For now, the drama in the Europa League and Champions League has been put on pause. The group stages drew to a close this week with all Premier League and Scottish Premier League teams progressing in their respective tournament groups. On Tuesday and Wednesday night, Match Day 6 in the Champions League came to fruition.
In Group A, arguably the toughest group of both competitions as both Club Brugge and Galatasaray had an uphill task from the start as they aimed to stake a shock place in the top two ahead of PSG and Real Madrid. Unfortunately for them, they were unable to do so and on the last set of fixtures in this group, PSG put five goals past Galatasaray to secure pole position in their group. Second position was taken by Real Madrid after a 3-1 win over Club Brugge saw them progress comfortably, even with one loss.
Wednesday night was not full of too much drama in Group B, as Bayern and Tottenham had both secured their places in the next round and neither team could change their placing in the group. Mourinho’s Spurs went to the Allianz Arena with a few changes, the most notable being a debut start of Ryan Sessegnon who scored Tottenham’s only goal in a 3-1 loss. The other members of the group, Olympiakos beat Red Star Belgrade 1-0 at home which means the Greek side now drop into the Europa League after taking a third place spot.
Although Man City were already through, they had to be aware that they were hosting a team in Dinamo Zagreb that could clinch second place with a win and if other results going their way. Nevertheless, Pep believed in some of his fringe players as the Citizens managed a 4-1 win over the Croatian side. Although Atalanta nor Shakhtar Donetsk were to know, these two teams were now playing for second place with Zagreb’s loss. The Bergamo side ran riot in the second half after securing three goals in the last half an hour and Donetsk seeing a man sent off. As with Olympiakos, Donetsk will now play in the Round of 32 in the Europa League as they failed to secure a top two finish.
Sarri and Ronaldo’s Juventus side had already qualified from Group D but put in a professional display against Bayer Leverkusen as they went undefeated in their group. Quite the contrast was Lokomotiv Moscow as they fell to defeat against Atletico Madrid, leaving them bottom of the group and unable to find a third placed finish for the Europa League qualification.
On Tuesday night, Liverpool needed at least a draw against RB Salzburg to progress as group winners of Group E and a fantastic finish Mo Salah saw the Red’s take all three points from Austria. This took the holders through as group leaders and Napoli, who recently sacked Carlo Ancelotti, as second place qualifiers after an emphatic 4-0 win over Belgium side, Genk. This win was no surprise as Genk had failed to manage a win throughout the whole group stage.
Whilst some would say that Group A was the toughest, it cannot be denied that Group F had its fair share of difficulties on paper. Going into the last Group matches, both Dortmund and Inter Milan could qualify for second spot in the group behind Barca. Milan had the tougher task of needing to beat Barca and hope that Dortmund failed to win against Slavia Prague. The Milan side failed to do so as they fell to a 2-1 loss. Dortmund managed to scrap a 2-1 win over Slavia Prague after going down to 10 men for the last 15 minutes. Milan will now drop into a Europa League competition as one of the strongest candidates amongst the teams already there.
Group G was a contrast to Group A and Group F as the whole group was fairly balanced throughout the qualifying. RB Leipzig were ahead of the rest and a 2-2 draw with Lyon secured their place as group leaders with Lyon following just behind. Benfica and Zenit St Petersburg fell short and Zenit will feel hard done by in the sense they just missed out on continued European football by just one goal on goal difference.
In last seasons Champions League, Ajax took the competition by storm and surprise by brushing Real Madrid aside before being dumped out by finalists, Tottenham in a dramatic semi-final finish. Valencia took the top spot whilst Frank Lampard’s young guns at Chelsea managed to pull through in second spot.
After all of the Champions League football was complete, Thursday night saw the completion of the Europa League group stages. Consecutive winners between 13/14 and 15/16, Sevilla, were already through come last night’s matches but nevertheless, a shock loss to second place Apoel would of not been welcome.
Malmo and Copenhagen qualified as winners and runners up retrospectively of Group B. The Swedish side Malmo got the top spot after a closely contested 1-0 victory over the second place side Copenhagen. Copenhagen would have been slightly worried at the loss but lucky for them, Dynamo Kyiv could not take all three points against bottom side Lugano so did not qualify.
Swiss side FC Basel took top spot ahead of Getafe. The Spanish club went into their last Group match against FC Krasnodar, needing a win to secure a runners up place. A comfortable 3-0 win against the Russian side gave them 2nd spot and qualification as an unseeded team in the Round of 32.
The Austrian club, LASK took top spot in Group D and probably surprised many fans with their wins, particularly their strong win against second placed Sporting which was at the expense of Dutch outfit PSV.
With that being said, probably the biggest surprise of the Europa League Group stages came from Group E. On paper, many pundits and fans would of had Lazio topping this group but the Italian club fell short of qualification along with Rennes. Whilst Celtic took top spot regardless of their poor result against Cluj last night.
Steven Gerrard was left buzzing after his Rangers side secured qualification into the next round after being somewhat written off when the Groups were drawn. Porto topped it but a draw against Young Boys last night allowed the Scottish club to progress in second spot.
Group H was a fairly boring group on paper but an equal one at that. It remained tight throughout the qualifiers with Espanyol taking top spot regardless of a 1-0 loss to CSKA Moscow last night. Their position was not in jeopardy as second placed club Ludogorets only drew with Hungarian side Ferencvaros.
Gent and Wolfsburg were already through before lasts night games with the two clubs taking Group G by storm. St Etienne and bottom club Oleksandria FC failed to grab a win throughout the whole process.
Group J through up another surprise in the shape of Istanbul. A group filled with Roma and Monchengladbach bought a cagey affair for the last set of matches for this group. Monchengladbach just needed to beat Istanbul based club Istanbul Basaksehir and hoped that Roma would drop points in order to gain second spot. Whilst Roma did drop points, the German club could not manage a win against the Turkish club as they pinched a 2-1 win in the last minutes of the game.
Europa League new boys Wolves had already qualified to the next round, showcasing manager Nuno Espirito Santo’s fantastic work once more. Braga remained top of the group after earning a drew against the Midlands based club in Match Day 5. With this Group all but decided, there was still an off chance that Wolves could finish top. A 4-0 win over Besiktas at home meant that wolves were finishing their Group campaign in strong fashion and for a while it was looking like they would top the group as Braga were being pegged back by Slovan Bratislava but they eventually took all three points with a 4-2 win.
Last but not least, Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer guided his side through to the next round after a solid win against second placed AZ Alkmaar.
Now the group stages are complete, the draw for the Champions League Round of 16 and Europa League Round of 32 fixtures will take place on Monday. The teams to have dropped out of the Champions League in third place will now qualify as seeded teams in the Europa League Round of 32.