So much for the dull group stages of the Champions League. The group stage has recently seemed like a means to enrich the bigger clubs rather than a genuine competition, and this year looked to be no different with most groups having two clear favorites to progress. But after some shock results and a couple of upstarts from the east challenging some of Europe’s titans, this year’s group stage is shaping up for a very exciting finish. There is a genuine possibility that a couple of the big powers like Liverpool, Bayern Munich, or Inter could miss out on the knockout stages and previously unknown teams like Russia’s Rubin Kazan and Romania’s Unirea Urziceni could take their place.
Here’s how the groups shape up heading into the next round of matches on November 3rd and 4th:
Group A: Bordeaux 7 pts; Juventus 6; Bayern Munich 4; Maccabi Haifa 0.
A close battle between Bordeaux, Juve, and Munich that is likely to go down to the last game. Munich may be hurt by the continued absence of Frank Ribery, who could still be out injured on the last match day on December 9th for the Germans home game against Juve. Ribery will definitely be out for the next round and the visit of Bordeaux. A win in the match for the French side would see them all but qualify for the knock out stages.
Group B: Manchester United 9 pts; Wolfsburg 4; CSKA Moscow 3; Besiktas 1.
Man U sit comfortably atop this group and are virtually assured of going through as the group winner and will guarantee qualification for the next stage if they do the double on CSKA at Old Trafford in the next round. Tight battle between Wolfsburg and CSKA for the second spot. The Germans could have put some distance between themselves and the Muscovites, but they slipped up at home only drawing against bottom side Besiktas. A win in the return match in Istanbul is now much more urgent as Wolfsburg finish at Moscow and at home to United.
Group C: AC Milan 6 pts; Real Madrid 6; Marseille 3; FC Zurich 3.
Madrid were poised to take a stranglehold on this group, leading Milan 1-0 in the second half, before a flurry of three Milan goals quieted the Bernabeu crowd and brought all the sides back into group. Those two are still favored to go through as main challenger Marseille faces a tough final two matches at the San Siro and home to Madrid. But a draw in the rematch of the Spanish and Italian giants in the next round in Milan coupled with an expected Marseille win at home against Zurich could further muddle Group C.
Group D: Chelsea 9 pts; Porto 6; Apoel Nicosia 1; Atletico Madrid 1.
While the standings in Group D appear to be following the script, the upstart Cypriats Nicosia have both Chelsea and Porto all the could handle and they took a point from an Atletico team in free fall. Chelsea and Porto should go through fairly easily, but I’ll be watching out for a Nicosia home victory over Atletico on match day five.
Group E: Lyon 9 pts; Fiorentina 6; Liverpool 3; Debrecen 0.
Where to begin – Lyon’s solid play; Fiorentina’s emerging Montenegran star; Liverpool’s injury time collapse? Let’s start with Liverpool. Consecutive defeats away to Fiorentina and against Lyon at Anfield—courtesy of that late winner—have put the Reds on the brink of failing to reach the knockout stage for the first time since missing out on the tournament altogether in 2003. Rafa Benitez and co travel to France to face an in-form Lyon side needing to avoid defeat (something the club haven’t done in four straight in all competitions) to preserve any genuine hope. A win would still keep Liverpool’s destiny in their own hands, but a draw would keep them alive although needing Lyon to do no worse than a tie in Florence on match day five. Lyon have played extremely well and deserved their three points at Anfield. Despite Liverpool’s woeful performance, the surprise of the group so far has been the play of young Fiorentina forward Stevan Jovetic. He scored the goal that saw the Viola through the qualifying round and bagged a brace against the Reds to shake up the group. Liverpool face a difficult climb into the next stage and it may take a win by more than 2 goals over Jovetic and Fiorentina at Anfield on the last match day to see them through.
Group F: Barcelona 4 pts; Dynamo Kiev 4; Rubin Kazan 4; Inter Milan 3.
Russian champions Rubin Kazan’s shock win over Barcelona in the Camp Nou has thrown the group wide open. I’m pretty sure no one picked the club from the Urals to defeat the reigning European champions on their home ground. What an achievement for the Russian team few had even heard of before the tournament started. Who would have predicted that Inter would be sitting in the bottom, winless after three matches? Jose Mourinho’s side is still capable of taking the top spot, but they could be in genuine trouble as it faces tough trips to Kiev and Barcelona before hosting Kazan in their last game. With the teams this closely bunched, all the remaining matches are important, but I’ll be paying particular attention to Barcelona’s trip east for the rematch with Kazan on November 4th.
Group G: Sevilla 9 pts; Unirea Urziceni 4; Stuttgart 2; Rangers 1.
Sevilla look set to go through comfortably as group winners, but unheralded Romanian outfit Unirea Urziceni have the inside track to make it to the knockout round. A poor Rangers team travels to Urziceni to face Dan Petrescu’s side that beat them 4-1 at Ibrox this week, while third place Stuttgart has to go to Spain to face in form Sevilla. A win coupled with a loss for the Germans and all Unirea Urziceni would need is a draw in their final match at Stuttgart to make it to the next round.
Group H: Arsenal 7 pts; Olympiacos 6; AZ Alkmar 2; Standard Liege 1.
Arsenal and Olympiacos are in firm control of proceedings as their nearest rivals, AZ, are more concerned about staying in business rather than staying in the Champions League. Arsenal should go through top unless they Olympiacos pours it on and finds a way to win their last three matches, including the finale in Athens against the Gunners.
Filed under: Champions League |