Thinking on the Spot- CL group stage

By Jonathan Cohen

 

We are now halfway through the group stage of the Champions League, and there have been many surprises. At this point, we know how the perennial contenders stack up and what potential upsets we might have to look forward to later on. With the second half of the group stage approaching, here are my predictions for how they will conclude.

 

Group A:

 

Group A has been one of the biggest surprises so far, with Dortmund perfect through 3 games, including a 4-0 thrashing of Atletico Madrid. Another shocker has been the struggling Monaco who sit bottom of the group with 1 point. Based on current form, I don’t see Dortmund falling that far, as they have not lost yet this season in any competition, and have put together an unbeaten run of 16 matches as I write this article. Knowing Dortmund, they will inevitably collapse later in the season, but they should have enough in them, especially if Jordan Sancho keeps performing at the level that he is, to stay on top of the group. Jumping to the bottom of the group, I expect to see a turnaround from Monaco under their new manager Thierry Henry, and they should be able to reach the Europa League, in addition to finding the top half of Ligue 1 by the end of the season.

 

Final Group Predictions:

 

Dortmund: 15 points

Atletico Madrid: 13 points

Monaco: 5 points

Club Brugge: 2 points

 

Group B:

 

So far, Group B has been about as predictable as it gets. Barcelona look unbeatable at the moment, especially considering their 2-0 over Inter Milan without Lionel Messi. Barcelona may have had a slow start to the La Liga season but have since turned it around, including a 5-1 thumping of Real Madrid this weekend. They have started to look like the dominant team from last year and will be aided with the return of Samuel Umtiti. As of right now, Barcelona looks like the favorite to win the Champions League, and I don’t see that changing unless they face injury problems.

Inter Milan has had a good showing so far, battling back to earn a win against Tottenham Hotspur and PSV Eindhoven. I don’t expect that to change either, and they will continue their good form into the knockout round. Tottenham have been the only surprise of the group. Against Inter Milan, they led until the very end of the game, when it all fell apart for them. They failed to take any points from the match despite leading in the 85th minute, and then dropping points against PSV Eindhoven. If Tottenham were to advance, they would have needed all 3 points against PSV Eindhoven and a much better second half of the group stage.

 

Final Group Predictions:

 

Barcelona: 16 points

Inter Milan: 13 points

Tottenham Hotspur: 4 points

PSV Eindhoven: 1 point

 

Group C:

 

Heading into the competition, Group C was the one to watch, featuring last year’s runners up, a very strong Napoli side, and the always interesting PSG. I did not expect the group to look like it does right now at the beginning of the competition. From the outset, I expected PSG to be in first, with Napoli and Liverpool fighting for 2nd place. I did not give Liverpool enough credit. Despite predicting them to win this year’s Premier League, I did not think they would be able to handle PSG’s potent offense or break down Napoli. However, with 2 points separating 1st and 3rd in this group, anything is still possible, especially with PSG being incredibly inconsistent so far this year. I don’t see PSG changing things, and because of this they will end up in the Europa League.

The last team in the group is Red Star Belgrade, making their return to the Champions League for just the second time since the 2007-2008 season. I was shocked to see them take a point against Napoli but don’t expect the same result in their away match. While Red Star is tough to beat at home, on the road they can’t seem to keep up with the other teams in this group. On top of their disappointing first half, there are rumors that their owner is throwing the matches intentionally and making money from betting on results.

 

Final Group Prediction:


Liverpool: 11 points

Napoli: 10 points

PSG: 9 points

Red Star Belgrade: 1 point

 

Group D:

 

Right from the draw, this group was controversial. It includes four teams that could all be realistically playing in the Europa League, yet here they are battling for a chance to make the knockout round. So far, Porto seem to have control, but there are only 3 points separating them from Galatasaray in 3rd place. The second half will be chaotic, as all of these teams could realistically beat each other. I expect Porto to win the group through experience, while Lokomotiv Moscow and Galatasaray will struggle. Based on current form, I see Schalke struggling as well, but with easier matches leading up to their next Champions League match, I see them gathering enough momentum to get through to the knockout round.

 

Final Group Predictions:

 

Porto: 12

Schalke 04: 10 points

Galatasaray: 5 points:

Lokomotiv Moscow: 4 points

 

Group E:

 

Group E has been the biggest surprise to me so far. Like most people, I expected Bayern Munich to run away with the group, but their recent struggle both in the Bundesliga and the Champions League has left them in a position they aren’t usually in: they need to come back. If not Bayern Munich’s struggle, the biggest surprise has been Ajax, who is currently leading the group. AEK Athens are unlucky to be sitting at the bottom of this group, as they could have easily beat Benfica, and probably could have taken a point against Bayern Munich. Based on the current form of the teams, and how close it is at the top of the group, the win is very much up for grabs in the second half of group play.

While the first half of group play was close, I don’t think the second half of the group will be anything like the first half. Bayern Munich has started to turn things around in the Bundesliga, and they should be able to dominate the rest of the group. Ajax should be able to cruise through to the knockout stage, other than their match against Bayern Munich. While AEK Athens were unlucky in the first half, they will struggle in the last three matches. Their lack of experience will catch up to them, and they won’t be able to replicate their performances, they won’t be able to take points in any of their remaining matches.

 

Final Group Predictions:

 

Bayern Munich: 14 points

Ajax: 10 points

Benfica: 5 points

AEK Athens: 2 points

 

Group F:

 

Group F has been pretty straight forward. Other than the opening day shock win for Lyon over Manchester City, the group has gone as expected. Hoffenheim struggled in their first game and a bit of their second, but have since picked up speed. While things are looking fine for them now, I don’t see them upsetting Manchester City or Lyon and because of this they won’t qualify for the knockout round. However, they will earn a spot in the Europa League and make a deep run in that tournament. Shakhtar Donetsk got a softer draw this year, landing in a group that they could progress out of. Due to their poor start, however, I don’t see them progressing, but I expect them to fight for the third spot, ultimately falling short.   

 

Final Group Predictions:


Manchester City: 15 points

Lyon: 11 points

Hoffenheim: 5 points

Shakhtar Donetsk: 2 points

 

Group G:

 

Group G started with one of the biggest shocks in recent years, with CSKA Moscow beating three time defending champions Real Madrid 1-0. Since then, the group has rectified itself, with Real Madrid winning their last two matches, despite their horrible form domestically. With the exit of Julen Lopetegui, I see Real turning their season around. AS Roma currently sits level on points with Real Madrid and are playing really well. Edin Džeko is the joint-highest scorer in the competition, and is one of the bright spots in a slow start to the Serie A season for Roma. CSKA Moscow is just two points behind Real Madrid and AS Roma, but I don’t see any way for them to replicate their result from the first matchday, and they will stay in third. Plezň makes their debut in the competition, and took a point from CSKA Moscow, however their lack of experience and quality compared to the other clubs in the group will see them finish at the bottom.

 

Final Group Predictions:

 

Real Madrid: 13 points (will take first place on superior goal difference)

AS Roma: 13 points

CSKA Moscow: 7 points

Plezň: 1 point

 

Group H

 

Group H has been full of stories to watch: From Ronaldo’s return to Old Trafford, to Jose Mourinho fighting for his job, this group has been exciting before the first game began. All of the attention on the last matchday was turned to Juventus and their visit to Manchester United. Juventus entered the competition as favorites to win, and nothing has changed since then. This year’s team has something that Juventus has lacked for the past couple seasons: a dynamic attack, lead by Cristiano Ronaldo. This team is destined for the final and will continue to make light work of this group. Second place could realistically to any of the three remaining teams. Old Boys are the least likely to advance but are only a win out of second place. I don’t see them taking it, but it is possible. Valencia and Manchester United will face each other on the last matchday of the group stage, most likely for the chance to advance to the knockout round. I see Manchester United and Valencia playing to a draw, but Manchester United will advance as Valencia won’t be able to erase their two point deficit.

 

Final Group Predictions:

 

Juventus: 18 points

Manchester United: 8 points

Valencia: 6 points

Old Boys: 1 point

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