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Your Champions League Group Stage round up


bluenose_72

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That's the group stages over for this year and there have been many great performances....and some pretty bad ones. Here is my best and worst of the group stages, feel free to add your own.

Best: Fiorentina - Everyone expected them to get the Europa League 3rd spot, but after losing on matchday 1 they went on to win 5 straight and win the group.

Chelsea- Have to be considered one of the favourites. Ancelotti's terrific CL record continued as Chelsea went unbeaten.

Worst: Liverpool - Only managed to beat bottom seeds Debrecen. Proved to everyone they are a 2 man team. Awful campaign for a so called "Champions League club".

Rangers - I hate to say it but we were awful! Good away performance against Stuttgart, but it was downhill from there. No excuses not to go on and win the league now!

Surprise packages: Unirea - First ever CL campaign and managed to pick up wins against us and Sevilla and were unlucky not to finish 2nd! Proved you can't take anyone lightly in this competition.

Bordeaux - We all know the French champions had some quality, but who expected them to go unbeaten in their group with opponents like Bayern and Juventus?! Will be a tough opponent for any unseeded team in the next round.

Biggest disappointments: Atletico Madrid - How didn't they win a game with some of the players they have?! 2 draws against Cypriots APOEL and a home draw to Chelsea was just enough to secure Europa League football.

Player of the Group Stages: Cristiano Ronaldo - 6 goals and he only played half the games! If Real are to win this competition, he will have to remain fit.

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I'll be writing a thousand words on this tomorrow, I'll post it if you want.

I think it's been a decent year for the underdog, lots of surprise results.

Nice one, you doing this for a paper?

Just my portfolio mate.

I'll need to change it now though, expected Unirea to go through.

Still, I think they were pretty good overall. Milan only took a point from Zurich in two games and APOEL Nicosia played some amazing football.

L'OM, Atletico and, whisper it, Barcelona were big let downs.

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I'll be writing a thousand words on this tomorrow, I'll post it if you want.

I think it's been a decent year for the underdog, lots of surprise results.

Nice one, you doing this for a paper?

Just my portfolio mate.

I'll need to change it now though, expected Unirea to go through.

Still, I think they were pretty good overall. Milan only took a point from Zurich in two games and APOEL Nicosia played some amazing football.

L'OM, Atletico and, whisper it, Barcelona were big let downs.

This was a weird group stage for Milan. Over the past 5 or 6 years, Milan have struggled domestically, but excelled in Europe. This season they are excelling in Serie A(2 defeats from 15 games) but struggled in the Group Stages(not managing to win a home game). Milan need someone more consistant than Borriello to play up front between Ronaldinho and Pato, who have both been excellent this season.

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Best: Bordeaux - 16 points from 18 in a group with Bayern and Juve. :praise:

Chelsea- I think this is their year.

Worst: Debrecen - :anguish:

Rangers - 2nd seeds finishing bottom with the 16th placed Bundesliga team and the Romanian champions with a squad that cost £350k.

Surprise packages - Rubin - Don't think many had heard of them until this year when they beat Barca.

Biggest disappointments: Atletico Madrid - Have no idea why they couldn't get a win.

Man United - Just didn't impress me this year, were lucky against CSKA and Wolfsburg to get the wins at Old Trafford. Probably harsh to be included in the 'disappointment' section but I don't like them anyway. :P

Player of the Group Stages - Probably Krasic for me. Should be heading for England, Spain, Italy soon.

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I'll be writing a thousand words on this tomorrow, I'll post it if you want.

I think it's been a decent year for the underdog, lots of surprise results.

Underdogs have been doing well since Greece won Euro 2004.

Look at some of the teams like Wolfsburg & AZ Alkmaar.

I think its down to players of big teams/countries who are so rich & pampered they couldnt really give a feck.

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Players of the group stages:

Cristiano Ronaldo - Exceptional. Top scorer in the Champions League so far and only played half the games, to add to his terrific performances.

Hugo Lloris: The stand-out goalkeeper of the groups. Two terrific performances against Liverpool and was the main reason, IMO, that Lyon got 4 points off Liverpool over the two games.

Steven Jovetic: Impressed in the qualifying against Sporting and continued his impressive performances in the group stages. Gave Fiorentina that extra something and was an integral part in them qualifying for the last 16.

Michael Ciani: The Bordeaux center-back has been extremely impressive. He was part of the Bordeaux defence that only conceded 2 goals, the least goals conceded in the group stages.

Edin Dzeko: Wolfsburg's stand-out player over the group stages. He got on the scoresheet 4 times over the group stages, with two coming against Man United. Led the Wolfsburg line impeccably well.

Milos Krasic: With all the focus on Alan Dzagoev, Krasic took it upon himself to shine for CSKA Moscow. Some absolute screamers among his 4 goals and was the real driving force in CSKA making the latter stages.

Didier Drogba: Only played three games due to his ban, but showed why he is regarding as one of the best strikers on the planet. 3 games played, 3 goals scored. Will be a major force in the latter stages.

Miralem Pjanic: The Bosnian playmaker has added goals and assists to his game and another reason Lyon qualifying so confidently, in a group with Fiorentina and Liverpool in it. A massive future infront of this lad.

Sami Khedira: Really impressed me in the two games against us, and outshone the likes of Hitzlsperger, Hleb and Kuzmanovic in the center of the Stuttgart midfield.

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Best: Bordeaux - Laurent Blanc has got them playing some good football and the fact that they lost 0 games and drew 1 in what was a difficult group speaks volumes for the job Blanc is doing there.

Chelsea - Much like Bordeaux the fact that they did not lose one game shows how strong they were. Although there group was much easier than Bordeaux's.

Worst: Rangers - No need to say anything else. Simply awful!

Liverpool - Although Liverpool are not as strong as the majority of teams in the CL they always seem to raise their game for the big CL nights. The fact that Gerrard and Torres missed some games decreased their chances of winning games. Overall not good enough this year.

Surprise packages: Rubin Kazan - Who would have though that Barcelona would have failed to beat them over 2 games? 6 points from a group involving the champions of Europe and Italian champions means they deserve the 3rd place finish.

Unirea Urziceni - I suppose it is hard to overlook the sneaky fucking Romanians! To get within one point of progressing to the last 16 os some achievment for a side who have never played in the CL before :anguish:

Biggest disappointments: Wolfsburg - I was expecting a lot more from Wolfsburg. IMO they were more than capable of finishing behind Man Utd, but Europa League will have to do.

Atletico Madrid - With players such as Kun Aguero, Diego Forlan, Simao, Jurado, Maxi Rodriguez... they should have been challenging Chelsea but to finish last was way off the mark. If Quique Sanchez Flores was appointed earlier then they might have done better?

Player of the Group Stages: Cristiano Ronaldo - Didn't even play in all the games yet still has 6 goals. That's what £80m can buy you. I expect a lot more from him in the knockout stages as well.

Milos Krasic - Never saw much of him beforehand tbh but he really impressed me and to score 4 goals in the CL group stages deserves recognition.

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This is a monster. I don't blame you if you can't be arsed reading it, but this is my take on it.

For the first time in distant memory, it appears that the romance of the Champions League reared its rarely sighted head.

The group stage of the 2009/2010 Champions League proved to be one for the underdog, as little known, untested sides from all corners of Europe gave their more illustrious counterparts a run for their money.

Following years of unrelenting – but deserved – criticism regarding how predictable the tournament was becoming, a small number of unknowns eventually managed to upset the establishment clubs.

It was to be the first time in six years that the full complement of the English ‘big four’ didn’t qualify, while Jose Mourinho’s expensively assembled Inter Milan side struggled to compete with the Russian minnows of Rubin Kazan. Such was Inter’s toil to qualify from their group, Mourinho eventually claimed that there are ‘no favourites’ in the Champions League anymore, amid reports that his job was on the line following another poor showing amongst Europe’s elite.

Atletico Madrid, Marseille, Liverpool and Juventus were four massive names who failed to live up to their billing on Europe’s biggest stage, while German behemoths Bayern Munich just about rescued their campaign after a horrific start.

Staying in Germany, the emergence of a promising Wolfsburg side should prove to be one of the high points from the 2009/2010 Champions League. Situated in Lower Saxony, the newly-crowned Bundesliga champions provided a style of football that was, as you would expect from Germany, typically efficient. They combined technical brilliance with speed and power, and in full flow, they were a joy to watch.

Die Wolfe are spearheaded by the brilliant Brazilian-Bosnian strike force of Grafite and Edin Dzeko, the Bundesliga’s most prolific partnership of all time. Last season, they surpassed the 53 goals amassed by Bayern Munich superstars Gerd Muller and Uli Hoeness in the 1971/1972 and 1972/1973 seasons.

As expected, Grafite and Dzeko managed an impressive seven goals between them over the six games, with the latter ever more linked with a big-money move to one of Europe’s elite clubs. At the tender age of 23, the 6’4 Bosnian is one of European football’s most sought-after talents and it is a question of when, not if, he moves to pastures new.

Sadly, for manager Armin Veh, progression to the second stage of the competition was to be a step too far. A final day loss at home to a depleted Manchester United team sent them into third place in the group, in turn sealing Europa Cup spot. If anything, it highlighted the naivety of a group of players who were willing to run themselves into the ground for their manager. Perhaps more brain and less brawn would have seen them qualify, but Wolfsburg’s potential should be ignored at Europe’s peril.

Another side whose progression to the last sixteen would have surprised onlookers is Bordeaux. The French champions, powered by the indescribably-talented Yoann Gourcuff didn’t lose a game as they took sixteen points from eighteen. Laurent Blanc’s stock as a manger continues to rise following a splendid showing from his side, who must be the betting man’s dark horse for the tournament.

Financially, there has never been any competition between the idyllic and fashionable clubs and the lesser-known outfits, but for the first time in a while it looks like technique, fitness, strength, style and resistance are the most valuable traits of all.

For anyone who questions this, reservations should be banished by a quick glace to Eastern Europe, specifically to the lower reaches of the Danube where Romania lies.

In what must be one of the most remarkable ‘little guy’ stories in recent sporting history, Romanian league champions Unirea Urziceni embarrassed three Champions League regulars with a style and character never seen before from a team that cost so little. Managed by ex-Chelsea defender and Romanian international Dan Petrescu, few would have given them a chance when they were paired with Sevilla, Rangers and Stuttgart in Group H.

Even fewer would have given them a chance after their opening game. In what turned out to be a comfortable 2-0 win for Sevilla in Spain, Unirea looked decidedly shaky, seemingly petrified of the enormous step up in quality from their domestic competition.

We can only speculate as to what Petrescu told his players after that match, but it had the desired effect. Unirea only lost a single game after that, drawing at home to Rangers and beating them in Glasgow as well as securing a draw at home to Stuttgart and a hard fought home win against Sevilla.

Although Unirea’s win against Sevilla was one of typical underdog style – score early then hang on for dear life – their win at Ibrox was as exceptional as it was surreal. Completely undeterred by going one down after three minutes, the Romanian’s produced a display of attacking football that hasn’t been seen at Ibrox by a visiting side since Rangers were taken apart by Valencia in 1999. On their own patch, Rangers were humiliated 4-1 and the rest of Europe sat up and took notice. This collection of Romanian minnows, who were not allowed to play at their home ground due to size restrictions, was a force to be reckoned with after all.

Despite their impressive campaign, they ultimately suffered much the same fate as fellow Champions League virgins Wolfsburg. A final day defeat away to Stuttgart saw Unirea drop to third place in their group and qualify for the Europa League, but even this was a monumental achievement for a club whose record transfer is just shy of £355,000.

As well as Unirea and Stuttgart, a number of other lesser known sides from the far reaches of the continent also deserve a special mention.

APOEL Nicosia, for example. The Cypriot champions may not have managed a win in the group stage, picking up three draws and three defeats, but they demonstrated a refreshingly fearless approach against group opponents Chelsea, Porto and Atletico Madrid. In what was almost all-out attack for 90 minutes, the Cypriots will have won many neutral admirers for outplaying their more illustrious counterparts for large periods of the games. Yet another side created on a shoe-string budget, none of the big names in Europe will want APOEL out of the hat next year.

Russian Champions Rubin Kazan should also be filed under ‘surprise package’ after their impressive showing in what proved to be the closest group in the competition’s opening stages.

Paired alongside European Champions Barcelona, Inter Milan and Dynamo Kiev, Kurban Berdyev’s side picked up an impressive six points and took their fate down to the last game of the group. In one of the biggest shocks in Champions League history, Rubin Kazan wrote their name into footballing folklore with a 2-1 win against Barcelona at Camp Nou, scoring one of the goals of the tournament in the process.

After so much hard labour, it was a shame to see last day results not favour Rubin and they, like Unirea and Stuttgart above, qualified in third place for a Europa League spot.

While the 2009/2010 campaign saw a marked improvement from the less fashionable sides, it also witnessed a number of the establishment clubs failing to hit the heights expected of them.

Liverpool proved to be one of the biggest letdowns of the season so far, both domestically and abroad. Having lost five Premiership games already and finding themselves anchored in seventh spot, they were already out of contention for a place in the last sixteen of the Champions League by the time the final game came round.

The internal squabbling between Liverpool’s management and owners filtered onto the park as the players didn’t put in one performance of note over the six games. The accusation of being a ‘two man team’ is one often leveled at Liverpool, but any neutral would find it tricky to argue against this following their season so far, especially in the Champions League.

Without one or both of England midfielder Steven Gerrard or Spanish striker Fernando Torres, Liverpool are a distinctly middling side. Without the drive and passing perfection of Gerrard or the pace and accuracy of Torres, they are a side going nowhere. The sale of Torres’ countryman, midfielder Xabi Alonso to Real Madrid in the summer, means they are even weaker than they were last year.

Two narrow single goal wins over Hungarian champions Debrecen were the Anfield side’s only two wins in the group stage. Liverpool lost both games against Italians Fiorentina, where they were unreservedly terrorised by 20-year-old Montenegrin midfielder Stevan Jovetic, and only picked up one point from six against Lyon.

With teams such as Tottenham, Manchester City and Aston Villa strengthening back at home, it is by no means certain that Liverpool will be back in the draw of Europe’s biggest and best next year.

In this year’s ‘Group of Death’, Real Madrid were drawn alongside AC Milan, Marseille and Zurich. One of the big three from this group – Madrid, AC or Marseille – was destined to miss out on the next stage and this proved to be the case.

Swiss Champions Zurich caused a huge upset on the opening day of the tournament when they defeated AC Milan by a single goal in Italy. AC, in the middle of an early season slump in confidence, huffed and puffed but couldn’t find the equaliser and the players were roundly booed as they trudged off the park.

That was as good as it got for Zurich, although they did manage a draw at home to the Italian giants later in the group.

And so it was left to Madrid, Marseille and AC to fight out the group. After a summer outlay of over £150m, they were expected to top the group and did just that. Four wins and a draw from their six games secured first place and AC Milan joined them in the last sixteen after a series of draws saw them crawl over the line.

Marseille were the big side to lose out in the Group of Death. Had they been in almost any of the other groups, many would have fancied them to progress. If truth be told, they should have progressed over an initially out-of-form AC Milan side, but even talismanic Argentine midfielder Lucho Gonzalez couldn’t provide the final push they so required.

For reasons unknown to mere fans or journalists, Barcelona didn’t manage to hit the heights of their domestic form in any of the Champions League matches. Although they topped their group, they only managed three wins as they struggled to a number of below par performances that were completely in contrast to their mouth-watering brand of football often displayed in Spain.

Like Marseille, Juventus fell afoul of a strong group as they marginally missed out on a place in the last sixteen.

Alongside Laurent Blanc’s aforementioned Bordeaux side, they faced Bayern Munich and Maccabi Haifa of Israel.

They looked odds on to qualify until a freakishly bad defensive display at home to Bayern Munich saw them lose 4-1, in turn relegating them to third and a Europa League spot. Following such a strong start to the group, Juventus couldn’t turn draws into wins when they needed it most and it’s a case of ‘try again next year’ for the Old Lady of Italian football.

Every dog has its day and the group stages of the 2009/2010 Champions League proved that beyond all doubt. After years of criticism about how the draw favoured the bigger sides – and it still does – we have seen real signs that the smaller, poorer sides are making up for their financial shortcomings with excellent youth setups, efficient scouting systems and coaching techniques that make sure their players do not look incongruous amongst Europe’s best.

It would be unfair to put the slight change in balance down as a failure on the bigger clubs’ behalves, although there an inkling of truth in this. Instead, we as football fans should applaud the more minor clubs for making the transition from their poor quality domestic leagues to the cream of European competition so seamless.

The future is bright for fans of European football. Instead of trying to help the establishment clubs grow ever bigger, why don’t we embrace the emergence of Europe’s lesser-known sides?

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Guest SandyWaTp
Papa, excellent article and points (tu)

Although for the CL to not have Ajax in it and competing in it is a odd.

Cheers mate, took me two days to write :lol:

Ajax are a shadow of their former selves, regrettably.

Great read! Do you just do this as a hobby?

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Great article, Papa. (tu)

I really liked Michel Platini's introduction of the new qualifying system, the new teams to the competition have improved it alot.

Been a really enjoyable Champions League so far, roll on the latter stages.

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Good article, Papa. Only thing I'd add in would be a wee bit about how Platini changed the qualifying system to get more teams from different countries into the competition.

Ah, I totally forgot about that.

Any links?

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Papa, excellent article and points (tu)

Although for the CL to not have Ajax in it and competing in it is a odd.

Cheers mate, took me two days to write :lol:

Ajax are a shadow of their former selves, regrettably.

Great read! Do you just do this as a hobby?

Training journalist mate.

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Maccabi Haifa might be one of the more unfortunate teams, I think they became the first team in the history of CL not to win a point or score a goal. But consider this, they had one of the toughest groups (with Bordeaux, who were incredible, and the old powerhouses Juventus and Bayern) and 5 out of their 6 defeats were the minimal 1-0, except for when they lost at home to Bayern 3-0.

Compare that to Debrecen, whose group was obviously quite tough too, but they conceded 19 in 6.

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Guest SandyWaTp
Papa, excellent article and points (tu)

Although for the CL to not have Ajax in it and competing in it is a odd.

Cheers mate, took me two days to write :lol:

Ajax are a shadow of their former selves, regrettably.

Great read! Do you just do this as a hobby?

Training journalist mate.

Nice one (tu)

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