In 2011, certain television channels suggested that they would cease airing coverage of the Champions League group stages, suggesting that it is always a foregone conclusion; that it is merely a ritual for the big clubs, who have an opportunity to rest their top players in the second half of the group. This plan generally did not gather enough support, and those who opposed these calls can feel fully vindicated four rounds into the 2012/2013 campaign. With Premier League Champions Man City all but eliminated, Celtic’s surprise success along with German domination, the group stages are more attractive than ever.
Roberto Mancini’s charges are on the verge of an early exit for a second consecutive year. They have not experienced happy travels to the traditional European strongholds of the Bernabau and the Amsterdam Arena. A meagre two draws from four games will not see you through at this level, and City are fast learning that Europe’s top table is a whole different entity to the Premiership. It is not for the lack of talent either; but they are playing against teams with vast amounts of European experience. It is not that none of City’s players haven’t played at this level before, as there are the likes of Tevez, Balotelli and Yaya Toure, who boast winners medals, in their squad, but European pedigree is something that must be acquired as a team and a club. Having been installed as a pre-tournament favourite, they flattered to deceive on the big stage, and now must look on enviously as their peers march on in quest of reaching Wembley on the 25th May.
If Man City are lacking in the European X-Factor, Scottish champions have it in abundance. Working off a limited budget and having been written off completely when the draw was made, they secured an away win in Moscow before marching on the Nou Camp. Having been desperately unlucky not to see the result through away, the common perception was that they caught Barcelona on an off-day, and the Catalan giants would not allow a repeat when they travelled to Parkhead. It was not a repeat of course, and the rest is history for the Hoops, a day after the club’s 125th anniversary. Now they face into the final two games with genuine hope of reaching the last 16 after 5 years in the doldrums. The tribulations of Rangers has tainted the estimations of Scottish football recently, and it was believed that this would have drastic implications for Celtic, but they have received a European lifeline, and gratefully received it with open arms.
The standout aspect when you look at the groups is the success of the German clubs. With the competing German sides on top of 3 strong groups, it cannot be denied that there are underlying factors to this success. The financial astuteness of Bundesliga clubs is famed, and are more than comfortable if there was to be a cash crisis in European football. The bookmakers have installed Bayern Munich and Boriussa Dortmund as third and fifth favourites respectively, with Schalke currently on top of a group containing Arsenal, Olympiakos and French champions Montpellier also. The European tide is turning; the English domination of the last 8 years is waning; the Germans are all looking to win it.
Aside from Man City, the other English clubs; Arsenal and champions Chelsea seem to going according to plan, while Man Utd are already through to the knockout stage. They are set to be joined by Spanish giants Barcelona and Real Madrid, while Malaga are impressively in command of Group C.
The group stages of the Champions League 2012/2013 has been more intriguing than ever before, and with two rounds remaining, some big name clubs have work left to do. The television channels won’t be regretting their decision.