Stoppage Time – International Football Blog

UEFA: Champions League Group Phase Review

Posted in European Football by peterbein on December 9, 2010
Gareth Bale

Gareth Bale (right) helped Tottenham qualify for the Round of 16 with some terrific performances

The 2010-11 UEFA Champions League group stage has concluded this week and there was the occasional shock during the six match days but, all in all, it was more or less the same old faces that made it through to the Round of 16 stage. Nonetheless the competition did see some new teams making an appearance including English side Tottenham Hotspur, Slovakian champions MŠK Žilina and talented Portuguese side Sporting Braga. With the draw for the next round coming up on Friday, December 17th Stoppage Time – International Football Blog looks back at the group stage.

GROUP A (Tottenham Hotspur 11 points; Inter FC 10; FC Twente 6; Werder Bremen 5)

Tournament newcomers Tottenham Hotspur finished top of the group and for coach Harry Redknapp it has already been a fantastic couple of months in the competition. It is no mean feat finishing top of a group containing defending European champions Internazionale FC and the two games involving the two best sides in the group will be remembered for a long time. Both teams qualified for the Round of 16 with Dutch side FC Twente taking the honours in the chase for UEFA Europa League football pipping German side Werder Bremen by a point.

GROUP B (Schalke 13 points; Olympique Lyonnais 10; SL Benfica 6; Hapoel Tel-Aviv 5)

German club Schalke 04 may have struggled in the Bundesliga this season but they topped their group in the UEFA Champions League. Having lost their first match away to Olympique Lyonnais the Gelsenkirchen-based side never lost another game and won the group by three points from the team who beat them on the opening day. Portuguese giants SL Benfica were hoping to qualify for the last sixteen but, after a promising start, only just scraped into the UEFA Europa League finishing one point ahead of tournament newcomers Hapoel Tel-Aviv.

GROUP C (Manchester United 14 points; Valencia CF 11; Glasgow Rangers 6; Bursaspor 1)

Perennial qualifiers Manchester United did the business again going the whole of the group stage unbeaten. Following a disappointing goalless draw at home to Scottish champions Rangers in the first of the two “Battle of Britain” clashes it was business as usual for Sir Alex Ferguson’s men as they ensured qualification to the next round with a game to spare. Spanish side Valencia CF, losing finalists in 2000 and 2001, claimed the second spot whilst Walter Smith’s Glasgow Rangers team were happy to ensure European football after Christmas with a third place finish guaranteeing UEFA Europa League football. It was, however, a very difficult introduction to life in the Upper House for Turkish champions Bursaspor who scored only two goals and gained one point in six matches.

GROUP D (FC Barcelona 14 points; FC København 11; Rubin Kazan 6; Panathinaikos 2)

It was no surprise to see three-time champions FC Barcelona top their group unbeaten although they didn’t have it all their own way. One such game was against Danish champions FC København on Matchday 4. The game finished 1-1 but the Danes had plenty of chances to win the tie and the frustration almost boiled over after the match with FC København’s coach Ståle Solbakken having a go at his opposite number Pep Guardiola. Nonetheless the Danes, unbeaten in 19 games and running away with the title at home, performed well and qualified behind Barcelona for the Round of 16. Russian side Rubin Kazan will be back in next year’s UEFA Champions League having finished third in this year’s Russian Premier League but, in the meantime, will have to contend themselves with the UEFA Europa League. Greek side Panathinaikos didn’t perform when it mattered and deservedly went out.

Ståle Solbakken and Pep Guardiola

Coaches Ståle Solbakken and Pep Guardiola are separated following the Matchday 4 FCK- Barcelona game

GROUP E (Bayern München 15 points; AS Roma 10; FC Basel 6; CFR Cluj-Napoca 4)

Having reached the final last year FC Bayern are hoping to do the same again and they will take comfort in the fact that, despite their inconsistent form in the Bundesliga, on the European stage all is well. Louis Van Gaal’s men have only lost once in the competition so far, having given away a 2-0 lead to lose 3-2 away at fellow group qualifiers AS Roma. The Italians have qualified for the Round of 16 in each of their last four UEFA Champions League campaigns and with experienced players such as Luca Toni, Francesco Totti and John Arne Riise they will hope to go far this time. Swiss team FC Basel clinched the UEFA Europa League spot whilst for Romanian champions CFR Cluj-Napoca it’s back to the travails of the domestic league.

GROUP F (Chelsea FC 15 points; Olympique Marseille 12; Spartak Moscow 9; MŠK Žilina 0)

The UEFA Champions League is the one trophy that Chelsea, and their ambitious owner Roman Abramovich, have yet to win and they have at least gone some way to maintaining confidence in Europe at a time when their domestic form is being called into question. The Blues qualified winning five out of six games on their way to the Round of 16. French champions Olympique de Marseille join them in the next stage having won their all-important Matchday 5 game away at Spartak Moscow which guaranteed l’OM their qualification. The Russians must resume European competition in the UEFA Europa League whilst for Slovakian champions MŠK Žilina some harsh lessons will have to be learnt if they wish to do better next time.

GROUP G (Real Madrid 16 points; AC Milan 8; Ajax Amsterdam 7; AJ Auxerre 3)

The so-called “Group of Death” proved not to be so difficult for Real Madrid and AC Milan in the end. The clubs, with sixteen European Cups between them, qualified with a game to spare whilst four-time champions Ajax Amsterdam just didn’t possess enough quality to trouble the Big Two. With both Madrid and Milan having been quiet on the European stage in the last couple of years hope springs eternal of an eventual return to the Champions League summit. Real coach José Mourinho has got his team playing solid football and the chances of him lifting the cup with a third different club seems very possible. First though los Blancos will have to get over the Round of 16 hurdle which they’ve failed to clear in the last six seasons. Ajax finished third and will compete in the UEFA Europa League from February.

GROUP H (Shakhtar Donetsk 15 points; Arsenal FC 12; Sporting Braga 9; Partizan Belgrade 0)

Ukrainian champions Shakhtar Donetsk have high ambitions and nobody should underestimate them in their quest for Europe’s top prize. Two seasons after winning the last ever UEFA Cup, Shakhtar will hope to go all the way in Europe’s elite club competition and beating Arsenal FC to first place in the group is a great achievement. That said, Gunners coach Arsène Wenger has done well considering the amount of injuries suffered by his squad in recent weeks and keeps up Arsenal’s proud record of having got past the group stage in each of the last ten years. Portuguese newcomers Braga had some good results in the competition, not least their 2-0 home against Arsenal FC, and they fully deserve their consolation prize of a UEFA Europa League place for finishing third. Serbian champions Partizan Belgrade were just too weak to cause their opponents any problems and will hope to be back next season.

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