By Harvey Kay
Last week the Champions League group stage drew to a close. 16 teams, ranging from 5-time champions Barcelona to Israel’s Maccabi Haifa, have been knocked out. Obviously, none of these teams got enough points, but there’s more to football than that.
Then, again, some teams get done over before their group matches start. In Group A, Rangers lost all six games and conceded 22 goals in the process – the most ever. Fellow group member Ajax was also knocked out, although they never really stood much of a chance after losing key players and a manager over the summer.
The surprise in Group B was the elimination of Atletico Madrid and Bayer Leverkusen who were tipped as favourites to progress to the round of 16. Both teams were beaten by Club Brugge and Porto. Leverkusen had a poor start and a poor finish after sacking their manager during the campaign replacing Gerardo Seoane with Xabi Alonso. And Atletico had their worst run of games since 2009 in the competition and lost all 3 away games with a disjointed squad.
Group C had teams knocked out simply because they just cannot compete financially. Barcelona are a billion euros in debt despite spending over €150 million this summer. Comparatively, FC Viktoria Plzeň are worth €21 million, so they can’t be faulted too much for losing all 6 matches, including a 5-1 battering away at Barcelona.
Group D was tight throughout. On the last match day, as all the games commenced at once, each team’s position in the group changed. Sporting Lisbon and Marseille were unlucky to be eliminated. It was especially tough for Marseille’s two former Arsenal players, Alexis Sánchez and Sead Kolašinac, after Tottenham scored a 95th minute winner to both win the group and knock Marseille out of Europe completely.
As for Salzburg and Dinamo Zagreb in Group E, they found themselves overshadowed by Chelsea and Italian champions AC Milan. Chelsea replaced the fired Thomas Tuchel with Graham Potter hours before the queen died. FC Red Bull Salzburg are arguably a feeder club to Red Bull Leipzig, and their business model is definitely that of producing and selling players for revenue, which ultimately means any and all top-level players, such as Erling Haaland or Patson Daka, will eventually get sold. The Dinamo Zagreb squad is worth less than €90 million, which isn’t a large sum in the champions league.
The only other Scottish team in the league, Celtic, did slightly better but still finished last in Group F after failing to secure a win under their belt. They suffered a brutal 5-1 loss away to reigning champions Real Madrid on the last matchday. Ukrainian outfit Shakhtar Donetsk finished third and only lost 2 games, despite having to play in Warsaw and losing their manager along with several key players since the start of Russia’s invasion.
In Group G, Copenhagen just could not score, netting only once across the six games. Their defence wasn’t awful either, as eight other teams conceded more goals than the 12 they let in. Sevilla fired the then manager Julien Lopetegui after a 4-1 home defeat to Borussia Dortmund; however, replacing him with Jorge Sampoli couldn’t improve their performance. Although it’s not all bad since Sevilla finishing 3rd in their group means they enter the Europa League, Europe’s secondary club tournament, which they’ve won six times, including four titles since 2014.
Finally, in Group H, Israeli side Maccabi Haifa who entered the champions league for the same reason Israel entered Eurovision, simply did not have the resources to compete. That said, they still managed to beat record Italian champions Juventus 2-0, with both teams being knocked out on 3 points. Juventus’ squad needs a refresh, and some have suggested their manager Allegri should be sacked.
All the teams who finished third, including Ajax, Leverkusen, Barcelona, Sporting Lisbon, Red Bull Salzburg, Shakhtar Donetsk, Sevilla, and Juventus, will enter the Europa League’s round of 32.
Everyone who places last in their group is out of Europe completely.
Pitch given by Leah Buist
Edited by Theerada Moonsiri