Champions League: five things we’ve learnt from the group stages

The long hard slog of the group stages is over and while we wait for Monday’s Champions League draw, here’s five things we have learnt from the first three months of this year’s competition.

1) Arsenal might live to regret their defeat

Arsenal have been on the in-form teams of the first half of this season, not just in England but in Europe too.

Drawn in a very tough group alongside the likes of Napoli and Borussia Dortmund, the Gunners bounced back from losing at home to last season’s runners-up by winning in Dortmund, virtually securing qualification with a match to spare.

However, while progress might have been all but ensured ahead of last night – only a three-goal defeat at Napoli, coupled with a Dortmund win would have knocked Arsenal out – the Gunners produced one of their sloppiest performances of the season and will now be dreading Monday’s draw.

Granted, on current form, few clubs would relish the thought of facing Arsene Wenger’s men, but the feeling is that Arsenal have made life hard for themselves yet again.

2) Atletico Madrid, the side to watch

For all the talks about Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, Atletico Madrid have arguably been the team of the group phase.

Having lost Radamel Falcao in the summer, few would have expected Madrid’s “other club” to perform at this level, but Diego Simeone’s men sailed through the group stage, winning five of their six games and posting a +12 goal difference.

The likes of Zenit St Petersburg, Porto and Austria Vienna might not have been the sternest of tests, but the Colchoneros’ brand of attacking, creative, football really caught the eye.

Atletico have enjoyed their best ever start to a La Liga season so the question is, can they sustain such brilliant form?

3) Give Moyes some credit

David Moyes has endured a torrid start to his United career, with failure in the summer transfer window and poor performances in the Premier League conjuring to make life even harder for the former Everton manager.

The Champions League was supposed to be Moyes’ achilles heel given his inexperience at this level, but United sailed through their groups, picking up 14 points from a possible 18 and conceding just three goals in six games, none in the last three.

United might not have impressed in Europe so far – the 5-0 win at Leverkusen being the notable exception – but they’ll fancy their chances of reaching the quarter finals, given none of their potential opponents in the next round seem irresistible.

4) How far can PSG and City go?

Dominating a group containing the likes of Olympiakos, Anderlecht and Benfica is one thing, remaining competitive when facing sterner tests quite another, but PSG look poised to be a threat in the knockout stage.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s brilliance and an extremely talented squad should be enough to at least¬†match last year’s quarter-final spot, particularly as Laurent Blanc’s team are now more experienced at this level than they were 12 months ago.

City, meanwhile, emerged for a similarly easy group – bar Bayern Munich, of course – and proved they are well and truly arrived on the European stage by winning on the defending champions’ turf on Tuesday night.

The learning curve ahead of Manuel Pellegrini’s men, however, is still steep and while City might have to put their dreams of continental glory on hold for another season perhaps, nobody would like to face them.

5) Serie A European crisis

Of the three Italian teams in the group stages, Napoli are the one that can hold their head higher, despite bowing out of the competition. 

Rafel Benitez’s club came within a whisker of emerging from an incredibly tough group and were it not for Dortmund’s late winner in Marseille, they’d be looking forward to Monday’s draw.

AC Milan went through in remarkably unspectacular fashion, fighting tooth and nail to hold Ajax to a 0-0 draw last night and their run is likely to end in the round of 16, given that they look a shadow of the side that dominated Europe four-five years ago.

Juventus, meanwhile, managed to pick up a meagre six points in a group where, apart from Real Madrid, Copenaghen and Galatasaray looked like beatable opponents but the Serie A champions of the last two seasons fell agonisingly short of a place in the round of 16.

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