Champions League group phase is over. Majority of the expectations and predictions have been respected however there were a lot of surprises also. But what can we expect in knock-out round?
Favourite’s for final triumph have all passed the first obstacle. Very few of them impressed but ultimately achieved the first goal.
Judging by what we saw till now there are only 2 teams respecting front-runner tag.
On paper second strongest group in competition’s first phase was group B where Barcelona faced Inter, Tottenham and PSV Eindhoven. Barca eventually secured top spot before game 6 even started which was expected. Inter’s challenging Tottenham for other progression spot was also predicted however lack of duo’s challenge to Spanish domination is a bit disappointing.
Especially from Inter! In the double confrontation with Barcelona, the neroazzurri got a point out of possible 6 but hardly deserved even that. In both games Italians looked scared and rarely troubled the Catalan giants. Perhaps difference in class is too big however you’d expect at least a decent fight!
At times it looked as if Inter didn’t even count on any points against the blaugrana and just played because they have to.
Tottenham also got a point against Barcelona however in fairly different circumstances. Even if at Wembley Spanish representative won it was also due to a false start from the home side and individual errors. But the Spurs played some good, attacking football and even threatened to snitch something out of it.
True, Barca was going through a difficult spell beginning of October, however, Tottenham showed that they can fight it out against anybody.
In group’s last game Barca had little motivation but still managed to trouble the London outfit even with a backup starting eleven. The English side eventually got the needed result and it’s only fair that they progressed in front of Inter.
Barcelona displayed ruthlessness but also diminished Messi-dependance.
When the Argentine was absent Suarez took the responsibility to guide the attack and team forward. And delivered!
Coutinho occasionally showed why Barca splashed top-dollar for him and also Dembele provided glimpses of his talents.
Arthur slotted nicely in midfield, displayed quality and personality.
He’ll never be the next Iniesta but a reliable performer for years to come. With Rakitić, Busquets and Vidal completing the midfield first choices it’s another area without particular concern.
Defence is another story! Catalans were never admired for defensive stability and it’s the team’s weak point.
The whole team has to defend, no doubt about that, but Barcelona conceded 5 goals in groups stage and nearly all of them were scored within a few meters from goal.
Last example was last night’s equalizer; Lucas was left all alone in the center of the area while 3 players were closing Kane. It can be argued that the result meant nothing to Barca but it happened for the umpteenth time.
Bad organization and communication! And apparent lack of concentration late in the game.
In the last 3 matches Barcelona allowed opposition to score in the last 10 minutes. 2 of those goals cost them 4 points. Nothing to worry about in terms of qualification, even if it wasn’t secured yet.
Certainly something to work on.
Never mind the last group game Juventus showed impressive ability to win and dominate games.
When Juve wants and needs they deliver! Admittedly, group competition wasn’t of the highest caliber however until qualification wasn’t achieved quality, organization and strength in depth were demonstrated.
Manchester United managed to overturn the result in Turin in closing stages but those few minutes can’t outweigh everything good showed up to then and after that.
Italian serial champions’ biggest advantage in strength in depth. For every position, there are a least 2 valuable alternatives! Starting from the goalkeeper, proceeding through defence, midfield and attack, quality all over the field!
But they also have one weak point! And that’s themselves!
Demonstration of that is internal defeat against Man Utd. Match completely dominated, chances created, everything under control however somehow managed to spurn it all in the final few minutes.
Anyway until Ronaldo, Dybala, Douglas Costa, Mandžukić et al are there you can never write them off.
Following other European heavyweights aren’t having the best of seasons, this is Juve’s great chance to finally get their hands on the ultimate prize.
Guardiola assembled a fearsome squad and developed trademark playing style which has always brought results.
Nearly without competition in domestic league rightfully tipped as one of the candidates for final victory.
However, in international fixtures, things aren’t going as smoothly as you’d expect.
Opening day home defeat to Lyon followed by a last-gasp win in Germany against Hoffenheim exposed team’s weaknesses.
Apart from easy double wins against Shakhtar all other matches were perhaps too tight considering City’s squad and manager.
Without doubt nobody’s’ wish for the next round however considering group phase struggles, surely there is some hope.
Liverpool qualified from the toughest group, predictably on the last day with a dominant display, nevertheless hardly strikes fear in opponents! Particularly on the road!
Last season’s finalist seems unable to compete in international competitions as a visitor.
Ever since last April’s showing in Rome, through the final in Ukraine and this Autumn’s showings, Liverpool is a welcome guest.
Not only in terms of result but also regarding personality and overall performances.
Up to a point understandable submissive outings in Paris and Naples but utterly disappointing game in Belgrade raises questions on the Reds’ actual strength and competitiveness!
Bayern Munich is the other giant, although qualified as group winner, who isn’t living up to its glorious past. At least in terms of performances!
A lot isn’t functioning as it should, Bundesliga standings show it clearly, but still, you’d expect more from such an experienced and talented group of players.
Possibly the amount of experience is one of the problems anyway this Bayern isn’t causing any sleepless nights to managers across Europe.
Real Madrid eventually topped group G but it’s miles away from the side that dominated Europe the last few years.
Besides the much publicized Zinedine Zidane and Ronaldo departures, taking away 2 corner-stones of recent triumphs, the team lost its hunger for success! It’s visible in the so-called small games as in direct confrontations.
It speaks loudly that CSKA Moscow ended this year’s European path victorious in Madrid. Out of 7 points gained in total, 6 of them came against European reigning champion.
Champions League proceedings
Next round’s draw will be held next week.
Group winners are seeded teams and can’t play each other in the round of 16. This also means that second, expectably deciding, game in the first knock-out round seeded teams play at home.
Additionally, teams from same countries can’t be paired. Those parameters can help us guess some of the possible clashes we’ll watch in February.
Borussia Dortmund, Barcelona, Paris SG, Porto, Bayern Munich, Manchester City, Real Madrid, Juventus.
Atletico Madrid, Tottenham, Liverpool, Schalke 04, Ajax, Lyon, Roma, Manchester United.
Potentially mouth-watering pairings could be Barcelona vs Liverpool, Real Madrid vs Manchester United or Juventus- Atletico Madrid.
Regular phase didn’t offer any stand-out candidate however crucial part is yet to start and everybody will have the chance to fight for it.