UEFA Champions League – What happened in the Group State?
The Group Stage of the 2017-2018 UEFA Champions League has finished. And there were certainly some surpises but none bigger than FC Basel 1993 qualifying for the knockout stages. Back in September the preview article spelled out the expected results for the Group Stages. The key here being expected. Like all sports they don’t play the game on paper and even though the ball is round it still takes funny bounces. Strange things happen and the Group Stage had its share. So here’s a recap of the Group Stage by groups and a comparison between the expected and actual results.
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This group was a half right and half wrong thing. And the half wrong side of the equation was out of the universe wrong. As predicted Manchester United was too strong and too deep and did win the group amassing 15 out of a possible 18 points and three points clear of the second place club. Benfica “will finish second and move on.” Ahhh, not so fast. Not only did they not finish second they finished dead last and last all six matches earning a big fat zero. In fact they only managed to score a single goal in their six matches. A pathetic showing. Meanwhile Basel and PFC CSKA Moskov battled it out for second with Basel rising to the challenge and taking second. For a group predicted to have no suprises this one provided plenty, especially the shocker of Benfica with such a poor showing.
” Bayern Munich and PSG are clearly the two class squads in this group and both will advance. The question is in which order. Bayern is one of the top clubs in the world once again. However, PSG made two huge additions this past transfer window bringing in Neymar and Mbappe. I still give the nod to Bayern but this could be close.” This group turned out as predicted, and yes it was close. In fact PSG and Bayern tied for first with 15 points each. With PSG winning the tie breaker, and the group, on a plus 21 goal differential. PSG also scored the most goals of any club in the group stage. They found the back of the net 25 times in their six matches with Neymar, Mbappe, and Caviani all scoring six times.
As suggested, this group was a tougher one to try and figure out. Three really good clubs and one also ran. Chelsea and Atletico Madrid were the predicted winners but to not look past AS Roma. Turns out Chelsea and Roma tied for the lead with Chelsea getting the nod on goal differential. Atletico was quite competitive but just didn’t have the finish to hang in the end. And Qarabag, the first team ever to qualify from Azerbaijan, simply isn’t at this level yet.
Juventus and Barcelona were the predicted top two and indeed they were. Except Barcelona won the group followed by Juventus. Although it was also predicted that a flipping of the first two would’nt be a surprise. The difference being the 3-0 drubbing Barca put on Juventus in their first match. And no surprise in that Sporting Club of Portugal, which did provide some entertaining moments, and Olympiacos FC just didn’t play at the top level needed to advance.
Well indeed Liverpool did get a very good draw when the ping pong ball slated them in this group. They had little trouble winning the group and their plus 17 goal differential was not only the only positive goal differential in their group, but was second in the entire group stage only behind PSG. Sevilla FC did take second as expected. FC Spartak Moscow provided a little bit of a challenge but not enough to make any kind of difference while NK Maribor was simply outmatched in all phases of the game with only two teams in the entire stage finishing with a worse goal differential.
Manchester City continued its dominance as one of the top clubs in all of Europe easily winning the group. They were the only team in the group to finish with a positive goal differential. Second place was taken by FC Shaktar Donetsk, one of only two teams in the competition to advance without a plus goal differential. Napoli and Feynoord both provided a bit of a challenge but not enough to matter. Feynoord was actually a fair bit weaker than anticipated managing a single victory to go with five defeats.
This group did turn out to be the most wide open in the competition. Besitkas JK won the group earning four wins and two draws. One of only four teams in the Group Stage to not lose a single match. And they did so with a very stout defense allowing a mere five goals in their six matches. Second place went down to the final match day with FC Porto moving on as a result of their 5-2 drubbing over Monaco while RB Leipzig was falling 2-1 to Besitkas.
Not a surprise in that bunch did indeed turn out to be the Group of Death. What was a surprise and maybe even a shocker was how poorly Borussia Dortmund played. Not only did they not advance they earned but two draws in their matches with APOEL FC and lost all four matches against Tottenham and Real Madrid. There is some solace in that Tottenham and Real are both playing at very high levels right now but still. Meanwhile Tottenham won the group with Real taking second. Both of these sides could make noises down the line.
So the Group Stage was mostly as predicted sprinkled with some real surprises. But now it gets even tougher. The knockout stages provide no room for error. Falter in a match and you find yourself in serious trouble. The draw has been held and the next stage starts in February. Be watching for a preview in January. In the meantime here are some of the key stats from the Group Stage.
Club Stats / Pass Completion
Manchester City: 90%
Paris Saint Germain 89%
Real Madrid: 89%
Bayern Munich: 88%
Club Stats / Time of Possession
Manchester City: 60%
Real Madrid: 59%
Bayern Munich: 57%
Club Stats / Total Shots Attempted
Bayern Munich: 109
Real Madrid: 100
Paris Saint Germain: 97
Goals Scored – Ronaldo (9), Cavani/Kane/Neymar/Yedder (6 each)
Assists – Milner (5), Neymar (4), Moreno/Martial/Coman (3 each)
Now some will question why, as a former goalkeeper, I have not included saves in the stats? Its pretty simple really. In a competition like this the number of saves is usually more of an indication of how weak the team was compared to the competition than how well a keeper is playing. In fact, of the top five keepers, based upon number of saves, only one of them is moving on to the next stage!
So there you have it. The Group Stage has been fun. Has provided some excellent soccer and a few surprises along the way. Stay tuned to the Knockout Stage. It will be a great show!!!
And happy holidays to all!!!