UEFA Champions League Group Stage Roundup and Round of 16 Predictions

(Image courtesy of nssmag.com)

This article is a continuation of, “UEFA Champions League Group Stage Roundup – The Halfway Point,” where I broke down each group following Match Day 3 and predicted where each team would finish at the conclusion of the group stage. If you haven’t already, check it out on The Sports Rooster website because here, I will see how close my predictions were, review the highs and lows of every group, and put my footy knowledge to the test and predict what will happen in the knockout stages.

If you miss hearing the Champions League anthem as much as I do, then this should quench your insatiable thirst for the best football the world has to offer.

(Image courtesy of sportskeeda.com)

Group A:

1) Dortmund – 4W 1L 1D 10GF 2GA 2) Atl. Madrid – 4W 1L 1D 9GF 6GA 3) Club Brugge – 1W 2L 3D 6GF 5GA 4) AS Monaco– 0W 5L 1D 2GF 14GA

This group turned out just as I predicted, Dortmund finishing top followed closely behind by Atl. Madrid. However, I do I have to eat crow because I shouldn’t have disrespected Club Brugge, so if there are any loyal supporters of the Belgian club, I apologize.

Dortmund are having a phenomenal season and Madrid have really heated up as of late. Despite a shaky start to the season, it seems they have recaptured their excellent defensive prowess and didn’t concede any goals in the last half of the group stages. Considering Dortmund put 4 past them, they’ve really buckled down the hatches.

Not that it was a surprise given the season they’re having, but Monaco have been such a disappointment. From winning Ligue 1 and being in the UCL semifinal two seasons ago to fighting for their lives in the relegation zone, it’s heartbreaking to see the mass exodus of talent at the club that has lead them to where they are now. In fairness, it’s probably best they didn’t qualify for the Europa League because Thierry Henry needs to focus all his efforts on keeping Monaco in Ligue 1.

Group B:

1) Barcelona – 4W 0L 2D 14GF 5GA 2) Tottenham Hotspur – 2W 2L 2D 9GF 10GA 3) Inter Milan– 2W 2L 2D 6GF 7GA 4) PSV Eindhoven – 0W 4L 2D 6GF 13GA

As tantalizing as this group was, it was quite anticlimactic. To nobody’s surprise, Barcelona continued to dominate the group but I was wrong with who finished 2nd …kind of. I predicted Inter going through and they should have. All they needed to do was beat last place PSV on the final day and they bottled it.

This is why I am saying I was kind of wrong – Spurs are only through because Inter somehow out-bottled them. They have this knack of digging themselves a hole and relying on other teams dropping points for them to succeed and on this occasion, it actually worked out for them. Even though they grabbed a point at the Nou Camp, Barcelona had nothing to play for and they still would have been out if Inter won. Hence, why it was anticlimactic – it wasn’t a matter of two teams displaying the best football they had to offer, it was a matter of which team would bottle it more than the other.

On this day, it was Inter and they saw themselves disappointingly crash out to the Europa League despite having one foot in the UCL knockout stages.

Group C:

1) PSG – 3W 1L 2D 17GF 9GA 2) Liverpool – 3W 3L 0D 9GF 7GA 3) Napoli – 2W 1D 3D 7GF 5GA 4) Red Star Belgrade – 1W 4L 1L 5GF 17GA

If you’re a supporter of Liverpool Football Club, you should know that they never do it the easy way. You should also know that there is always something about European nights under Anfield lights.

In my predictions, I picked Liverpool to finish top and Napoli to finish 2nd . Perhaps it was a little naïve on my behalf. My reason for PSG not qualifying was that they play in a non-competitive league, which they stroll every year. However, if you have the likes of Mbappe and Neymar, anything is possible.

On the other hand, Liverpool lost every single away game in the group stage, which is in no way indicative of their away form in the league. Of course, they left it down to the final day against Napoli at Anfield and came out on top after a resolute 1-0 victory. Regardless of who went through, it was always going to be harsh to have one of Liverpool, PSG, or Napoli fall into the Europa League. Luckily for Napoli, they’ve probably just become favourites to win that tournament.

Group D:

1) FC Porto – 5W 0L 1D 15GF 6GA 2) Schalke 04 – 3W 1L 2D 6GF 4GA 3) Galatasaray 1W 4L 1D 5GF 8GA 4) Lokomotiv Moscow 1W 5L 0D 4GF 12GA

There’s always one group that nobody cares about and unfortunately, this is it. Just as predicted, Porto were the best side in this group and absolutely steamrolled it to finish top.

On the other hand, I figured, given how poor Schalke have been all season in the Bundesliga, Galatasaray would overtake them for 2nd . This did not happen…not even close. It’s like the Turkish side read my first article and said, “yeah nah mate we don’t think so.” Cheers, Galatasaray, for losing their final 3 games in the group stage. The saddest part about this was that they looked more abject than Schalke did in the first half of the group stage. In the games they needed for get a result from versus Lokomotiv and Schalke, they offered absolutely nothing going forward and deserve to be dropping to the Europa League.

Group E:

1) Bayern Munich – 4W 0L 2D 15GF 5GA 2) AFC Ajax – 3W 0L 3D 11GF 5GA 3) S.L. Benfica – 2W 3L 1D 6GF 11GA 4) AEK Athens F.C. – 0W 6L 0D 2GF 13GA

Niko Kovac didn’t have the best start at Bayern Munich but things have been on the up for the Bavarian giants. Not only are they closing in on Dortmund at the top of the Bundesliga but they made my prediction a reality in finishing 1st in Group E. It all came down to Bayern’s experience in the tournament and their efficiency on the pitch that saw them put together professional performances in the final 3 games and finish top. Also to my prediction, Ajax ended up finishing 2nd, quite convincingly. I said they had the potential to upset Bayern and they were so close to doing it. The only sad thing about this group ending is that Bayern and Ajax won’t play each other again because after that belter of a draw on the final day, which saw both teams score 3 goals and pick up a red card, who wouldn’t want to see them play a rubber match?

Group F:

1) Manchester City – 4W 1L 1D 16GF 6GA 2) Lyon – 1W 0L 5D 12GF 11GA 3) Shakhtar Donetsk – 1W 2L 3D 8GF 16GA 4) Hoffenheim – 0W 3L 3D 11GF 14GA

Is it any surprise that City finished 1st ? After losing their opening game to Lyon, they took no prisoners and compellingly won their group. However, I think it’s Lyon that deserve all the plaudits – they finished the group without losing a single game. Even more impressively, after beating City, they drew the remaining 5 games. That is the first time I have ever seen anything like that. I had faith in the likes of Nabil Fekir, Memphis Depay, Bertrand Traore, and Moussa Dembele to help see Lyon through to the round of 16 and they did not disappoint.

Shakhtar’s defence was simply too porous while Julian Nagelsmann’s side look a shadow of themselves compared to the last two seasons. He will be leaving at the end of the season and it sure looks like they haven’t anything to play for.

Group G:

1) Real Madrid – 4W 2L 0D 12GF 5GA 2) A.S. Roma – 3W 3L 0D 11GF 8GA 3) FC Viktoria Plzen – 2W 3L 1D 7GF 16GA 4) CSKA Moscow – 2W 3L 1D 8GF 9GA

My head said Madrid and my heart said Roma…either way, I was right. Despite Real Madrid winning the group, they just don’t look like the team that has won 3 consecutive Champions League titles. I will admit that their form in La Liga has picked up since Lopetegui left but they are still prone to shambolic performances. I mean, they lost to CSKA Moscow, twice. I said it before and I’ll say it again – if you replace Cristiano Ronaldo with Mariano, there is no way you can expect the same level of performance as last season. The January transfer window is still open so let us see if Los Blancos make a splash. Eden Hazard, anyone?

As for Roma, they also haven’t looked like the same side as last season. Much like Madrid, they started the season poorly and are finding their feet again, but their defence has been their undoing. It doesn’t look like they will see the same success in the Champions League as last season.

Group H:

1) Juventus – 4W 2L 0D 9GF 4GA 2) Manchester United – 3W 2L 1D 7GF 4GA 3) Valencia C.F. – 2W 2L 2D 6GF 6GA 4) B.S.C. Young Boys – 1W 1L 4D 4GF 12GA

Juventus may have finished top (to nobody’s surprise) but it was Manchester United who made the headlines in the second half of the group stage. In the most Jose Mourinho fashion imaginable, United went to Juventus and knicked a 2-1 victory in the dying embers of the match thanks to some Juan Mata heroics. But Jose is a thing of the past, the new Manchester United are on an absolute tear. It’s so refreshing to see them play free-flowing, attacking football instead of being chained down by the pragmatic tactics we have all been accustomed to. I really wonder if United would have won the group if they had Ole Gunnar Solskjaer sooner.

While Juventus petered off by losing 2 of their last 3 games, they are still undoubtedly favorites. It feels more like they became complacent rather than hitting bad form because with the deadliest striker in world football, they are a force to be reckoned with.

Round of 16 Predictions

Real Madrid vs. AFC Ajax:

Ajax went toe to toe, twice, with Bayern Munich and gave them a run for their money, twice. Given Real Madrid’s inconsistencies this season and no Zidane and Ronaldo, I think the current champions are in for a massive upset and will fall to the hands of Ajax.

Borussia Dortmund vs. Tottenham Hotspur:

Harry Kane is out until March but I still think Borussia Dortmund would have won this tie. They’ve played some of the best attacking football in the world and Spurs lack the depth to compete on the European and domestic front. Once again, they will have to sacrifice the Champions League to finish top 4 in the Premier League.

FC Porto vs. AS Roma:

I think every second seed team wanted to draw Porto so some may think that Roma had the luck of the draw. On the other hand, Porto dominated their group and should not be taken lightly. Roma have looked so shaky at the back this season and their inconsistencies will cost them in this draw. Porto will be moving on.

PSG vs. Manchester United:

If Jose Mourinho was in still in charge of United I would have said PSG without a second thought. With Ole giving his players the freedom to play attacking football, this United side looks transformed. Likewise, I am not entirely convinced by PSG’s midfield. United have the players to make runs between the lines, penetrating passes through the midfield and defence, and do some real damage. PSG also have one of the best attacking trios in the world and United’s back line has been on the ropes all season. I foresee and offensive slugfest between these two clubs with United coming out on top.

Manchester City vs. Schalke 04:

Manchester City couldn’t have asked for a better draw and will win easily. Nothing more needs to be said.

Juventus vs. Atl. Madrid:

What I think is the most intriguing tie involving two very organized sides. When you think of the best defensive clubs in football over the past few years, Juventus and Atl. Madrid are probably the two first clubs that pop into your mind. This tie feels like it’s going to be a chess match between Allegri and Simeone and whoever wins the tactical battle will see their team go through. Atl. Madrid have always thrived off being the underdogs but this Juventus is too good to lose now. They should be through to the quarterfinals.

Bayern Munich vs. Liverpool:

Liverpool will be without Virgil van Dijk for the first leg and Bayern will be without Thomas Muller for both games. Obviously, the former is the bigger loss but Joe Gomez will be back from injury and the first leg is at Anfield. Bayern have looked old and slow this season and Liverpool’s counter have the potential to tear them apart. If this was the Bayern of three years ago, I would be worried for Liverpool but now, they should be able to best the German side.

Barcelona vs. Lyon:

Despite not losing to City in the group stages, Barcelona are just too good to compete with over two games. Lyon are a little out of their depth here and shouldn’t stand a chance.