We’re halfway through the 2014-15 Champions League group stage. The UCL is one of the greatest tournaments in all of sports because we get a chance to catch our breath for a couple weeks after every matchday. So let’s do so. Some groups are mostly decided, others hang in the balance. Who will go through in each four-team sector? To the groups!
Anyone’s group still. With two teams at 6 points and two at 3, it’s on a knife’s edge. Despite posting just a zero goal differential through three games, Greek side Olympiakos lead the group by virtue of their 3-2 win over second-place Atletico Madrid over a month ago. Grabbing points in Olympiakos’ stadium is no easy task, as we witnessed last season when Man United dropped the first leg of their Round of 16 tilt with the Greeks 2-0. Italian champion Juventus can attest as well. With consecutive one-nil losses (one of them at Olympiakos), Juventus’ Champions League struggles continue. Galatasaray advanced in their stead in Group B of last season’s tournament and it looks like we could be watching a similar situation unfold. However, the Greeks still have to play at Juve and Atletico, so look for there to be Iliad-type drama down to the final matchday in Group A.
Who goes through?: Olympiakos and Atletico
Following three straight victories, Real Madrid pretty much has this thing locked up. It would probably take 7-8 different injuries for them not win Group B (and even then). So the suspense has all been sucked out, right? Wrong! There is a legitimate battle for second-place right now, with a three-way tie at 3 points. Bulgarian upstart Ludogorets leads by GD. The Eagles are one the of the best stories going right now in world football. Formed in 2001, Ludo was promoted to Bulgaria’s A Group (their top league) in 2011 and promptly won three consecutive titles. With players from all over the map, they qualified for their first Champions League in spectacular style (seriously, click on that link, it’s unbelievable). Now they look to knock off the struggling Reds of Liverpool and Swiss club FC Basel.
Who goes through?: Real and Liverpool (sorry Ludo)
Everybody seems to be alive except Benfica, who, despite drawing with Monaco this week, seem to be quite dead. The Portuguese back-to-back Europa League runner-up has scored just one goal thus far. AVB’s Zenit St. Petersburg has four points and Ligue 1’s Monaco (already four domestic league losses) has played remarkably boring football on the way to their five points, with two scoreless draws and a 1-0 victory. Bayer Leverkusen, decidedly not playing boring soccer, have won their last two matches by two goals a piece. Their attacking arsenal of Stefan Kießling, Heung Min-Son, and 20-year-old Hakan Calhanoglu have given Neverkusen fans a good reason to believe their team can top an easy group.
Who goes through?: Leverkusen and Zenit
What may have been a foregone conclusion from the beginning, now looks to be a sure thing halfway in: Dortmund and Arsenal advance with ease. The limping Gunners have come back strong after getting wiped out by BVB in their first match at Dortmund. Arsenal spanked Galatasaray and then, after going down a goal, popped in two at the finish of their Anderlecht fixture to sneak three points. For the Germans of Dortmund, it’s been a season of disappointing Bundesliga play offset every couple weeks by wild European success. Through their three wins, they have bombed in nine goals and conceded zero. A massive November 26th showdown at Arsenal will probably decide who takes the top spot.
Who goes through?: Dortmund and Arsenal
Arguably the Group of Death this season, Group E has been the most interesting thus far. Italian side Roma had to feel very comfortable after their first two results, a dominant win over cellar-dweller CSKA Moscow and a draw at the Etihad with Man City. One merciless 7-1 whipping on their home turf at the hands of the machine-like Munch Bunch later, and, while they are two points up on City, their 9 goals against can’t feel so good. Bayern look sure to take the group, but the story coming down the wire will be City’s continual Champions League struggles.
Who goes through?: Bayern and Roma
Not much to see here with PSG and Barcelona (two wins a piece) rolling through lesser (and much, much poorer) competition in Ajax and APOEL. Paris Saint-Germain sit atop the Group F throne after squeezing out a victory on the road vs. APOEL, due to an extremely late Cavani goal. While the Parisians are playing excellent Champs League ball lately, you can’t count out Barca when they get to play PSG at home next time. With Suarez making his Barcelona debut this weekend, we could see the Blaugrana start to stack up victims in Europe.
Who goes through?: PSG and Barcelona
Maribor, winners of four straight Slovenian First League titles, were trying to make this a competitive group by drawing vs. Sporting and at Schalke. Then they got pasted by Chelsea this week, 6-0. With two points (one up on the more talented Sporting), they still have a shot, but this group looks to be mostly written according to the script: The Fighting Hazards (Chelsea) in first, with Schalke trailing in second. However, Schalke already went to Stamford Bridge and forced a draw, so the Germans still have a chance to win the group themselves with a win at home.
Who goes through?: Chelsea and Schalke
With a goal differential of -12, it’s a miracle that BATE Borisov have three points in this group. The two teams leading Group H, FC Porto and Shakhtar Donetsk, each have a +7 GD and look to be evenly matched. They proved this with a draw in their first game with a 2-2 tie. Both sides finished third in their respective groups last Champions League campaign, narrowly missing out on knockout round play. This year they both have an excellent chance of going through in the same group.
Who goes through?: Porto and Shakhtar