugge would find a way to win. They entered the half up 2-0 – at Santiago Bernabéu no less – on two goals from Emmanuel Dennis. Sergio Ramos got one back early in the second half for the home club, and after Ruud Vormer was sent off with after his second yellow card in the 84th minute, Casemiro wasted no time in equalizing, scoring off of Toni Kroos’ free kick following the penalty.
The next largest variance saw the underdog club come through with a victory on the road.
RB Leipzig also entered as overwhelming favorites (62%), and again the visiting team had better odds at a draw (22%) than a victory (16%). But Lyon came through in the end, scoring a goal in each half and holding the home club scoreless to prevail 2-0. Memphis Depay scored the first goal in the 11th minute, with teammate Martin Terrier adding the exclamation point in the 65th minute. Despite leading in nearly every stat, RB Leipzig came up short and finds itself in third place in Group G.
After two matches in the group stage, there are four clubs buried at the bottom of their groups with nary a point. While we are still a long way from elimination for these clubs, they are closer than some others, and will likely need a win on Matchday 3 to remain in the mix for second place.
Atalanta – Group C
Atalanta is unfortunate to have been drawn into Manchester City’s group. And their chances of advancing through to the Round of 16 are probably hurt most by the fact that they will be playing City two times in a row – 22 October in England and 6 November at home – and are currently massive underdogs in both matches.
There is a path for them to finish second for the moment, but it would likely involve winning one of those City matches along the way. As such, while they still have a 1-in-5 chance of finishing third and heading over to Europa League, they only have a 1-in-20 chance of climbing into second and remaining in Champions League for the Round of 16. The most likely outcome appears to be a return home in December to focus on their Serie A season.
Bayer Leverkusen – Group D
Surprisingly, Bayer Leverkusen does not face similar odds, and are currently positioned as the third club in Group D behind Juventus and Atlético Madrid and ahead of Lokomotiv Moscow. It will not be easy for the German club, however, with the Atlético Madrid double coming for them on Matchdays 3 and 4.
Nevertheless, they still have a 16% chance of reaching the Round of 16 in Champions League, though it is likely to be as the second place club as they only have a 3% chance of winning the group. They do have some work to do; Lokomotiv currently holds a tiebreaker over them due to their win in Germany on Matchday 1, but we’ll definitely be watching to see what happens with Leverkusen going forward.
Benfica – Group G
Like Leverkusen, Benfica’s odds are helped because Group G is currently led by two clubs with four points. But unlike Leverkusen, the Portuguese club is in fourth place in the group when it comes to odds of advancing on to the Round of 16.
Still, they have a 17% chance of doing so, and they benefit with the Matchday 3 & 4 double coming against Lyon, who, according to FiveThirtyEight’s SPI, are the worst club in the group. They are currently favored in the Matchday 3 meeting from Lisbon, and a win their will get them back on the path towards at least competing for third place in the group.
Lille OSC – Group H
Lille is not nearly as lucky as these other clubs, and joins Atalanta with only a 5% chance of advancing to the Round of 16. They are lucky in that they host Valencia on Matchday 3, and a win at home will go a long way to improving those odds. That said, their home field advantage didn’t help them much yesterday against Chelsea, though they are currently slight favorites in the upcoming match.
A Look Ahead to Matchday 3
At the moment, there are only four matches that have an opening odds variance of less than 20%. Lille-Valencia is the closest, in what nearly amounts to a toss-up with Lille winning 37% of the time to Valencia’s 36%. Next closest is Inter Milan-Borussia Dortmund match that currently sees the Italians with a 43% chance of winning, compared to 32% for the Germans.
Four clubs that currently have six points – Manchester City, Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain, and Ajax – have greater than a 90% chance of advancing to the Round of 16 at the moment, and wins on Matchday 3 will likely clinch at least second place for the clubs. Paris Saint-Germain, with a match at Club Brugge, and Ajax, with a match against Chelsea, are favored in the other two matches with less than 20% variance, while Manchester City (aforementioned Atalanta) and Bayern Munich (Olympiacos) are heavily favored and should leave October with nine points in Champions League.
In addition to the four zero-point clubs mentioned above, there are a few clubs with one point that we would have expected to do a little better so far – based on reputation more than anything – and will likely need to find three points on Matchday 3 to stay alive in Champions League.
Real Madrid, owners of a record 13 Champions League titles, has one point thus far, which they earned in the comeback draw against Club Brugge mentioned above. They luck out over the next two matches, meeting Galatasaray, the weakest club in the group that is also sitting on one point at the moment. This is perhaps why the Spanish royalty have the second highest odds of advancing from Group A (67%), though it will likely be as the second place club behind the dominant Paris Saint-Germain.
Tottenham Hotspur are in a similar situation in Group B, though they are coming off a devastating 7-2 loss (at home) to Bayern Munich. They get two matches against surprise second-place club Red Star Belgrade to try and right the ship, and the Spurs also currently boast the second-best odds to advance from the group.
Finally, a club that is not as lucky based on the upcoming matches has to be Inter Milan, who has back-to-back matches against Borussia Dortmund. As mentioned above, their Matchday 3 meeting is relatively close, but Inter is currently positioned as the third-best club in Group F. They have over a 50% chance of finishing third and heading to Europa League, per FiveThirtyEight, but those odds will definitely shift should they tie Dortmund with four points after the next match.
We’ll be back in a couple of weeks with the matches to watch from Matchday 3, some of which have been mentioned in this post. Enjoy the action across Europe today in Europa League and the domestic league action before we’re back at the end of the month to talk about Champions League!
Until next time…