The group stages of the Champions League are over and some big hitters have missed out, but some of Europe’s smaller fry have exceeded expectations
Who would have thought? Reaching the next round was already unthinkable at the time of the draw, when the Giallorossi ended up drawn alongside Chelsea and Atletico Madrid, two teams well ahead of Eusebio Di Francesco’s men in terms of European experience. But Roma have done more: they topped the group, beating Qarabag and taking advantage of the draw between Chelsea and Atletico at Stamford Bridge. Phenomenal.
In the end Kylian Mbappé’s goal means Paris Saint Germain lead the group, but the 3-1 win over the Parisians shows just how far Bayern have gone since the first encounter at the Parc des Princes, with Carlo Ancelotti’s side being thrashed 3-0 and the Italian manager getting the boot. Jupp Heynckes changed things around and now Bayern are one of the best teams in Europe yet again and a real threat to anybody in the Round of 16.
Two 7-0 victories in the same group stage. No one had ever managed that before. A total of 23 goals – second only to Paris Saint Germain. Sadi Mane, Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Coutinho: up there with the best attacks in the world. Liverpool’s annihilation of Spartak Moscow is a clear signal of intent: the Reds want to fight for the Champions League until the very end.
When you can count on a La Liga title and two Champions League finals over the past four seasons, crashing out in the group stages has to be an absolute disaster. Especially considering that Atletico Madrid were favourites ahead of Roma and that they got a draw and a win against the Giallorossi.
But Diego Simeone’s side imploded in the two easiest games, unable to beat minnows Qarabag: that was the difference. A sporting suicide that sees Atletico relegated to the Europa League. Which in itself could be positive: a chance to win the competition again. The last time the Colchoneros moved down from the Champions to the Europa League, in 2009-2010, they lifted the trophy in the end.
A disappointment. Because Napoli were ahead of Shakhtar Donetsk on paper in the group behind Manchester City, and because the fixtures list – with Shakhtar facing City once Pep Guardiola’s side had already qualified – is not a good enough excuse. More was expected from a team that has done so well in Serie A, and this perhaps shows how Maurizio Sarri struggles with having the midweek game as well as the weekend one. Now on to the Europa League.
Bottom of the table with no wins, just two points and a -10 goal difference, with five goals conceded in the last game to Porto. This side made it – surprisingly – to the semifinals last season, and to see them crash out this way now is at the very least unexpected. Radamel Falcao is still a top striker, and having sold Kylian Mbappè in the summer is not enough to explain the disastrous campaign.