Champions League: Big boys party in style

The European heavyweights showed their class to dominate their respective groups and make it to the knockout stage of the Champions League.

Barcelona topped its group despite a huiliating loss to Manchester City, now coached by former Barca manager Pep Guardiola, at the Etihad Stadium.   -  AFP

Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo had a relatively quiet group phase, scoring just two goals.   -  AP

Riyad Mahrez was unsurprisingly Leicester’s knight in shining armour with four goals and an assist in the Champions League group phase.   -  REUTERS

Gonzalo Higuain’s stunning strike saw Juventus finish top of the group with a 2-0 victory over Dinamo Zagreb in Turin   -  AP

A total of 96 matches have been played to decide which of the teams go through to the Round of 16 of the UEFA Champions League. Most of the top-seeded teams have made it to the knockout rounds.

We look at the journey of the teams that have made it to the pre-quarterfinals stage.

Group A: Arsenal and PSG progressed through comfortably with 14 and 12 points respectively with the north London side securing the top spot for the first time in five seasons. For Arsenal, while the usual suspects, Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez, have been the livewire, new signing Lucas Perez has also showed his class with a hat-trick against Basel and two assists in 120 minutes of football in the group stage. The Gunners employed their tried and tested passing game and deservedly topped the group. However, Arsenal’s history in the Round of 16 doesn’t make for good reading as the team has made it to the quarterfinals only once in the last seven seasons.

PSG, which has failed to dominate Ligue 1 this season, will be disappointed with its second place finish. Edinson Cavani has been the standout player for the Paris side with six goals and one assist, but the Uruguayan has found little support from the likes of Angel di Maria and Lucas Moura. Di Maria’s woeful form is a cause for concern and a sloppy backline, which let in seven goals in the group stage, will only add to manager Unai Emery’s headache.

Group B: In a very competitive group, Napoli and Benfica, with help from Dynamo Kiev, scraped through with 11 and eight points respectively.

For the Italian side, Dries Mertens was the standout player. Involved in seven goals (4 goals, 3 assists), the Belgium winger on the final match day came off the bench to create one and score the second as Napoli ensured top spot, for the first time, with a 2-1 win over Benfica. He, along with the ever-dependable Marek Hamsik, will be the key to Napoli as it waits till end of January for the return of injured striker Arkadiusz Milik.

Benfica progressed after Besiktas, which was one point behind with seven, was thrashed 6-0 by already-eliminated Dynamo Kiev on the final day.

The Portuguese side’s standout player has been Argentine winger Eduardo Salvio, who scored three goals and had four assists.

Group C: A group that had no scope for surprises saw Barcelona come on top, while Manchester City finished a distant second on nine points, a staggering six behind the Catalans.

Barcelona’s campaign unsurprisingly centred around the famed MSN trio and Lionel Messi finished the first round with 10 goals, missing out on Cristiano Ronaldo’s record of 11. With Andres Iniesta returning from injury, things look good for Luis Enrique’s side even as it is currently going through a dip in form in the La Liga.

Manchester City was tipped to finish second, but had a difficult first phase in the tournament. Pep Guardiola’s side was unable to beat Celtic over two legs, was comfortably the better side to Borussia Monchengladbach and after getting hammered at Nou Camp, produced its best performance of the group stage to beat Barcelona at the Etihad Stadium.

Group D: The final standings of the group were only of academic interest as Atletico Madrid and Bayern Munich progressed through to the next round with little discomfort.

The Spaniards were guaranteed the top spot in the group even before going into the last match against Bayern Munich, but the team lost its perfect record in a 1-0 defeat in Germany.

Antoine Griezmann (3 goals, 2 assist) and Robert Lewandowski were the outstanding players for Atletico and Bayern respectively.

Group E: Monaco, currently second in Ligue 1, topped the group despite its final fixture loss. Bayer Leverkusen secured its first ever win over the Ligue 1 side to finish in style with a 3-0 win at home.

Both teams have built their campaigns on team work and have not relied on individual brilliance. Monaco has had six different scorers, while seven Leverkusen players contributed to the team’s cause.

Group F: Another dud group but a surprising result on the last day ensured Borussia Dortmund the top spot, ahead of defending champion Real Madrid, after the two played out an exciting 2-2 draw at the Santiago Bernabeu.

The defending champion was in control of the top spot after France striker Karim Benzema scored a brace, one on either side of the lemon break. However, the ‘Batman and Robin’ combination of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Marco Reus completed the comeback to snatch the top spot in the group. The two goals took Dortmund’s tally to 21, the record for most goals in a Champions League group stage.

Cristiano Ronaldo had a very quiet group stage with two goals and four assists.

Group G: Premier League champion Leicester City, which is having a horrid time defending its crown in England, topped the group with 13 points despite a 5-0 thrashing on the last match day at second-placed Porto (11).

Riyad Mahrez was unsurprisingly Leicester’s knight in shining armour with four goals and an assist. With absolutely no history in the competition, it will be interesting to see how Leicester City copes in the Round of 16 with manager Claudio Ranieri recently admitting that last year’s scarcely believable title triumph has gotten into the heads of his players.

Porto’s passage to the next round was only confirmed after it beat Leicester.

Group H: Juventus and Sevilla went through to the next round in that order but the final standing was decided only after the last round of fixtures.

Gonzalo Higuain’s stunning strike saw the Italians finish on top of the group with a 2-0 victory over Dinamo Zagreb in Turin. Juve was already through to the Round of 16 but needed a win to guarantee the top slot.

Sevilla finished second after it held Lyon to a goalless draw. The French side needed to win by a two-goal margin but failed to find the back of the net despite hitting the woodwork twice against the French side.

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