Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Where are we with the Champions League?


Qualification for the Champions League knockout stages is almost done. There are a few loose ends to tie up, but that's about it - and the rich are about to get richer as almost all the big teams are through to set up some fantastic ties in the last 16.

But it's all about winning the Group. Qualifying for the knockout stage is a success for some, but should be the minimal requirement for those who spend unthinkable money every year. Not just the English teams, but all the big boys have splashed out, and if you can't beat teams like Viktoria Plzen, Austria Vienna and Anderlecht, then you have bought the wrong players.

So here's the breakdown....

PSG and Atletico Madrid bossed their Groups - and that's the price teams will pay for not topping the Group. Nobody wants to play them, Barca, Real or Bayern.

Bayern have won 5 from 5, and it's hard to imagine them not beating Manchester City at home in two weeks. City are through too, which counts as a success, but they may need an easier tie to progress past the last 16 - and there are no easy ties in the knockout stages of the Champions League. City can, and will, score against any team - but they look shaky at the back. I don't agree with Kolo Toure that they will rue selling him, but they do need a quality defender - someone like Vincent Kompany, not Kolo Toure.

Manchester United are through again. Their Group wasn't easy, but they made hard work of some pretty average teams. David Moyes will be happy to advance, but I can't help thinking that United are going to get spanked by someone. Rooney is playing well, but there is nobody in the midfield that other top teams would want. In fact there's nobody in the United midfield that any other team wants on their bench.

Juventus are going to have to get something in Turkey against Galatasaray - a draw will probably do it, but Drogba and Sneider may have something to say about that. Juve look so good in Serie A, but very inconsistent in Europe. Anything but qualification will be a huge failure for them.

Chelsea are in. Basel or Shalke will join them. Who wins that Group is still to play for - but it won't be Steaua Bucharest who are now 22 games without a win in the Champions League. Basel have got 6 of their 8 points against Chelsea - what seemed an easy Group has turned vaguely interesting. Chelsea need to win it, or they will face a tough task in the knockout stages against other Group winners.

Arsenal have won 4 of their 5, yet sit just 3 points ahead of Dortmund and Napoli. Should they lose to the Italians in Naples by 3 or more, they could go out - with 12 points! Marseille have lost to everyone, so that Group of Death thing didn't quite work out. All 3 teams will still be in Europe, and I'd say the team who finishes 3rd would be favorites to win the Europa League.

Ajax stayed alive by beating Barcelona, but they will have to beat AC Milan in Italy to advance. I can't see either topping the Group as the Catalans play the already eliminated Celtic on the last Group match day.