When we look back on today’s UEFA Champions League action, two results will stand out as most influential, neither of which involved contenders for this year’s title. Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain, and Real Madrid stayed perfect, but they were expected to do so. Had they slipped, they’d still be favorites to claim first in their groups. The more important results involved teams fighting for second place, with clubs able to claim valuable road points earning a distinct advantage.
If that reads like a bunch of nonsense, consider today’s result in Moscow. Manchester City and CSKA are battling in a group Bayern will claim, leaving duo to fight for the one remaining knockout round spot. Both came into the day on three points, but City was able to claim three road points, riding a Sergio Agüero double to a 2-1 victory. CSKA fell three points behind, essentially making match day four’s visit to Manchester a must-win.
In Group C, Olympiacos couldn’t hold on for full points in Lisbon, but they got a result against their chief rival for second behind PSG. Though they’re only one point ahead of Benfica, they deprived the Portuguese club of two points they would have expected. Two weeks from now, when the teams meet in Piraeus, the Greek champions will be favored to take full points and pull away from the Eagles.
Here’s where Groups A through D stand after Wednesday’s Champions League action:
* – To each of these standings we’ve added a column labeled +/-: a crude attempt to track how many points a team has dropped at home (minus) or picked up on the road (plus). It’s a very crude attempt to gauge the extent to which teams are holding serve.
Shakhtar Donetsk’s result looks bad, losing 4-0 in Leverkusen, but in the bigger picture, they’re still ahead of the game. Their match day one victory at Real Sociedad remains the only road win in the group – a result Bayer may not replicate. If Shakhtar can win at home against Bayer and get Sociedad to go their part, the disadvantage they put themselves at with a four-goal loss may become meaningless.
We’ve been harping on this since Galatasaray left Turin, but it’s worth repeating: Things are not looking good for Juventus. Clearly, third place is a sub-optimal spot, but given the rest of their schedule includes a visit from Real Madrid and a trip to Istanbul, it’s no given they’ll make up the points needed to pass Gala. The Turkish champions still have a trip to the Bernabéu, but if they win in Copenhagen and hold serve against Juve, they’re going through at the Old Lady’s expense. If Gala win in Denmark, Juventus will need a result in Istanbul.
As for the group leaders, Real Madrid can clinch a spot in the knockout round with a win at Juventus. If Copenhagen also gets a result against Gala, Real Madrid wins the group.
Paris Saint-Germain’s in a simliar situation to Real Madrid. Win at home against Anderlecht and they’re into the knockout round. If Olympiacos and Benfica also draw, PSG clinches Group C.
The big battle here’s between Olympiacos and Benfica, with the Greek champions holding a number of subtle edges. They’ve already claimed points at Benfica, have the Portuguese runners-up in Greece next round, have two games remaining at home, and host Anderlecht while Benfica visits Brussels. The Belgian champions are this group’s doormat, but if they’re going to claim any points this season, they’re more likely to do so at home than on the road.
Bayern can’t clinch anything next round without Manchester City’s help, but with a trip to Plzen on matchday four, the defending champions are likely to go to 12 points. If City gets a result against CSKA, that’ll be enough to clinch a knockout round spot.
Thanks to their win in Moscow, City doesn’t necessarily need a win against CSKA in Manchester. A draw means City stays three points ahead, clinches the tiebreaker between the teams, and has a path to 10 points via their remaining match with Plzen. CSKA, having another match with Bayern, are unlikely to get to 10 points without a victory in England.