Champions League: The state of play
Manchester United’s rollercoaster 3-2 victory over Atalanta on Wednesday means we now sit top of Group F at the halfway point of the first stage of this season’s competition.
In the other game in the pool, Villarreal convincingly beat Young Boys 4-1 in Switzerland to leap above the Italians into the second qualification spot.
With each team in the tournament now having faced all of their three opponents in the group, it’s a great time to take stock of where we stand and what’s still to come before things heat up in November and draw to a close a fortnight before Christmas…
Predictably, Paris Saint-Germain (seven points) and Manchester City (six points) hold all the cards in Group A with the Parisians slightly better off thanks to their 2-0 success against Pep Guardiola’s side on matchday two. Club Brugge look a good bet for the Europa League spot, while RB Leipzig – semi-finalists in 2020 and a United nemesis from last season – are yet to get off the mark.
Liverpool’s entertaining 3-2 victory over Atletico Madrid moved them five points clear at the top of the group and Jurgen Klopp’s side can secure qualification with three points against the same opposition at Anfield in two weeks' time. Atleti are second, level with Porto while AC Milan have narrowly lost all three games so far, on their first appearance in the competition since 2013/14.
Ajax look dark horses to make another deep run in the competition, with top scorer Sebastian Haller driving them to victory against Borussia Dortmund on Tuesday. The former West Ham man has sit six goals in Ajax’s three wins so far, including four in Lisbon as Erik ten Hag’s side put Sporting to the sword. The Portuguese champions beat Besiktas to get off the mark but Dortmund are second, three points ahead of Sporting and hold head-to-head advantage after a 1-0 win over them at Signal Iduna Park in September.
Sheriff of Moldova are this season’s surprise package and their 2-1 win at the Bernabeu in September will live long in the memory. That victory ensures they top the group on head-to-head from Real Madrid, who recovered from that indignity by thumping Shakhtar Donetsk 5-0. Serie A holders Internazionale started their campaign disappointingly but put themselves back into the mix with three points against Sheriff.
Bayern Munich have been imperious so far, scoring 12 and conceding zero in their victories over Barcelona, Dynamo Kiev and Benfica. The Portuguese side are second, having thrashed five-time champions Barca at the end of September, although Ronald Koeman’s side showed signs of recovery in edging past Kiev 1-0 on Wednesday, courtesy of a goal from former Red Gerard Pique.
United are in pole position on six points, with away games against Atalanta and Villarreal, plus an Old Trafford meeting with Young Boys, to come. The Swiss side prop up the group, with their only points coming from their 2-1 victory over us in Bern, while the other two sides are tied on four points, with their head-to-head on the sixth matchday likely to be key.
RB Salzburg are the only side to win a game in what is arguably the most open group in the competition, with the Austrian champions’ victories over Lille and Wolfsburg helping them to seven points. The other three teams have struggled for goals, with Sevilla drawing all three of their fixtures so far, although Julen Lopetegui’s side could virtually clinch qualification with back-to-back home victories in their next games with Lille and Wolfsburg.
Juventus triumphed against Zenit in St Petersburg on Wednesday to break the competition record for consecutive away wins and they have a 100 per cent record in the group so far. Chelsea thrashed Malmo 4-0 at Stamford Bridge and with the still-pointless Swedes up next, the reigning champions look odds-on favourites to progress to the next stage, along with the Old Lady.
Clubs that finish in the top two will make it to the round of 16, with first-placed qualifiers seeded in the draw.
Those ending up in third place will enter the new Europa League preliminary knockout round, in February.