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The official student newspaper of Walter Johnson High School

The Pitch

The official student newspaper of Walter Johnson High School

The Pitch

Champions League: group stage recap, looking ahead at the round of 16

The Champions League (UCL) is an annual soccer competition that brings together the best teams in European countries. It is considered the most prestigious club tournament in the sport.
Courtesy Union of European Football Associations
The Champions League (UCL) is an annual soccer competition that brings together the best teams in European countries. It is considered the most prestigious club tournament in the sport.

Real Madrid and Manchester City were perfect in the group stage, finishing with 18 points, leaving them as favorites in the round of 16. English sides Manchester United and Newcastle shockingly finished in last place, questioning English teams as favorites in European competitions. Four of the five Spanish teams in the competition qualified for the next round, all topping the group. Galatasaray and AC Milan look to leave their mark on the Europa League after failing to qualify for the UCL round of 16.

Group A (Bayern Munich, FC Copenhagen, Galatasaray, Manchester United):

Bayern Munich topping the group was no surprise, as their consistent group stage performances throughout the competition made them clear favorites. Going undefeated, the Germans were able to continue their 40-game unbeaten streak in the Champions League group stage with their win over Manchester United on Dec. 12. Heading into the round of 16, they will face Lazio and look to continue their UCL campaign. The second and third-place spots taken up by Galatasaray and Copenhagen were a toss-up, with the final match ending as a draw. Still, Copenhagen’s win over Galatasaray at the start of the stage gave them the edge. Manchester United finishing at the bottom of the group was a surprise to many as they looked to be bouncing back after finishing in the top four in the Premier League last season. There are better positions than finishing fourth and sitting seventh in the Premier League for one of the most prominent clubs in Europe. They conceded 15 goals in the six group stage games, which was the most by an English side in the group stage.

Group B: (Arsenal, PSV Eindhoven, Lens, Sevilla):

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Arsenal, qualifying for the Champions League for the first time in six years, came into the competition showing why they belong at the highest level. Claiming four wins with a draw gave them the top spot in the group, four points clear over Eredivisie runner-ups PSV and Ligue1 side Lens. PSV beating Lens on matchday four gave them the edge over the French team, allowing them to finish second in qualifying for the next round vs Dortmund. Lens did finish third, but after achieving a 2-1 win over group champions Arsenal, they are a team to watch in the Europa League. Sevilla bottomed out the group with zero wins, shocking fans. Sevilla currently sits 14th in La Liga and is at risk of relegation in what has been a huge letdown season for the club.

Group C: (Real Madrid, Napoli, Braga, FC Union Berlin):

Unsurprisingly, Real Madrid led the way in Group C with six wins out of the six games. The 14-time competition winners set the tone as they entered the round of 16, where they will face RB Leipzig. Napoli followed confidently behind in second with six points separating them from third-place finishers Braga. Without too much competition in this group, the top two teams leave the group stage confidently without struggle. Union Berlin was considered a dark horse entering the groups. But, after a subpar season where they sit in the bottom half of the Bundesliga, it seems like they will be out of the CL in the near future.

Group D: (Real Sociedad, Inter Milan, Benfica, FC Salzburg):

Group D was very even between the four teams. The two qualifying teams, Real Sociedad and Inter Milan, were tied with 12 points. This led to the tiebreaker that came down to goal differential, where Sociedad had the edge, giving them the first-place position. One of the three Spanish teams to top their group, Real Sociedad showed that they could be a dominant club in Europe after being seen as one of the underdogs in the tournament. With confident wins over Salzburg and Benfica, they were able to clinch this spot. The 2023 Champions League runner-ups Inter Milan were considered favorites in the grouping going into matchday one. Yet, tight results versus Benfica and Salzburg pushed them to second place with a low goal difference. Benfica’s lackluster performances led to weak results and pushed them into the Europa League, where they have another chance to prove themselves in European competition.

Group E: (Atletico Madrid, Lazio, Feyenoord, Celtic):

Group E was also a very even group with no clear front-runner. Madrid hadn’t been performing well in the Champions League. But the Spaniards put up crucial wins in the first five games to position themselves one point ahead of second-place Lazio going into the final matchday. They showed up once again to win 2-0 over Lazio, clinching the top spot in the group and a place in the round of 16. Feyenoord and Celtic, finishing with six points and four points, respectively, put up a fight against the top two, but it wasn’t enough. However, Feyenoord has been doing very well; after winning the Eredivisie (Dutch league) last year, they look like front runners when entering the Europa League.

Group F: (Borussia Dortmund, PSG, AC Milan, Newcastle United):

Group F, also known as “The group of death,” brought the entertainment viewers hoped for. Dortmund’s clinical results versus Italian giants AC Milan and English side Newcastle put them in a position nobody thought they would be in. Newcastle, reaching the Champions League for the first time in club history, put up great performances. If it weren’t for a controversial call at the end of their match vs PSG, they would have qualified for the next round. Even though they ended up in fourth place, it would not be surprising to see them back again soon. Even though they scrapped out a second-place finish, PSG showed they still have much to prove. With the amount of money spent by the French club, it is expected they would finish first without too much issue. Maybe they will turn it around vs Real Sociedad in the round of 16, but at the moment, fans aren’t too confident.

Group G: (Manchester City, RB Leipzig, Young Boys, Red Star Belgrade):

To no surprise, Group G had the reigning UCL Champions, Manchester City, at the top with six out of six wins in the group. City, collecting all of the points possible, sets themselves up as favorites to win the trophy again back to back. They will face Copenhagen in the round of 16, which should again be no match even with their poor recent form in the league. Leipzig finished calmly in second place as the other two teams showed no signs of strength within this group.

Group H: (FC Barcelona, Porto, Shakhtar Donetsk, Antwerp):

Barcelona may have topped Group H, but it was not a breeze for the five-time Champions League champions, finishing only three points in front of second place. In three out of the four wins they have in the group, FCB only won by one goal. This proves to be a problem as the teams they beat, Shakhtar and Porto, are not strong. Losing to fourth-place Antwerp on matchday six also does not help Barcelona’s confidence entering the round of 16, where they will face Serie A reigning champion Napoli. Second place was ultimately a toss-up between Porto and Shaktar, but Porto winning 5-3 over the Ukrainian side on the final matchday gave them the edge in moving on to the next round to face Arsenal.

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Ian Alves
Ian Alves, Staff Writer
Senior Ian Alves is excited to participate in his first year with the Pitch as a Staff Writer. In addition to writing for the pitch, Ian enjoys scuba diving and playing soccer.
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