Stoppage Time – International Football Blog

Germany: No need for a brolly as McClaren hung out to dry

Posted in European Football by peterbein on February 8, 2011
Steve McClaren FC Twente

From winning the Dutch League title....

I’d hate to say “I told you so” as I don’t like to see people fail in their jobs. However one could see from the outset that it was a case of attempting to run before you can walk in relation to Steve McClaren’s move from Dutch champions FC Twente Enschede, who he had admirably taken to their maiden Eredivisie title in the 2009-10 season, to the depths of despair at an ambitious yet deeply flawed VfL Wolfsburg side in Germany’s Bundesliga. As somebody might say when adopting a McClaren-esque Dutch accent, sorry Schteve, but you should’ve schtayed in Holland.

I wrote an article in May 2010 (“McClaren Should Stay To Further Twente Cause”) highlighting the former England coach’s success in the Netherlands at FC Twente and why it is was perhaps a tad too soon for him to jump ship despite the obvious pulling power of a league as strong as the Bundesliga. In little more than six months in the VfL Wolfsburg job those thoughts have been proven right as the only consistency that McClaren enjoyed at the club was inconsistency; with just five wins in 21 league games and a humiliating elimination from the DFB Pokal (German Cup) at the hands of 2. Liga side Energie Cottbus in the Round of 16 stage it was clear for most that McClaren was finding it difficult to make the transition into German football.

At the same time that his charges in Lower Saxony were struggling for form his previous club FC Twente have maintained the momentum started under him thanks to the appointment of the experienced and under-rated Michel Preud’homme. The former Belgian international goalkeeper, who has already won league titles in Belgium with Standard Liege as a coach, got over a slowish start to life in Enschede and has guided the Tukkers to their current position of second place, just behind PSV Eindhoven on goal difference. With the club still in the KNVB Beker (Dutch Cup) and the UEFA Europa League things are looking bright for the provincial side and McClaren must surely be looking at his former club wondering what might’ve been had he stayed.

So where did it all go wrong for McClaren? After all when he took charge the club had splashed out big money on a number of players including Simon Kjær, Arne Friedrich and former Bremen star Diego who had cut short his stay with Juventus to come back to Germany. But although the campaign got off to a decent start with a 2-1 away win against Preußen Münster in the 1st round of the cup it would be a week later in which McClaren would experience for the first time the ups and downs of being Wolfsburg coach when his side lost out to a last minute Bastian Schweinsteiger strike away at champions FC Bayern. Die Wölfe then went on to lose their next two games (including a calamitous 4-3 defeat at home to 1.FSV Mainz after being 3-0 up) before a three match winning streak against Hannover 96, Hamburger SV and SC Freiburg suggested that McClaren had weathered the storm.

Steve McClaren VfL Wolfsburg

...McClaren has failed in Wolfsburg who sacked him on Monday.

Sadly that would be the only decent run of wins that McClaren would experience as his team proved incapable of finding consistency. Following that three match run the club would only experience one more victory (2-0 against a VfB Stuttgart side in even more of a crisis than Wolfsburg) before the winter break, at which time McClaren’s team finished in a woeful 13th place, leading club Manager Dieter Hoeneß to give the Englishman the dreaded vote of confidence and the fans to display a banner reminding him of his past as Der Trottel mit dem Schirm (The Wally with the Brolly). But, despite the negative vibe surrounding the coach, he was allowed to deal in the winter transfer market and brought in many more players including, amongst others, Germany international Patrick Helmes but only having seen the departure of top striker Edin Džeko to Manchester City.

Following the resumption of the Bundesliga in January VfL Wolfsburg claimed a last-gasp draw at home to FC Bayern before scraping a 1-0 win away at Mainz. This, once again, gave McClaren a bit of breathing space but the knives had already been sharpened by a section of fans who were impatient for the team to get results. McClaren’s penultimate game saw an expected defeat against runaway league leaders Borussia Dortmund but the next game against local rivals Hannover 96 would prove to be the last straw, especially as Diego not only defied his coach’s orders by taking a penalty kick meant for Patrick Helmes (predictably, Diego missed) but the team went down to yet another defeat. As a result Wolfsburg announced McClaren’s departure on Monday with Pierre Littbarski taking over with immediate effect. The new coach’s first move on Tuesday was to drop Diego for the club’s next game against Hamburger SV this weekend as a result of his actions in Hannover.

It’s anybody’s guess what Steve McClaren’s next move will prove to be but one can only hope, for his sake, that the travails of his time in Germany haven’t damaged him as quickly as he repaired his reputation in Holland. After a couple of years away will McClaren finally face up to his critics again in England…..?

UEFA Europa League: Quarter-Final Preview

Posted in European Football by peterbein on March 31, 2010
Benfica

Benfica beat Everton FC in the group stage. Now they aim to beat Merseyside's other team Liverpool FC in the quarter-finals

The UEFA Europa League, like its counterpart Champions League, has reached the last eight of the competition and “Stoppage Time – International Football Blog” previews the matches ahead:

SL BENFICA (Portugal) v LIVERPOOL FC (England)

Although they are seen as favourites to win this game Liverpool FC had better beware the very real challenge from the Portuguese giants of SL Benfica. After all, the last time these two European heavyweights met on the continental stage saw the Eagles of Lisbon turn over the then defending holders 3-0 in the Round of 16 of the 2005-06 UEFA Champions League. In the last round Liverpool FC came back from a 1-0 first leg deficit to dispose of French outift Lille OSC 3-1 on aggregate. Benfica had it tougher against another French side, 2003-04 UEFA Cup finalists Olympique de Marseille, who they beat 3-2 on aggregate thanks to a last-minute winner from Alan Kardec in the intimidating Stade Vélodrome. Since qualification Benfica have savoured domestic cup success defeating arch-rivals FC Porto in the Portuguese League Cup final and then consolidating their lead in the Liga Sagres by beating nearest challengers Sporting Braga. Liverpool, on the other hand, suffered defeat at the hands of their arch-rivals Manchester United before seeing off the challenge of a weak Sunderland AFC team in their latest outing at Anfield.

VALENCIA CF (Spain) v ATLÉTICO de MADRID (Spain)

All fans of Madrid’s “other” team Atlético are rejoicing in the fact they are the only side from Spain’s capital city who have a real chance of winning two trophies this season whilst their local neighbours Real Madrid CF ‘only’ have to contend with fighting it out with FC Barcelona for the La Liga title. However Valencia CF have a good recent record in European competition including the famous triumph over Olympique de Marseille in the 2003-04 UEFA Cup final and are seven places higher than Atleti in La Liga. Valencia are in third position in the Spanish League but have no chance of winning it as they are a distant 21 points behind the top two and are hoping for the only remaining silverware available to them. Both of these teams won their Round of 16 matches on away goals, Valencia CF were involved in arguably the tie of the round having drawn 4-4 away to German giants Werder Bremen after the first leg in Valencia had ended 1-1. Atlético were perhaps a tad lucky to emerge from the first leg with a 0-0 draw after Sporting Lisbon had the better chances. There was no arguing with Atleti’s second leg performance though as they took the lead twice before holding out for a 2-2 away draw in Portugal. Since qualification both teams have mixed records of a win and a defeat in La Liga.

Uwe Seeler

German football legend Uwe Seeler may have given his beloved HSV a good draw

HAMBURGER SV (Germany) v STANDARD LIEGE (Belgium)

German football legend Uwe Seeler, known affectionately by the Hamburg locals as “Uns Uwe” (Our Uwe), may have had some luck on his side when he picked the balls out of the draw for the UEFA Europa League in Nyon. Many people feel that HSV have a real chance of reaching the final in their home Volksparkstadion stadium but this would be to underestimate the potential of defending Belgian champions Standard Liège who now only have the Europa League to play for after failing to qualify for the Belgian Jupiler League championship play-offs recently. The fact that Standard have, like HSV, saved some of their better performances for European games doesn’t seem to have registered on many fans’ minds yet and Les Rouches (The Reds) seem more than capable of upsetting the odds on their day. In the Round of 16 they comfortably defeated a Panathinaikos side who had shocked Europe by knocking out Italian heavyweights AS Roma in the previous round. Hamburger SV have also had it tough against Belgian opposition in this tournament scraping through the last round against Belgian Jupiler League leaders RSC Anderlecht by the odd goal in eleven. Since qualification both teams domestic fortunes have not been too good. HSV have lost their last two games against Bayer 04 Leverkusen and Borussia Mönchengladbach whilst Standard’s Belgian League odyssey now rests with participation in the play-offs for a 2010-11 UEFA Europa League place which is available to those teams that finished from 7th-14th after the regular season.

FULHAM FC (England) v VfL WOLFSBURG (Germany)

Perhaps the biggest surprise in UEFA Europa League this season was Fulham FC’s magnificent fightback in the Round of 16, 2nd leg against Italian giants Juventus FC where they came back from a 4-1 aggregate deficit early in the second leg to defeat the three-time winners of this tournament 5-4 with Clint Dempsey writing himself into Fulham FC folklore with a beautifully chipped goal in the dying minutes of the game. Since then Fulham’s form on the domestic stage has been dreadful having lost back-to-back league games against Manchester City and Hull City as well as suffering FA Cup misery away at Tottenham Hotspur. Defending German champions VfL Wolfsburg have endured a roller coaster ride throughout the season with many an up-and-down feeling as the season has progressed. Die Wölfe (The Wolves) needed extra-time to get past the Russian champions Rubin Kazan in the last round with Christian Gentner scoring a dramatic last-minute winner but this had an immediate effect on their domestic form going down 5-1 at home to Hertha BSC Berlin who have been in last place practically all season. Wolfsburg did recover to win their most recent league match against 1.FSV Mainz by two goals to nil.

UEFA Europa League Quarter-Finals (team on left at home first)

SL Benfica v Liverpool FC

Valencia CF v Atlético de Madrid

Hamburger SV v Standard de Liège

Fulham FC v VfL Wolfsburg

All games to be played on April 1st and April 8th

UEFA: Who will win the UEFA Europa League 2010? (Poll)

Posted in European Football by peterbein on March 19, 2010

The draw for the quarter-finals and semi-finals of the UEFA Europa League has been made today in Nyon, Switzerland. There are some very interesting ties to come in the remainder of the competition. Below we have listed all of the ties to come in the rest of the tournament and we have given you a chance to vote on who you think will win the trophy in Hamburg’s Volksparkstadion on Wednesday, May 12:

QUARTER-FINALS (1st leg 01 April; 2nd leg 08 April)

1. FULHAM FC (England) v VfL WOLFSBURG (Germany)

2. HAMBURGER SV (Germany) v STANDARD de LIEGE (Belgium)

3. VALENCIA CF (Spain) v ATLÉTICO de MADRID (Spain)

4. SL BENFICA (Portugal) v LIVERPOOL FC (England)

SEMI-FINALS (1st leg 22 April; 2nd leg 29 April)

5. Winner Match 2 v Winner Match 1

6. Winner Match 3 v Winner Match 4

FINAL (Wednesday, May 12)

7. Winner Match 6 v Winner Match 5

UEFA Europa League trophy

UEFA Europa League trophy

UEFA Europa League: Round of 32 preview

Posted in European Football by peterbein on February 17, 2010
Miguel Veloso

Sporting's Miguel Veloso scores from the penalty spot in their 2-1 defeat at Everton FC on Tuesday

The UEFA Europa League is back and has reached the Round of 32 stage. There are plenty of matches that whet the appetite in this competition and “Stoppage Time” has a guide to all sixteen ties in the first knockout round:

EVERTON FC (England) v SPORTING (Portugal)

The first leg of this game took place last night to avoid a clash with Liverpool FC’s home game against Unirea Urziceni on Thursday. Everton have a slight 2-1 advantage going into the second leg thanks to goals from Steven Pienaar and Sylvain Distin. However French defender Distin was sent off late in the game for a foul on Liedson and Miguel Veloso (pictured) was able to pull one back for Sporting from twelve yards out. An intriging return game in Lisbon awaits.

AJAX AMSTERDAM (Netherlands) v JUVENTUS (Italy)

This is a game worthy of Champions League status with both clubs sharing six European Cup triumphs between them. Ajax are currently third in the Dutch Eredivisie whilst Juventus are sixth in Serie A. With both teams harbouring realistic ambitions of Champions League qualification next season they may decide to play weakened sides in Europe. Nonetheless this should be a fascinating contrast of styles between two great clubs.

ATHLETIC BILBAO (Spain) v RSC ANDERLECHT (Belgium)

The Basque side should have more motivation to progress as the Europa League is the club’s only realistic hope of silverware this season. Anderlecht, one of three Belgian clubs remaining in the competition, comfortably lead the Jupiler League but may find Athletic a tough proposition. Although if the Mauves can get an away goal in the first leg in Bilbao then the tie could be in the balance.

ATLÉTICO DE MADRID (Spain) v GALATASARAY (Turkey)

The Spanish giants are in good form having reached the Copa del Rey (Spanish Cup) final and beaten Spanish, European and World champions FC Barcelona 2-1 at the weekend. Galatasaray are top in the Turkish Süper Lig, at the moment, and are taking this competition seriously having won it in 2000 becoming the first Turkish team to win a European trophy. With both stadiums expected to be at their intimidating best these two legs won’t be for the faint hearted.

CLUB BRUGGE (Belgium) v VALENCIA CF (Spain)

Club Brugge haven’t been such a force in Belgian football in recent years having to put up with their big rivals Standard Liège and RSC Anderlecht win the last four league titles. Valencia, despite being a distant third in the Spanish League, have high hopes of winning this competition and are likely to include big hitters such as David Villa and David Silva in order to progress to the next stage.

FULHAM FC (England) v SHAKHTAR DONETSK (Ukraine)

London outfit Fulham FC will have to get a good result at home if they want to progress in this competition as their away record this season is really bad, just one win in thirteen Premier League games on the road. However Shakhtar, the last ever winners of what was the UEFA Cup last season, haven’t played a league match since December as the Ukrainian championship is still in its winter break until February 27th so will be lacking in match fitness.

HAMBURGER SV (Germany) v PSV EINDHOVEN (Netherlands)

The German side will want to go one better than last season, when they were knocked out at the semi-final stage by rivals Werder Bremen, especially as the inaugural UEFA Europa League final takes place at their home stadium.PSV Eindhoven, currently top of the Eredivisie, are accustomed to the Champions League but have done well in the second competition having qualified for this stage with an unbeaten record so will be a tough grame for HSV.

HERTHA BSC (Germany) v SL BENFICA (Portugal)

Benfica are huge favourites to advance to the next round. The Portuguese giants are leading the Liga Sagres back home whilst the German capital team are propping up the rest of the German Bundesliga and were in second place behind the other Lisbon giants Sporting in the group stage. The second leg, to be played in Lisbon, will take place on Tuesday, February 23rd to avoid a clash with Sporting’s home game against Everton FC two days later.

KØBENHAVN (Denmark) v OLYMPIQUE DE MARSEILLE (France)

The Danish champions, known locally as FCK, have played well against big clubs in Europe in recent years but fail to score many goals. FCK will also be lacking match practice as the SAS Superligaen has been in hibernation since early December. Marseille, currently lying in fifth position in Ligue 1, should have too strong a squad and will want to go all the way having lost in their two final appearances in 1999 against AC Parma and Valencia CF in 2004.

LILLE OSC (France) v FENERBAHÇE (Turkey)

“Fener” are involved in a title battle with eternal rivals Galatasaray in the Turkish Süper Lig so may decide to rest a couple of players in the two games against a Lille side who lie in third place in Ligue 1, seven points behind leaders FC Girondins de Bordeaux. The Turkish side will be slight favourites as they play the second leg at their intimidating Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadium which hosted the UEFA Cup final last season.

LIVERPOOL FC (England) v UNIREA URZICENI (Romania)

Both teams are in the Europa League having finished third in their respective Champions League groups. Liverpool’s recent results have improved even if their performances aren’t always easy on the eye. However coach Rafael Benítez will want to win this trophy for a second time having previously won the title with Valencia CF in 2004. Romanian champions Unirea finished above Scottish champions Glasgow Rangers in their Champions League group but have seen coach Dan Petrescu jump ship to obscure Russian second league outfit FC Kuban Krasnodar during the winter break so may find it difficult against The Reds.

PANATHINAIKOS (Greece) v AS ROMA (Italy)

The Italian capital side are on fire, at the moment, having gone unbeaten in 14 Serie A matches stretching back to late October and have one foot in the Coppa Italia (Italian Cup) final with a 2-0 semi-final advantage over Udinese Calcio. Panathinaikos, including in-form striker Djibril Cissé, may be top of the Greek league but have stumbled in the last fortnight with their lead now just three points from perennial champions Olympiakos.

RUBIN KAZAN (Russia) v HAPOEL TEL AVIV (Israel)

The Russian side have had a dream couple of years winning back-to-back championships. However they’ve been out of action since the end of November and face a Hapoel side lying in second place of the Ha’Al League. If the Israeli side can sneak an away goal in the first leg then they may fancy their chances against rusty Rubin.

STANDARD LIEGE (Belgium) v RED BULL SALZBURG (Austria)

This is a fascinating contest between Champions League drop-outs Standard Liège and Red Bull Salzburg, who were the only team to qualify from the Europa League group stage with a 100% record. If Huub Stevens’ Austrian side can get a win in Belgium then expect the second leg to be a formality. However the Liègeois have one of the noisier stadiums in the competition and will make it difficult despite Standard having disappointed in the Belgian Jupiler League this season.

TWENTE ENSCHEDE (Netherlands) v WERDER BREMEN (Germany)

Steve McClaren, having taken unfashionable Middlesbrough FC to a UEFA Cup final in 2006, would love to take the Dutch side to the final in May. However Thomas Schaaf’s Werder side will be motivated to make up for last season’s disappointment in Istanbul against Shakhtar Donetsk by taking the short trip to Hamburg and, with their experience, will be favourites to go through.

VILLARREAL CF (Spain) v VfL WOLFSBURG (Germany)

Both teams have massively disappointed in their domestic leagues this season especially Wolfsburg who were surprise Bundesliga champions last season but who currently lie in 11th place this time around. Villarreal’s current form is slightly better, at the moment, and they seem to save their best performances for Europe.

Bundesliga Preview: FC Bayern not such big fans of The Hoff

Posted in European Football by peterbein on January 15, 2010
FC Bayern v TSG 1899 Hoffenheim

Ivica Olic quietens the crowd as he scores in the 1-1 draw between Hoffenheim and FC Bayern on the opening day of the 2009-10 Bundesliga

Thankfully, for all fans of Baywatch, FC Bayern have not taken a dislike to cult hero David Hasselhoff. After a shorter than usual winter break the German Bundesliga returns tonight with a modern day rivalry between FC Bayern and nouveau riche club TSG 1899 Hoffenheim.

Since the promotion of the latter into the First League in 2008 there has been no love lost between the two clubs who indulged in public spats last season as both teams were hoping to challenge for the title. Despite winning the unofficial “Herbstmeister” (Autumn champion) title, upstarts Hoffenheim gradually fell away in the second half of the 2008-09 season but, generally, had given the Bundesliga a shot in the arm. Ultimately both clubs had to take a back seat while surprise team VfL Wolfsburg won the title. However, after a slow start this season, both clubs are in a healthy position going into the “Rückrunde” (latter half of the season). The bad blood from last season has been replaced with words of respect from both coaches Louis van Gaal (Bayern) and Ralf Rangnick in a game both teams must win if they’re to build on any hopes of a title challenge. FC Bayern could go top for the first time in 51 matchday rounds (since May 2008) whilst a win for Hoffenheim would see them go into joint sixth with Werder Bremen (seven points behind leaders Leverkusen) before the weekend’s other games.

On Saturday the current “Herbstmeister” Leverkusen will hope to retain the unbeaten record they had at the midway point of the season (Played 17, won 9, drawn 8, points 35) but will have it tough against the league’s surprise package 1.FSV Mainz 05 who have hopes of fighting it out for a European spot. Fourth place Hamburger SV are looking for a third consecutive victory as they face lowly SC Freiburg whilst Werder Bremen will hope to gain revenge for an opening day defeat against Eintracht Frankfurt whose coach, Michael Skibbe, has threatened to quit the club at the end of the season after he accused his employers of lacking ambition due to the lack of funds available for new players during the January transfer window. Ex-Frankfurt coach Friedhelm Funkel has his work cut out at bottom club Hertha BSC who accumulated the lowest number of points ever after 17 games (a measly six) and is up against Hannover 96, a team still suffering from the death of goalkeeper Robert Enke, and who are in danger of being dragged into the “Tabellenkellar” (relegation zone) as they lie in 14th place, five points away from 1.FC Nürnberg in the second automatic relegation spot. Borussia Mönchengladbach will hope to keep up their good form, 13 points from the last seven games, against a VfL Bochum side who currently lie in the relegation play off 16th spot. In the Saturday night game Armin Veh, who has a mixed record since taking over at champions VfL Wolfsburg, will hope for three points at his old stomping ground in Stuttgart, who he led to the 2006-07 championship. Now under new management following the dismissal of Markus Babbel, Stuttgart and their new coach Christian Gross will hope to start ascending up the league to the relative safety of mid-table.

In the Sunday games Felix Magath will hope to keep up the pressure on the top teams as his Schalke 04 side play at home against struggling 1.FC Nürnberg whilst Jürgen Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund travel to 1.FC Köln, for whom local hero Lukas Podolski has only scored one goal in the Bundesliga following his much publicised return from FC Bayern at the start of the season. No wonder then that “Die Geißböcke” (Billy Goats) find themselves as the league’s least prolific team in front of goal having only scored ten times in 17 games.

Champions League – Group Stage Round-Up: Part One

Posted in European Football by peterbein on December 9, 2009
Louis Van Gaal

Can Louis van Gaal win the Champions League again?

This week sees the conclusion of the group stages in the UEFA Champions League. “Stoppage Time” takes a look back at how each group has shaped up, starting with groups A-D today, followed by groups E-H tomorrow:

GROUP A (BORDEAUX, BAYERN MUNICH, JUVENTUS, MACCABI HAIFA)

Bordeaux surprised the pundits with a near faultless performance in group A. “Les Girondins” only dropped two points away at Juventus on Matchday 1 leaving the traditional big boys “Juve” and FC Bayern to fight it out for second place. During the campaign it seemed as if Bayern’s domestic troubles were going to destroy their European ambitions and, with two matchdays to go, Juve seemed to be going through. However the four time European champions from Bavaria still had a chance on Matchday 6, all they had to do was beat Juventus away in Turin. What seemed a tough task proved, ultimately, to be a stroll in the park for Louis van Gaal’s men as they won 4-1 including a penalty goal from Bayern keeper Hans-Jörg Butt. Juventus are now confined to the Europa League whilst Israeli champions Maccabi Haifa couldn’t even score a goal in the whole group stage and, unsurprisingly, remained pointless after six games.

GROUP B (MANCHESTER UNITED, CSKA MOSCOW, VfL WOLFSBURG, BESIKTAS)

As expected Manchester United topped the group in comfortable fashion. CSKA Moscow claimed the second place after a 2-1 success away in Istanbul against Besiktas on Matchday 6. The celebrations were dampened somewhat by the news that two of their players, Alexei Berezutsky and Sergei Ignashevich, were tested positive for banned substances. However UEFA has decided to punish the players rather than the club for what officals of CSKA Moscow called “a clerical error”.  German champions VfL Wolfsburg had a good maiden campaign in Europe’s elite class with Edin Džeko attracting the notice of some of Europe’s biggest clubs with some good performances, most notably against Manchester United at Old Trafford. Besiktas were struggling from the start but a consolation win over Manchester United in Matchday 5 proved to be their only highlight. With players such as Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen showing glimpses of their best “ManU” finished with 13 points at the top of the group with CSKA three points behind. Wolfsburg’s European campaign will continue in the Europa League whilst Besiktas have to revert back to the travails of domestic football.

GROUP C (REAL MADRID, AC MILAN, OLYMPIQUE MARSEILLE, FC ZÜRICH)

Before a ball was kicked in this group virtually everybody had tipped Real Madrid and AC Milan, two clubs with sixteen European Cups before them, to qualify for the Round of 16 and so it was proved. The only real blip which the Spanish side suffered was their 3-2 home defeat by the Italian giants on Matchday 3. FC Zürich had their moments too, a 1-0 defeat of AC Milan in the San Siro on Matchday 2 had their fans dreaming of further glory. Sadly for the Swiss champions their double header against Marseille proved disappointing and effectively knocked them out of the competition. On Matchday 6 Marseille still had a chance of progressing but they had to defeat Real Madrid, who were already through, at home and hope Milan dropped points in Zürich. The latter scenario happened as Milan could only manage a 1-1 draw but Cristiano Ronaldo was in scintillating form for Real Madrid scoring twice in a 3-1 win at Stade Vélodrome to send Marseille into the Europa League.

GROUP D (CHELSEA FC, FC PORTO, ATLÉTICO DE MADRID, APOEL NICOSIA)

Chelsea and FC Porto were clearly the two best sides in the group easily seeing off a poor Atleti and a weak APOEL team although the Cypriots were far from expected to qualify for the last 16. Chelsea’s two matches against FC Porto determined the top two placings with the London club winning 1-0 home and away. This was the difference between the two teams even allowing for the fact that Chelsea drew 2-2 away at Atleti and at home to APOEL on Matchday 6 when they’d already qualified. Chelsea finsihed on 14 points two ahead of Porto who some people fancy as a good outside bet in the tournament. “Los Rojiblancos” (the red and whites) of Madrid scraped through to the Europa League going through on their head-to-head record against APOEL. With both teams finishing on three points each after six games Atleti’s away goal in the 1-1 draw in Cyprus proved crucial as APOEL were only able to manage a 0-0 draw in Spain.