The Champions League group stage is over and done with, and now we await the Round of 16 draw. For the first time in history, all 16 teams that advanced in the Champions League group stage are from the top five leagues in Europe. Each team differed in success based on the difficulty of groups and dips in form. Here, the eight group winner are examined, graded on their group stage efforts, and we look forward to Monday’s Champions League Round of 16 draw by analyzing the different possible opponents for each team.
Grading the Champions League Group Stage Winners and Runners-Up
Paris Saint-Germain: A
Paris Saint-Germain topped group A with five wins, one draw, and only two goals conceded. An excellent display from Les Parisians. Tuchel’s men made light work of Club Brugge and Galatasaray, scoring 12 goals and keeping four clean sheets in the home and away fixtures against them. However, their most impressive outing was their 3-0 win against Real Madrid on matchday one. PSG and Real Madrid were fighting for the top of this group. The French Champions managed to get top spot pretty comfortably. The away fixture against Real Madrid posed some problems for PSG. Although they were down 2-0, they still managed to draw the game, despite being the clear weaker team on that occasion. Not a bad result in the grand scheme of things. PSG will only get better once Neymar hits full gear.
Their possible opponents in the next round are Tottenham Hotspur, Atalanta, Napoli, Dortmund, and Chelsea. PSG will be favourites against all these teams and won’t have to worry much. For smoothest sailing, they’ll hope to avoid Chelsea, due to the inconsistencies from the other teams.
Bayern Munich: A+
Bayern has struggled in the Bundesliga this season and they have already sacked their manager, Niko Kovac. Hans-Dieter Flick has taken over for the time being. It’s important to note that there has been a clear disparity in how the Bavarians have performed in the league and in the Champions League. They have been flawless in the Champions League. Six wins out of six, a +19 goal difference and comfortably top of the group. Granted, their group wasn’t the most difficult as Tottenham, Olympiacos, and Red Star Belgrade didn’t put up much of a fight. That being said, it’s still difficult to win all your games regardless of that fact. Their 7-2 rout of Tottenham was their biggest highlight, an accomplishment that no one can take away from the now sacked Niko Kovac.
Their possible opponents in the next round include Real Madrid, Atalanta, Atletico Madrid, Napoli, Lyon, and Chelsea. They’ll obviously want to avoid Real Madrid, as they are the strongest runner-up team. Atletico could be a problem as well, but the rest of the fixtures won’t worry the German champions too much.
Manchester City: A-
Manchester City didn’t have any huge teams to worry about in their group but they did have to face three tricky and often underrated teams. Atalanta, Shakhtar Donetsk, and Dinamo Zagreb aren’t easy teams to beat but Manchester City performed well. The Citizens won four games and drew two games, against Atalanta and Shakhtar.
Similar to Bayern Munich, they will want to avoid both Madrid based teams but other than that they will be looked at as heavy favourites against the likes of Napoli, Borussia Dortmund, and Lyon.
Juventus played really well in their group. Five wins, one draw and they never really seemed in trouble during any of the games. They didn’t blow any team away (besides a 3-0 victory against Leverkusen) but they got the job done. That being said, with only one loss in all competitions, there is still something not quite right with the Bianconeri. They’re still adapting to Sarri’s system, but their midfield has been void of any creativity. On top of that, Cristiano Ronaldo isn’t the same player that he used to be, so far this season. The wins will paper over the cracks for a while, but they will need to fix their problems quick as a cup competition can expose you rather quickly and ruthlessly.
Their possible opponents are Real Madrid, Spurs, Dortmund, Lyon, and Chelsea. Lyon would be the easiest game for them, but Spurs or Dortmund wouldn’t be the worst draw in the world.
The current European champions had a tricky test in the group stages. They failed to beat Napoli both home and away, losing at the San Paolo and managing a draw at Anfield. If it wasn’t for Napoli slipping up in other games, Liverpool could’ve easily fallen to second in the group. This will be a wake-up call for the Reds. Their great league form hasn’t quite translated in Europe’s premier competition, but they still have a favourable odds going into the round of 16 draw.
Their possible opponents are Real Madrid, Atalanta, Atletico, Dortmund, and Lyon. They’d be delighted with Atalanta or Lyon. Dortmund would be a bit tougher but still manageable. Liverpool’s toughest test would be the Madrid teams, however, they would still be looked at as favourites in those games.
Four wins and two draws in the group of death? That seems excellent, why only a B+ grade? Well, their first four performances weren’t all that impressive. A Lionel Messi-less Barcelona drew to Dortmund in what was a poor display, a win against Inter at the Camp Nou papered over some cracks and then a narrow 2-1 victory over Prague showed a lot of Barcelona’s deficiencies. They followed up that victory with a 0-0 draw against Prague at home. If it wasn’t for an inconsistent Dortmund and Inter, Barcelona would’ve been in more trouble. That being said, they improved in the last two games, defeating Dortmund 3-1 and beating Inter 2-1 at the San Siro with their back-up squad.
Their possible opponents are Spurs, Atalanta, Napoli, Lyon, and Chelsea. They avoid the two toughest runners-up (the Madrid teams) due to them being from Spain which means they won’t be worried about the upcoming draw. Chelsea could be the toughest test but the Blues’ defense leaves a lot to be desired which will come to the advantage of the likes of Messi, Luis Suarez, and Antoine Griezmann.
RB Leipzig: B-
Poor Leipzig, the team that all the runners-up want to draw. They are the weakest group winners, but they’ll be no slouch. Leipzig currently sits second in the Bundesliga, only one point behind leaders Borussia Monchengladbach. The only worrying thing has been that their group draw was very favourable, and they still struggled. They lost to Lyon at home and drew to them in the final matchday. Benfica also managed to grab points from them in a 2-2. Leipzig and their manager, Nagelsmann, are inexperienced at this level and will be looking to learn a lot in the next phase of this competition.
Being group winners will help them avoid the likes of PSG, Barcelona, Manchester City, and Liverpool. That being said, it’s very possible they could end up against Real Madrid or Atletico. Chelsea could be a tough game as two young teams could go to battle. Tottenham and Napoli would be good matchups. Atalanta will be the team that Leipzig would most hope for as they don’t have some of the game changers that the other teams possess.
Valencia was in a tough group. Chelsea, Ajax, and Lille weren’t easy challengers. It took a last matchday nail-biting 1-0 victory against Ajax to grab the top spot in the group. They eliminated last year’s semi-finalists and qualified on top. Valencia was level on points with Chelsea, only beating them out on head to head record. Similar to Lyon, Valencia has struggled with inconsistency in their domestic league this season. Albert Celades’ men currently sit in eighth place, one point off of the top four.
Getting a top spot in the group is a huge accomplishment. They will have an easier draw for many reasons. The first reason is the fact that Valencia is a Spanish team. Real Madrid and Atletico will be avoided in the next round due to that fact. This means Valencia’s possible opponents are Tottenham, Atalanta, Napoli, Dortmund, and Lyon. Valencia has their struggles and none of these teams will be easy. However, it’ll certainly be easier than facing some of the other teams that everyone is trying to avoid.