The conclusion of the Champions League group stages saw many of the familiar foes advance to the knockout round.
Alongside many of the usual suspects, Chelsea, Liverpool, and Manchester City all finished top of their groups. However, Manchester United will not join their league rivals in the next round after finishing third in their group.
The first three performed consistently throughout the group stages, ensuring qualification with a game in hand. However, Manchester United were anything but consistent, ultimately leading to their demotion to the Europa League.
Now that the group stage has concluded, we assess the performances of each of these Premier League sides:
Chelsea were relatively fortunate to avoid one of the big hitters, drawing a dangerous, but not overwhelming Sevilla side. Rennes and Krasnodar also proved relatively simple opponents, allowing Chelsea to finish top of the group.
Ultimately, Chelsea finished with 14 points, 1 ahead of runner-ups Sevilla. The Blues secured a 1st place finish with a game in hand following a 4-0 victory in Seville.
Overall, Frank Lampard will be pleased with his side’s performance in the Champions League thus far. His squad handily took care of the easier opponents in the group, while also demonstrating their superiority over Sevilla.
The Champions League allowed newcomers Hakim Ziyech and Timo Werner to find their footing in Chelsea colors. Now, the two have settled comfortably in the side and will be key in Chelsea’s quest for trophies.
Furthermore, the Champions League affirmed the resurgence of Olivier Giroud, who netted a perfect hat-trick in the 4-0 win against Sevilla.
The icing on the cake for Chelsea was allowing youngsters Billy Gilmour and Tino Anjorin to receive their Champions League debuts.
All in all, it has been a very successful European campaign thus far for Chelsea. Although they may not be one of the favorites, Chelsea will prove a tough match for any team in Europe.
Given their success last season, Liverpool probably felt hard done when learning that they were drawn alongside Atalanta and Ajax.
Atalanta proved to be one of the world’s most potent attacking forces, while Ajax have threatened in Europe for years now.
Similar to Chelsea, Liverpool were still able to secure 1st place in the group with a game to go.
Liverpool’s performances are even more impressive when you consider that they were without Virgil van Dijk and Thiago Alcantara for the entire group stage. Caoimhin Kelleher and Rhys Williams were both forced to make multiple starts, and each performed admirably in their impromptu appearances.
Despite the injuries, particularly in defence, Liverpool only conceded 3 goals in 6 matches. The highlight of the group stage was the 5-0 thrashing of Atalanta in Bergamo.
Liverpool’s Premier League performances have been a bit rocky so far, but their Champions League performances have been very solid. The Reds flaunted their firepower but also controlled the tempo of games to defend leads when needed.
Overall, Liverpool will be very happy to top the group given the challenging circumstances and will look to advance to their third Champions League final in four years.
Manchester City: A
Manchester City also benefitted from a relatively easy draw alongside Porto, Marseille, and Olympiacos.
Pep Guardiola’s side entered as heavy favorites to top the group and didn’t disappoint, winning five matches and drawing one.
The most encouraging aspect of the group stages for Guardiola was the stability of the backline. A defence that has been a glaring weakness for City in recent years conceded just one goal in the group stages, holding opponents scoreless for the last 526 minutes.
The ease of the group stage also allowed Manchester City to rotate the side. Notably, Ferran Torres bagged four goals, while Sergio Aguero, Raheem Sterling, and Riyad Mahrez all also found the net.
Every year, we wonder if it will be the year that Manchester City will finally break through and win the Champions League. Is this really the year?
Manchester United: C-
Manchester United were drawn in what was largely seen as the group of death alongside RB Leipzig and Paris Saint-Germain. However, United were soon to learn that they also shouldn’t downplay a tricky Istanbul Basakesehir side.
The group stages began spotlessly for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side, with 2-1 and 5-0 victories over PSG and RB Leipzig placing them in the driver’s seat to advance. However, they then suffered a shocking defeat to the Turkish side to cancel out their previous successes.
Nonetheless, just a point in either of their final two games against Leipzig or PSG would have been enough for them to advance. Quite frankly, their performances in these games didn’t warrant a result and they now find themselves eliminated from the competition.
Drawing conclusions from these matches is difficult due to the inconsistency of the side.
The attack of Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood, and co. battered the competition in 5-0 and 4-1 victories against Leipzig and Istanbul Basakesehir, but looked lifeless in the other games. The midfielders performed well in spurts, but the only one that could really be relied on was Bruno Fernandes.
Crucially, the side was not able to deliver in key moments. When the Red Devils needed to perform the most, they came up blank. PSG and RB Leipzig demonstrated their superiority over the English side in the last two games and deservedly advanced.
Ultimately, United’s 3rd place finish is a massive disappointment given their aspirations to return to the forefront of European football. Now, the focus shifts to the Premier League and how much longer Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will survive as manager.