The richest tournament in world soccer has completed the group stage, and boy was it full of entertainment. It also gave us a few more surprises than most thought when the draw was announced this summer.
Some of the surprises were good (if you’re a neutral), some came at the expense of the biggest names in European soccer and some were just downright shocking (we’re looking at you England).
Yet, its hard to look back at the just completed group stage and not feel like there were some major disappointments. Some teams we thought would make big runs are heading home outright or parachuting in to the Europa League and some teams disappointed with behavior off the pitch.
Who were those teams? Let’s take a look at the teams we thought were the most disappointing in the Champions League group stage.
The Merseyside club has a rich European history, having won the European cup/Champions League five times in its history. However, that pedigree couldn’t save it from a disastrous campaign in its return to the biggest competition in world soccer.
After such a promising run to the top of the English Premier League and a huge haul in the transfer of Luis Suarez big things were expected out of this team. Instead, Liverpool were dealt a blow with Daniel Sturridge out injured throughout the group stage.
It led to a team unable to score at the clip they were capable of last season and a team who ended up with just five points out of six group matches. Liverpool failed to score more than two goals in any of the matches in the group stage, winning 2-1 over Ludogarets and tying the same club at 2-2 for the best goal tallies of the group stage.
Sure, Real Madrid was a clear favorite in Group B and it went out and won all six matches, but many expected Liverpool to ease its way in to the round of 16. That never was reality, and nothing was more disappointing than what happened on the final night of play.
A win over second place FC Basel at home was all that would be needed. Instead, Basel struck first and Liverpool needed a miracle free kick from Steven Gerrard to salvage a point and at least a spot in the Europa League. There may not be a more disappointing team in the Champions League this season than the Reds.
Speaking of disappointing clubs coming out of England this Champions League season…There’s little doubt that Manchester City is right up there with Liverpool, even though they are going to move on to the round of 16.
That’s what happens when it takes you five matches and 60-plus minutes in to the final match to secure a spot in the knockout stages of the tournament. It also doesn’t help that the blue side of Manchester spend crazy jack on players every year and weren’t exactly playing in a group full of heavyweights.
Sure, AS Roma and CSKA are respectable sides but neither of them spend near the money Man City does. Nothing like leaving it to the last moments to secure a spot in the round of 16, huh?
For the defending EPL champions, barely making it through the group stage is, and should be, a major disappointment.
The Moscow club was embroiled with controversy throughout the group stage, with its fans receiving a European ban and the club forced to play some of its contests behind closed doors. That’s what happens when your fans are constantly associated with racist chants and abuse of players. No matter what happened on the field, that kind of behavior is unacceptable and disappointing to say the least.
So was UEFA’s overall response to said racism, with just a three match ban for fans and not allowing away fans (who had already booked flights, paid for visas, etc.) to attend matches in Moscow. It led to a protest by both Manchester City and Bayern Munich fans.
That said, the team itself managed to do some serious damage in Group E, drawing and winning against Manchester City and also drawing with AS Roma. So, the fact that it won’t even be playing in the Europa League has to be seen as a major disappointment for the reigning Russian champs.
There was a time when the giants of Amsterdam were also giants on the European stage, but that hasn’t been the case in a long while. The performance of this team in the group stage was just the latest reminder of how far this team has fallen on the European stage.
Sure, they were in a group with PSG and Barcelona, but they could barely nick any points at all in the group, finishing with 5 points. Tying PSG, who eventually finished second in the group, was a highlight, but failing to win any game against either of the top two teams shows how large the gap is between this proud clubs past and its current status.
Winning 4-0 against Apoel on the final matchday feels much less like a positive step and much more like a reminder of how far this team has fallen.
I expected them to at least compete in the group, but the -2 goal differential tells us that never happened. For me, there wasn’t a more disappointing team in the group stage.
Zenit St. Petersburg
Russian soccer has gotten so much better in the past five years, and that’s directly related to the amount of money pumped in to the league by ultra-rich owners. Zenit is one such beneficiary, finishing as runners up in the Russian Premier League last season.
Their reward was a draw in to one of the most even groups (on paper) in the Champions League this season. Getting Monaco, Bayer Leverkusen and Benfica was about as big a dream as could be imagined.
It’s even more disappointing when you know that Zenit started out with a 3-0 win over Benfica and a 0-0 draw with Monaco. A pretty great start in a group that should’ve been pretty even, but back-to-back losses to Leverkusen put the Russian side on the outside looking in. Monaco took care of Zenit’s hopes on the final matchday, winning 2-0.
Considering the start and the opportunity this team had to break out of a winnable group, the fact that they are heading to Europa League is a major disappointment.