Champions League: What we learned from group stage

Champions League: What we learned from group stage

The Champions League group stage has come to an end with a dramatic couple of days as Real Madrid squeezed through and Manchester United were edged out.

Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool all went into the last 16 with games to spare.

So what have we learned? Who is looking in good shape – and who isn’t?

Two big teams in the same group is not as fun as it sounds

Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi
Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi both missed two of the six group games

There was a lot of excitement when Barcelona and Juventus were drawn in the same group – Lionel Messi v Cristiano Ronaldo.

But in truth it meant only two of the 12 group games were actually important at the top.

All eight games between Barcelona or Juventus and Dynamo Kyiv and Ferencvaros resulted in victories to the two European giants.

Both sides qualified with two games to go and started resting players. To make matters worse, Ronaldo did not play in the first meeting – although he did score two penalties in the final group game at the Nou Camp.

Bayern Munich are the team to beat again

Leroy Sane
Bayern Munich added Leroy Sane to last season’s Treble-winning team

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Bayern Munich won the Champions League by winning every game last season and they continued that form into this season’s tournament with four opening wins.

Their draw against Atletico Madrid in their fifth game – which ended a 15-game Champions League winning run – came with qualification already secured and many of their stars left at home.

Eighteen goals in six games – and that is without goal machine Robert Lewandowski yet to get properly going.

Haaland is no one-season wonder

Erling Braut Haaland
Erling Braut Haaland’s Champions League scoring record by game – 3, 1, 2, 1, 1, 0, 2, 0, 1, 1, 2, 2

Erling Braut Haaland took the Champions League by storm last season when he scored eight goals in the group stages for Red Bull Salzburg, and another two in the last 16 for Borussia Dortmund.

And he showed that was no flash in the pan with another six goals in four games for Dortmund before an injury ruled him out until Christmas.

The 20-year-old Norwegian is the joint top scorer in this season’s tournament with Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford (who has been eliminated), Alvaro Morata of Juventus and PSG’s Neymar.

Last season only three players – including Haaland – scored more than six in the entire tournament. The season before only two players did.

Haaland took seven games to reach 10 Champions League goals and 12 games to reach 15 (and 16) – both records.

It took the previous record holders – Ruud van Nistelrooy and Roberto Soldado – 19 games to score 15.

Real Madrid and Barca are no great shakes

Real Madrid
Real Madrid have never been eliminated in the Champions League group stage. The last time they were not in the knockout stages was 1996-97 when they did not qualify for Europe

Real Madrid won four Champions League titles in five years and had an eight-year run of reaching the semi-finals at least.

But in the previous two seasons they have lost in the last 16 and the aura is well and truly gone.

This year they struggled in a group containing Borussia Monchengladbach, Shakhtar Donetsk and Inter Milan.

Their fate could have been out of their own hands after five games if Inter had not beaten Gladbach.

As it ended up, they won the group with Karim Benzema scoring twice in a 2-0 victory over Borussia Monchengladbach, who were far below their best.

Barcelona – who are three points off the relegation zone in La Liga – failed to top a Champions League group for the first time since 2007 after a 3-0 home defeat by Juventus on Tuesday.

United collapse costs England a clean sweep

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is the first manager to lose six times in their first 10 Champions League games while in charge of an English side

Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea cruised into the last 16 and it appeared that Manchester United were going to join them.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side needed only one point from their final two games to qualify – but failed to do that, losing to PSG and RB Leipzig.

That ended a three-year run of all four (or five) English teams qualifying for the knockout stages. Tottenham, back in 2016-17, were the last Premier League side to be knocked out in a group stage.

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