UEFA Champions League Group Stage Coming Down to the Wire
Make no mistake about it, the UEFA Champions League is the marquee tournament for football clubs in Europe, and possibly around the world with it massive publicity and viewership. Scores of players have demanded transfers and moves over the years in order to secure the signature of a team who plays in this famous stretch of games that only the top European clubs can qualify for. And while the Champions League group stage is typically a bit of a cake-walk for the major teams before the real fun begins with the knockout rounds of spring, the groups this year look well poised for some exciting finishes that will threaten the future of several major clubs. Here’s a look at some of the closer finishes to expect in the final 2 matches of the groups stage in the Champions League.
By the looks of it, the following teams are already set to progress from the group stage: Barcelona, Athletico Madrid, Bayern Munich, PSG, and Real Madrid. This consists of just 5 of the 16 total participants that will reach the next stage of the tournament. For everyone else, the pressure will be on, and will demand extreme focus and hard work to progress.
Looking at the groups, Manchester United find themselves in an awkward position. Just like their uneasy form in the English Premier League, the club has stumbled to just 2 wins and 2 draws. Their upcoming fixture away to Bayern Leverkusen looks to determine the group winner. Should they slip up, their final match will be at home versus Shaktar Donetsk, a formidable team from the Ukraine. With great players like Eduardo, Darijo Srna, and Fred, this is a powerful team. In recent years, they have earned victories over Chelsea, Arsenal, Barcelona, and Roma. This will be no easy stroll for Wayne Rooney and co.
Elsewhere, Arsenal find themselves in the supposed “group of death”. Although they sit pretty on top of the group with 9 points, Borussia Dortmund also has 9, while Napoli lurks dangerously in third with 6 points. The Gunners must not overlook a home match against Marseille, lest their final match in Italy facing Napoli could decide their fate. Fortunately, they do not have to face Dortmund again, the Champions League finalists of last season.
Another group of interest is the one that Barcelona seems to have wrapped up. AC Milan, Ajax, and Celtic are just separated by 2 points for the crucial second spot. Mario Balotelli and Milan look most likely to progress, as both their competitors must face Barcelona. But with the group all but wrapped up, don’t expect the Catalan soccer giants to play their strongest team in these games. These three teams are all very competitive and are regulars in the Champions League, meaning experience and desire is roughly equal amongst them. Surely, there will be some drama in this group!
Elsewhere, the battle for second in the group and it’s meaning of progression is making many of these group stage matches a massive affair. Teams like Galatasaray, Juventus, Olympiacos, Benfica, Shalke, FC Basel, Zenit St. Petersburg, and Porto will be fighting for their Champions League lives! Be sure to watch these games, because although the true “knockout” rounds have yet to begin, these upcoming fixtures represent life or death for many clubs involved in Europe’s premier club competition.