After Wednesday’s action, we are halfway through the group stage in Champions League play as everyone has played three games so far. Through three games played by all 32 participating teams, what we can begin to draw some conclusions what to expect in the final three matchdays and also, we can begin to either safely place several teams into the Round of 16 while others are either close to being eliminated or going to need to step it up in the final three group games in order to advance in the competition.
In Tuesday action, Group F, aka the “Group of Death” is living up to its moniker. In one of the most anticipated games, Borussia Dortmund went into London and beat Arsenal 2-1 thanks to its ability to take advantage of defensive lapses by Arsenal on defense who come away with all three points. In the other group game, SSC Napoli beat Olympique Marseille 2-1 and as a result, Napoli, Dortmund and Arsenal are all tied with six points. It is clear we will not know who qualifies from this group until the mast matchday but because Napoli and Marseille play at home two times in the final three games, they have the inside track of advancing.
In Group E action, Chelsea played its way into the lead in the group after it resoundingly beat Schalke 3-0 to take the group lead thanks to their superior goal difference. In Group G, a team that has become a legitimate dark horse to make a deep run into the tournament in Atlético Madrid has put one foot into the knockout stages as it beat Austira Wien 3-0 and move it to nine points from the first three games. In Group H, while FC Barcelona stay atop the group thanks to a 1-1 draw against AC Milan, Celtic have given themselves a chance to potentially advance with a 2-1 over Ajax which has all but virtually eliminated the Dutch club from advancing on after the group stage.
In Wednesday action, the showcase game was that between Real Madrid and Juventus played at the Santiago Bernabeu. Despite Real Madrid looking far below the team they are and can be, they were able to overcome Juventus 2-1 and solidify their lead in Group B as they now lead with nine points and are a point away from ensuring qualification into the knockout stages. For Juventus, the loss they must get points from Madrid in two weeks time in order to advance given that Galatasaray beat Copenhagen 3-1 to move into second place on four points.
In Group A, Manchester United despite being wasteful with their scoring chances were able to beat Real Sociedad at Old Trafford 1-0 thanks to an early goal from Iñigo Martinez and as a result took the lead in the group with seven points thanks to Bayer Leverkusen getting a big 4-0 win away from home against Shakhtar Donetsk to move into second place in the group. The Leverkusen win in all likelihood means that Manchester United will win the group with Leverkusen and Shakhtar Donetsk fighting it out for second.
In Group C, Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) virtually locked up qualification into the Round of 16 as they soundly beat Anderlecht 5-0 with four goals from Zlatan Ibrahimovic to move to nine points from three games. The way PSG have played so far in the competition, they have made a serious claim (along with the defending champions) of having played some of the best and most impressive futbol so far in the group stage.
Speaking of the defending champions, Bayern Munich also virtually locked up qualification into the Round of 16 as they beat Viktoria Plzen 5-0 to maintain their lead in Group D with nine points from three games. Aside from another great display, the other thing that caught the eye in Bayern’s impressive win was the performance of Mario Gotze who is rounding back into fitness and looking impressive with his second half display. Finally, Manchester City took another step to ensuring second in the group as they beat CSKA Moscow 2-1 and as a result, they know getting a combination of four points from the final three games, two at home, will see them through.