5 Thoughts on... The Final Day of the UCL Group Stage
The group stage of the UCL has been settled, with the round of 16 confirmed and the third place teams preparing for life in the Europa League. This time of year always brings heartbreak and some big talking points, so here are 5 thoughts on the final day of the UCL group stage. Also, keep your eyes peeled for a similar post regarding the Europa League's final day tomorrow.
1. Country Breakdown
So the round of 16 will contain 4 English Clubs, 4 German teams, 3 Spanish teams, 1 French team, 1 Turkish team, 1 Greek team, 1 Italian team and 1 Russian team. Some may disagree, but I think this accurate shows each league's strength with a few exceptions. Obviously, the EPL and Bundesliga are superior, and all 3 of the La Liga teams deserve to be there, but does Greece's Olympiakos really deserve a spot in the final 16. Definitely not. By removing Olympiakos and giving Italy another team in the final 16 it creates a far better pool of teams. As for Russia's Zenit, a number of countries could claim that they deserve to have this spot, most notably the Netherlands and Scotland, but I think that Zenit showed their class and therefore deserved to make the final 16. This is arguably the most balanced and competitive UCL final 16 in recent years.
2. Big Shots Dropping To The Europa League
With the likes of Juventus, Napoli, Ajax dropping down to the Europa League, the possibility of some matchups to remember can occur. Imagine Wigan getting the results they need (Win vs Maribor and a loss from Belgium's Zulte Waregem) and getting drawn with Juventus. Pure David vs Goliath. Other notable possibilities include Bulgaria's Ludogorets Razgrad taking on Napoli or Freiburg, who currently are stuck in a relegation scrap domestically playing Ajax.
3. Best for Benfica?
While Benfica fans probably don't realize it, their drop to the Europa League is probably a blessing in disguise. They obviously had no chance in the UCL this year, but lost the final of the Europa League last season in a horrible manner. As soon as they take the pitch in the Europa League they'll be reminded of that and probably play harder and with greater effort than they would in the Champions League. They'll probably play a full squad unlike Napoli and (maybe) Juventus so watch out, as they're the team to beat.
4. Can Juventus Win It At Home?
This year's Europa League final will be held at Juventus Stadium, so it will be interesting to see how Juve approach the Europa League. In a normal year I would imagine they consider it a second-class tournament and don't play a full squad, but since the final is at home will they play like it's the UCL?
5. What Happened in Napoli?
Although it was in vain, Napoli did something to Arsenal that no team has really done all season since Aston Villa in September (and maybe Chelsea in the Capital One Cup). They walked away with a quality 3 points. It's hard to see how, especially with how poor Napoli were in the first half. In the second half they played with urgency, yet Arsenal still looked commanding and strong. Clearly, Napoli's Insigne made a huge impact on the game, raising the question if this is the start of something bad for Arsenal or if it was just a fluke one-man show.
Do you agree or disagree with any of the points made above? Have something to add on? Please make yourself heard by leaving a comment!