The Champions League group stage has reached the halfway point and some teams are well on their way to the last 16. Others have not been so lucky. Naturally, some of the smaller teams are not expected to do so well, but for a few of the bigger teams in the tournament, anything else than a top two finish would be a disaster. With three games left before the knockout stage begins, a few household names are running the risk of an embarrassing early exit. Fortunately, there is still plenty of time to turn it around.
Wednesday’s humiliation at the hands of the five-time winners Barcelona has been the low point for Pep Guardiola and his Manchester City squad. It isn’t too shameful to lose to Barcelona at the Nou Camp, but City wants to be seen a real favorite for the competition. Being on the wrong side of a 4-0 beating isn’t going to generate much confidence for the City faithful. Guardiola’s odd team selection which had Sergio Aguero on the bench will raise some eyebrows, but it’s hard to imagine the Argentine making much of a difference.
Despite the loss, City are still in second place and would advance if the group stage were to end today. However, most troubling might have been their draw with Celtic in the previous matchday. Celtic made light work of City’s defense on numerous occasions and came away with a draw. The good news for City is the next match against Celtic will be in Manchester.
City sits just one point ahead of Borussia Mönchengladbach, which could be troublesome. Manchester City still has another game with Barcelona, which could easily be another defeat. They’ll host Celtic which theoretically would be an easy three points, but on match day 6 they’ll travel to Gladbach which can be a challenging place to play. Guardiola lost 3-1 at Borussia Park last season. City is likely still the favorites to advance along with Barcelona, but they’re not making it easy on themselves.
It’s been an up and down season for Tottenham so far. For every 2-0 win over Manchester City, they’ve had set back like a 2-1 loss to Monaco or draw with West Brom. Tottenham was drawn in a fairly tough group, but it is one where they had to feel like they were clear favorites. Getting off to a shaky start against Monaco didn’t do much for their confidence, however. Match day two was a tough 1-0 against CSKA Moscow, while this week they only managed a draw with Bayern Leverkusen.
Spurs find themselves in the same situation as City with a slim one point lead over the third place team in group E. They hold the advantage over their German rival, but unlike City, the second meeting between the two sides will be in London.
Unlike City, it looks like Spurs also have a reasonable chance to catch Monaco at the top of the table. They’ll need to put in a better performance in the return leg against Monaco, however, if they have any intention of getting that top spot. That said, Tottenham needs to focus on keeping distance between themselves and Leverkusen first. A bad performance on Matchday 4 and the North London side can be on the outside looking in.
Porto has consistently made the knockout stages the past few seasons. Ever since winning the competition in 2004, the Portuguese side has always been dark horses. This year they were blessed with one of the easier groups in the competition. They were drawn with tournament debutant Leicester City, Copenhagen, and Club Brugge. With all due respect to those teams, Porto should be the clear favorite. Well, after three matches Porto sit third in the group, level on points with Copenhagen but behind on goal difference.
Porto got their tournament started off with a shaky 1-1 draw at home to Copenhagen, and followed it up with a 1-0 loss to Leicester in the English club’s first ever home Champions League fixture. Porto could be cut some slack there because Leicester was certainly up for that meeting. Porto finished the first half of the group stage with a much-needed win against Club Brugge, but it hasn’t been enough to lift them out of third place.
Two of the next three Champions League matches will be at home, so that will certainly help, especially since match day for will be at home to Club Brugge, a team with zero points from the opening three games. Hosting Leicester will likely be the key match-up in the group. If Porto can pick up three points against the English Champions it would likely send them through, so long as they beat Brugge. However, a loss to Leicester would likely set up a winner take all meeting with Copenhagen on the final day, which is something they would most likely love to avoid.