Looking back at the 2016-17 UEFA Champions League group stage

The UEFA Champions League group stage has come to a close with 32 teams being narrowed down to 16. As usual it was an action filled group stage, complete with goals, comebacks, and upsets. Let’s look back at some of the highlights.

Who advanced?

Arsenal, Napoli, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Monaco, Borussia Dortmund, Leicester City, and Juventus have all advanced to the round of 16 as group winners. PSG, Benfica, Manchester City, Bayern Munich, Bayer Leverkusen, Real Madrid, and Porto advance as runners up. In the round of 16, the group will be drawn against a runner up, with the group winner playing away from home in the first leg. Teams from the same country cannot be drawn against each other.

Best Player of the Group Stage: Lionel Messi (Barcelona)

Well I’m sure your shocked to see the words ‘Best Player’ and ‘Lionel Messi’ in the same sentence but this one was obvious. Messi scored 10 goals in five group stage games, a whopping goal every 45 minutes. The next highest scorer was Edison Cavani with six.

Nevertheless picking Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo is incredibly boring so let’s try this again.

Best Player of the Group Stage NOT named Messi or Ronaldo: Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal)

I’ll go out of my way to avoid giving Arsenal players credit but you can’t deny what Sanchez did over the past six games. Alexis’ two goals and five assists edge out teammate Mesut Ozil mainly because Ozil compiled all those numbers in three of the six games, while Alexis was only kept completely off the score sheet once. Not many expected Arsenal to edge out PSG atop Group A, but due in large part to the contributions from Sanchez, they were able to.

Best Game of the Group Stage: Matchday 2 Borussia Dortmund 2-2 Real Madrid

In all honesty there are three real contenders for game of the group stage and all three of them feature Borussia Dortmund, (matchday 6 Real Madrid 2-2 Borussia Dortmund and matchday 5 Legia Warsaw 4-8 Borussia Dortmund) being the others. That’s what happens when you have some of the best young attacking talent in Europe and a questionable defense.

The first Real match stands out. Dortmund were off to a hot start to their campaign when they hosted the holders Real Madrid. The two teams traded goals in the first half with Real Madrid looking the more dangerous side. Los Blancos took a 2-1 lead with just over 20 minutes to play, but then BVB manager inserted 18 year old American Christian Pulisic into the fray. Pulisic, along with fellow teenage sensation Emre Mor turned the game upside down and it was all capped off with veteran Andre Schurle’s equalizer just three minutes from time.

Team you want to avoid in the draw: Real Madrid 

It’s a very interesting breakdown this year, with some teams that you would hope to get drawn actually landing in Pot A, while a couple of European giants fell to the runners-up pot. Nevertheless the point of winning your group was to join the big boys and (in theory) get an easier draw.

That’s what Arsenal must have been thinking after having finished as runners up and drawn the likes of Barcelona and Bayern Munich in recent years. This year they can still draw Bayern but that’s not even the worst option. That’s right, the holders of the competition, the team that has Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale, the team that is currently riding a 34 game unbeaten streak is sitting in Pot B. They can’t be drawn against Barcelona or Atletico Madrid, so one unlucky group winner will be rewarded for their efforts with an incredibly difficult challenge.

Team you want to face in the round of 16: Leicester City

I focused on if you were in Pot B for this one since obviously the weakest teams are in that Pot, and if you’re Barcelona it really doesn’t matter who you face. Nothing seems to be going right for Leicester this year as they sit in 16th in the Premier League, making them the team that fans of teams in Pot B would be pining for.

However I warn you, be careful what you wish for. I actually think Leicester, should they draw someone other than Bayern or Real, can and will advance to the quarterfinal. Their game is actually better suited for the Champions League then it is for the Premier League and by the time February rolls around, this will be their Super Bowl.

How did 32 Flags do with their preview?

At the beginning of the group stage the entire staff of 32 Flags made their picks for how each of the groups would shake up. How did each of us do? (Correctly picked team to advance: Correctly picked place in the group)

Group A
Phillip –  PSG, Arsenal, Basel, Ludogorets
Harrison –  PSG, Arsenal, Basel, Ludogorets
Jeff – PSG, Arsenal, Basel, Ludogorets
Randy – PSG, Arsenal, Basel, Ludogorets
Pauly – PSG, Arsenal, Basel, Ludogorets

Group B
Phillip – Benfica, Dynamo Kyiv, Napoli, Besiktas
Harrison – Napoli, Benfica, Besiktas, Dynamo Kyiv
Jeff – Benfica, Napoli, Besiktas, Dynamo Kyiv
Randy – Napoli, Benfica, Besiktas, Dynamo Kyiv
Pauly – Napoli, Benfica, Kynamo Kyiv, Besiktas

Group C
Phillip –  Barcelona, Manchester City, Monchengladbach, Celtic
Harrison – Barcelona, Manchester City, Monchengladbach, Celtic
Jeff – Barcelona, Manchester City, Monchengladbach, Celtic
Randy – Barcelona, Manchester City, Monchengladbach, Celtic
Pauly – Barcelona, Manchester City, Monchengladbach, Celtic

Group D
Phillip – Bayern Munich, Atletico Madrid, PSV Eindhoven, Rostov
Harrison – Bayern Munich, Atletico Madrid, PSV Eindhoven, Rostov
Jeff – Bayern Munich, Atletico Madrid, PSV Eindhoven, Rostov
Randy – Bayern Munich, Atletico Madrid, PSV Eindhoven, Rostov
Pauly – Bayern Munich, Atletico Madrid, Rostov, PSV Eindhoven

Group E
Phillip – Leverkusen, Tottenham, Moscow, Monaco
Harrison – Leverkusen, Tottenham, Monaco, Moscow
Jeff – Leverkusen, Tottenham, Moscow, Monaco
Randy – Tottenham, Leverkusen, Monaco, Moscow
Pauly – Tottenham, Leverkusen, Monaco,  Moscow

Group F
PhillipReal Madrid, Dortmund, Sporting, Warsaw
HarrisonReal Madrid, Dortmund, Sporting, Warsaw
JeffReal Madrid, Dortmund, Sporting, Warsaw
RandyReal Madrid, Dortmund, Sporting, Warsaw
PaulyReal Madrid, Dortmund, Sporting, Warsaw

Group G
Phillip – Porto, Leicester, Brugge, Copenhagen
Harrison – Porto, Brugge, Leicester, Copenhagen
Jeff – Porto, Leicester, Brugge, Copenhagen
Randy –  Porto, Brugge, Leicester, Copenhagen
Pauly – Porto, Leicester, Brugge, Copenhagen

Group H
Phillip –  Juventus, Sevilla, Lyon, Zagreb
Harrison –  Juventus, Sevilla, Lyon, Zagreb
Jeff –  Juventus, Sevilla, Lyon, Zagreb
Randy –  Juventus, Sevilla, Lyon, Zagreb
Pauly –  Juventus, Sevilla, Lyon, Zagreb

About Pauly Kwestel

Pauly is a Producer for WFAN in New York and the CBS Sports Radio Network. He has been writing about the beautiful game since 2010 and can be followed on twitter @pkwestelWFAN