The best and the worst of the Champions League so far
The Champions League group stage finished last week with a few surprises. Real Madrid doesn’t look as strong of last year, champion Chelsea was eliminated and even Barcelona was vulnerable. The following is a review of the tournament so far.
The best team is Borussia Dortmund. After a dubious start against Ajax which they beat with a goal in the 87th minute, the Germans went on to beat Real Madrid and Manchester City at home and obtained important away draws against the ‘Merengues’ and the ‘Citizens’ to finish first and undefeated in the ‘Group of Death’ with 14 points. The trio of Mario Gotze, Robert Lewandowski and Marco Reus were involved in most of Borussia’s goals either scoring or assisting this season, making Dortmund’s attack one of the best in Europe this season.
The ‘surprise’ team is Malaga. The ‘Boquerones’ are making their debut this season and it couldn’t have been better. They finished first in Group C with 12 points and undefeated, topping 7-time champions AC Milan and high budget Zenit. Even though Malaga has a good quality squad thanks to the club’s new Qatari owners, coach Manuel Pellegrini deserves a lot of credit for continuing a process that started last year with the team’s best finish ever in the Spanish league. Even more impressive is the fact that Malaga is performing well both in Europe and the domestic league half way through the season.
The best player of the tournament so far? It’s a difficult choice. Cristiano Ronaldo is the current top scorer but so is Galatasaray’s Burak Yilmaz, who was key for his team’s qualification into the knockout stage. Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Borussia Dortmund’s Gotze and Reus could also be considered. It may sound like an easy choice but the author of this blog believes Lionel Messi has been the best until now, even though he is followed closely by the names mentioned above. But Messi once again makes the difference for the weight his game has on Barcelona’s performance.
The disappointment is Chelsea who becomes the first reigning champion to be eliminated in the group stage. The ‘Blues’ had a relatively easy group having Juventus as the only ‘strong’ rival but it was Shakhtar who ended up taking the current champion’s spot in the Round of 16. Chelsea’s defense was probably the main reason the team surprisingly won the Champions league last May. This season, however, several defensive mistakes caused them to lose points that in the end cost them the elimination and the dismissal of coach Roberto di Matteo, the same tactitian who led Chelsea to their most glorious moment in the club’s history.
The Round of 16 will likely have a couple of good, very equaled meetings. With big teams like Real Madrid, Arsenal, Milan and even Porto finishing second in their groups, it makes possible that matchups like Manchester United-Real Madrid, Barcelona- Milan or Bayern Munich-Porto take place in the knockout stage. These are all former Champion League winners.
Special mention for Malaga’s draw. Thanks to winning their group and based on UEFA’s rules the Spanish could face either Porto, Arsenal, Shakhtar, Celtic or Galatasaray. These are teams who, in paper, are ‘accessible’ and Malaga may have a good chance to advance to quarterfinals, if they keep the same form they have now until February when matchday 7 takes place. Coach Pellegrini would be very well on his way to repeat the feat of 2005-06 when he took debutant Villarreal to the semifinals.
The Round of 16 draw will be on December 20th and we will comment on the matchups.