The UEFA Champions League: Who Will Make It Through?

The UEFA Champions League: Who Will Make It Through?

By Jake Clement

 

Have you been paying attention to the Champions League so far? We’re currently halfway through, and it’s been an interesting series of events so far! Whoever guessed that Dortmund would be tied for the bottom of their group is the same person who guessed Besiktas would be at their top of theirs. Of course with three games left to play, we can’t get too ahead of ourselves. There’s 270 more minutes to play, with a lot that can happen, especially since there’s been a goal every 26 minutes thus far.

With that being said, let’s get completely ahead of ourselves and decide which teams will make it to the playoff stages of the Champions League! For those a little less familiar with this competition, this “league” is in an international cup tournament involving the top teams from UEFA qualified leagues. We currently have eight groups of four teams, with three of the total six games of this stage having already been played in each group. Based off these results, I have a few predictions for who makes it out of this group stage, and who will drop down to the Europa league (the tournament that is played with teams who were right below qualifying for the Champions League). Just like the real leagues, there’s a lot left to happen, but why not have a little fun and take some guesses:

 

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Who Advances:

Manchester United Manchester has won both games they’ve played in their group, and are looking strong at this point. They’ve scored eight goals in three games, and have already bested their next opponent in their previous game: SL Benfica. It’s not hard to see that Man U holds a bit of an edge against their group counterparts.

FC Basel – Basel have had some successful talent as of late. Players like Shaqiri, Mohammed Salah, and Granit Xhaka all donned a FC Basel shirt at one point; and currently guys like Ricky van Wolfswinkel (who has my favorite name in soccer) and Dimitri Oberlin are scoring consistently. They look like the second strongest team to me.

Who Heads to Europa League:

SL Benfica: Benfica are currently sitting at the bottom of the group, with zero points. But as of late, they’ve usually been a playoff contending team in this competition. I expect them to turn things around and grab a few wins to secure the third spot in this group.

 

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Who Advances:

Paris Saint-Germain: PSG look admittedly better than I thought they would at this point. Game 2 was a decisive 3-0 win against Bayern, and their front three seem incredibly tough to deal with (regardless of their apparent limelight squabbles). This Paris squad looks set to get farther than their recent attempts to win the CL, and I see them getting past this group stage for sure.

FC Bayern München: As you just read, Bayern had a recent loss to PSG, which along with some domestic shortcomings has seen head coach Carlo Ancelotti relieved of his position. Bayern have had a tough go at things since Neuer went down at the end of last season, but they’re still stacked with talent even without their precious keeper (as well as adding Colombian ace James Rodriguez to the roster on loan). I can’t see Munich missing out on the playoff stage, as they’ve made it to at least that point every season the last ten years.

Who Heads to Europa League:

Celtic FC: Celtic are currently in the Europa league qualification spot. They’ve got some talent, like the starlet Moussa Dembélé, but they’ve still got their next match against Bayern and a match against PSG left, which are huge uphill battles. When it’s all said and done, I think they’ll stay in third.

 

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Who Advances:

AS Roma: Roma have always been a club people pay attention to, with Italian star Francesco Totti spending his entire career there. But in terms of international success, they haven’t had much. This team, headed by the likes of Edin Džeko and Radja Naiggolan (aka one of the best midfielders in the world), could solidify a chance at the next stage with a win in their next match against a recently shaky Chelsea side.

Atlético Madrid: Atlético have lost the last two Champions League finals they’ve been in to their archrivals Real Madrid; but a key part of that is that they’ve been in two finals within the last four years. It’s been a slow start in this competition for Atlético, but they can get back in the groove with a win in their next match against Qarabag FK. Don’t count out this team or their counter attacks just yet.

Who Heads to Europa League:

Chelsea FC: This is probably my hottest take out of all the groups. Chelsea are coming off a Premier League winning season, and currently have two wins in three games. But they could suffer the Kanteless curse in their upcoming CL game: with N’Golo Kante possibly missing their next game against Roma as well. After Kante left Leicester, they ended up seventeenth in the PL, and he’s now become an essential piece of this Chelsea team as well. With Morata not being 100% fit either, their upcoming road is unclear in one of the most crucial points of this tournament.

 

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Who Advances:

FC Barcelona: Barça are basically a shoo-in to make it out of the group stage every year. They’ve constantly got top world talent joining forces with their face of the franchise, Lionel Messi, to win numerous trophies. No doubt they’ll make it out of this group, and once again be a favorite to win this whole thing.

Juventus: The reigning runner ups, Juventus had a lot of people convinced they were ready to claim their first CL title since 1995. Despite the results of last year, they still have talent at every position, with Paulo Dybala seeming to gain more stardom every year. This is another group whose results will probably not surprise many at the end of this stage.

Who Heads to Europa League:

Sporting CP: Sporting have got some pieces that keep them competing. Adrien Silva and William Carvalho hold down their midfield, and Gelson Martins looks like a promising young winger. Comparing them Olympiacos, I think they’re a little better poised to stay in third, especially since Sporting came out the victor in their first meeting.
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Who Advances:

Sevilla FC: Sevilla had won the Europa league three years in a row before Man U won last years competition, which means that they also got knocked out of the Champions League group stage the last two times they got in through Europa qualification. They’re coming off a bad loss to Spartak, but that’s also all the more reason to look for revenge in their upcoming meeting. If they win their next game, I think they advance.

FC Spartak Moscow: This is another admittedly hot take. Russian teams aren’t given much recognition in international play, but I think Spartak is underrated. Quincy Promes has good touch and pace, and they just added former Milan and Donestk striker Adriano. They also grabbed Mario Pašalić from Chelsea on loan, whose potential can emerge with a little more playing time. Coming off a 5-1 win against Sevilla, they can head into the next round if they ride this momentum through the second half of games.

Who Heads to Europa League:

Liverpool FC: Liverpool have probably my favorite winger duo in Mohammed Salah and Sadio Mané, but their performances so far have been unconvincing. They have defensive weaknesses that teams have been exploiting, which is a criticism that came up as well when Klopp was in charge of Dortmund. They’ve got a solid player at most positions, and I’m kind of hoping Liverpool proves me wrong, but they’re going to have to show their resolve to not end up in Europa play.

 

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Who Advances:

Manchester City FC: The “noisy neighbors” are looking strong this season, both domestically and internationally. Guardiola has basically bought a whole new team, but to his credit they’re winning, and scoring quite a few goals in the process. At this very moment Man City are looking like one of the most in form teams in this competition, lets see if they can keep it up. They should have little trouble escaping this group.

SSC Napoli: Though I expect Napoli to lose again against Man City, I think they’ll make it out of the group in the end. They’ll have to convincingly win out their remaining games against Feyenoord and Shaktar. But if they do win both, I think they get through on goal difference, and possibly some help from crossed fingers.

Who Heads to Europa League:

FC Shakhtar Donetsk: Shakthar used to be a CL underdog; they always had young, budding players looking for the promise of Champions League play. Now, Donestk has become a dangerous place to even live, with political unrest in Ukraine reaching a head in this new “people’s republic”. Its getting harder to find young talent from other nations willing to come here and play, and I see them losing in their upcoming matches against Napoli and Man City. But with their current wins they should go through to the Europa League ahead of Feyenoord.

 

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Who Advances:

Besiktas JK: Besiktas are rolling through their group, with all nine points being taken. Ryan Babel, Cenk Tosun, and Anderson Talisca have two goals in three games, and the addition of Pepe to their defense has paid off so far. If they beat Monaco in their next game, they should definitely have a spot in the next round.

RB Leipzig: Leipzig very much looked like a team entering the Champions League for the first time at the start of this competition. They then bounced back with a 3-1 victory over Porto, and look to have finally found their bearings. They had twenty-two shots against Porto, but only eight on target. If they get a higher shots on goal percentage in the next game, I think they grab another win, and gain a nice cushion on points difference.

Who Heads to the Europa League:

AS Monaco: Monaco were the long shot darlings of last year’s Champions League, making it to the semi final round with one of the youngest teams they’ve had. However after their success they lost players like Mbappe, Bakayoko, Mendy, and Bernardo Silva, and this loss is currently showing. They also added Keita Baldé-Diao, Youri Tielemens, and Stevan Jovetic to name a few, all players who can have big impacts on games when given the chance. I think their additions will start fitting into the system soon, but it won’t be in time to keep them in the CL. I see them dropping to the Europa League, where they may find more success.

 

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Who Advances:

Real Madrid CF: The reigning champs, and first team to win back to back CL titles, Real Madrid have been the best team in Europe since Zidane took charge in 2016. They put up two convincing wins over Dortmund and APOEL in their first two games, and look to show their dominance in their upcoming match with Tottenham after a tie in their first matchup. A few players are currently coming off injury, but I’ve got almost no doubt that they enter the Round of 16, and keep going after that (Hala Madrid!).

Tottenham Hotspur FC: Tottenham has looked really good so far this season, in all competitions. They’ve had a few rough go’s in the past at CL Knockout qualification, but they look ready to advance this year. People are talking about Kane like he’s ready to be a successor of the Messi/Ronaldo era, which is yet to be seen. But to say he’s not performing at a very high level is would be ridiculously untrue. If they beat APOEL again, I doubt they don’t move on.

Who Heads to Europa:

Borussia Dortmund: I was really hoping to see a win from Dortmund against APOEL. I’ve always thought of Dortmund as a fun team to watch, and three points would have given them a much better chance to come back than the one they currently have. They’d have to win out all three games left, which is a tough thing to do when one of the Spanish giants are in your group. But c’mon, I know Dortmund, they won’t end up at the bottom of the group, and I think they’ll unfortunately be headed to the Europa League at the end of this stage.

 

Well, those are all the groups of the 2017/2018 Champions League season, and what I think of each one. Again, I think it’s a little early to really know what will happen, but that doesn’t mean a little fun can’t be had at the benefit (and expense) of a few of Europe’s biggest teams! And though I could be wrong on a lot of these picks, I enjoyed making every one of them. So now comes the real fun, watching the rest of these games and seeing which sixteen teams will actually fill the next round’s worth of spots!

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