Friday, November 25, 2011

UEFA Champions League Groups

There is only 1 match left in the group stages, and though several question marks remain, most of the big boys have assured themselves of advancement to the round of 16.  Bayern Munich, Inter Milan, Real Madrid, Arsenal, and Barcelona are through as group winners.  That's 5 spots.  AC Milan have also qualified.  No surprises there.

Group A looked difficult from the outset, and despite Villareal's performance, has lived up to its billing.  Napoli play Villareal in Spain, and while it is no sure thing, the Italians seem likely to get at least a point there.  That means, in order to advance in their first Champions League appearance, Manchester City have to defeat high-flying Bayern Munich.  The game is in Manchester, and already-qualified Bayern may rest some players, but the Blues are still behind the 8 ball at this point.  It may be Europa League for them.

It's unclear whether Lille, Trabzonspor, or CSKA Moscow will take second in group B, but it doesn't really matter, all of them look like cannon fodder for one of the big boys listed above in the round of 16.

Group C is where things get really interesting.  Manchester United, finalists three of the past four seasons, looked to win this group in a walk, but the last time they didn't get out of the group stage, Benfica had a lot to do with it.  United's 2 draws at home have put them in trouble, but they do control their own destiny.  Scoring goals has been easy for the Reds (having forwards like Chicharito will do that), it's defending that the problem.  They are playing Basel in Switzerland, and it's win and you're in for both sides.  Benfica are at home against a weak side with zero points so far, and look just about guaranteed to go through.

Group D looks decided.  Ajax would have to lose and Lyon win by a combined 7 goals for the French side to go through ahead of the Dutchmen.

Group E has worked out the way most people would have expected.  Racing Genk, despite a couple of heroic draws, are a non-factor.  Any two from Chelsea, Bayer Leverkusen, and Valencia can go through depending on final matchday results.  The Germans are in the driver's seat.  They play Genk and have a 1 point lead at the moment.  A draw puts them through.  That leaves Chelsea and Valencia playing what should be a thrilling fight to the death in west London.

Arsenal have clinched Group F, but any of the other three teams can go through.  Borussia Dortmund are the longest long shot, they would have to win by 7 goals and get help from Arsenal.  Marseille are in the driver's seat, but Olympiakos still have a good chance, depending on what kind of team Arsene Wenger puts out to face them.

Group G is an absolute shit show.  Shakhtar Donetsk were most people's favorites going in, and they are going to finish last.  Any of the other three can go through, but none of them look likely to pose a challenge to whomever they play in the knockout stages.

And Group H is already decided.

There are some dead rubbers, as you are always going to see in the group phases, but some big clubs need a result to go through.  Should be some fun matches to watch.

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