The Champions League group stage ended with a bang

 – Gudstory

The Champions League group stage ended with a bang – Gudstory

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The Champions League group stage spent much of its time receiving criticism, some of it in bad faith from the biggest clubs who just wanted to shape the competition to their whims. But their main argument held a lot of water, which was that it lacked drama or suspense, since for the most part the top clubs in Pot 1 would proceed undisturbed to the knockout stages while still having to play matches in outlying areas (to Largely (their) in Denmark, Belgium, Croatia or sometimes Moldova.

This is not to say that the group stage did not have its charms – its rhythm, its sensual form and its clean presentation. While it probably wasn’t everyone Drama, it still has enough to make it all seem worth it. The group stage may have been a farm buy now (more on that in a bit), but it went as we all hoped: a shootout, reminding everyone of what it was capable of, and what we’ll miss.

Most of the theater for Wednesday’s deathbed was provided in Group F, which was thought to be the group of death when the draw was made in September. This type of excitement is built on what happens in two different places, as fans and teams alike wait for news from another stadium hundreds of miles away, and how that affects what happens on the field in front of them. This was presented by the sixth group.

Heading into the night, it was only Borussia Dortmund who booked their place in the last 16, which is a story in itself as their Bundesliga season has been shaky with everyone out, they can’t really defend anyone and they have just lost their best players from last season. (Jude Bellingham). They were widely chosen to finish last in the group and ended up winning it.

That left PSG, AC Milan and Newcastle trying to compete for the second qualifying spot (while PSG could still win the group), all trying to avoid being eliminated from Europe altogether, and all really unsure of what to do if they did get the consolation. From a place in the European League play-off round. The substitutions meant that each goal would change who was set up to achieve the goal, exactly what you want on the final day of the group stage.

The two venues certainly helped, as the atmosphere was noisier than St James’ Park or Dortmund’s Westfalenstadion. The tottering Geordies will never let a struggling Newcastle side let them down, and Dortmund’s habit of doing everything in the best way possible means we’ll have two games to jump between that will be played at a video game pace. Especially in Newcastle, where a draw would not help the home team or Milan, so they had to do their best.

It didn’t take long for the action to reach the level of methamphetamine. Although Dortmund only needed a draw to go top of the group and were already through, their solution to fixing their leaky defense seemed to be just throwing it in the deep end and waiting for it to learn to swim. They are still pushing their full-backs like crazy with no protection in midfield, leaving two slow midfielders to deal with Kylian MbappĂ© and Bradley Barkola.

So within a quarter of an hour we found Kang In Lee missing from here:

Niklas Sule somehow blocked Mbappe’s goal with this:

Better angle:

Dortmund also created their own chances, mostly to the left of PSG, with the two teams combined for 15 shots in the first half. It was sent back about half an hour later when the news filtered in that Newcastle had scored. Naturally, this goal had to be loud:

Which meant Newcastle were qualifying, Paris Saint-Germain were heading to the Europa League and Milan were out. This has strengthened PSG’s attack further, which has also made them more open defensively. With Milan also having to chase the game, we had an adrenaline rush at once.

Things did not improve until the beginning of the second half, when Dortmund took the lead. PSG were in a state of panic, which meant it was time for Mbappe and he set up the equalizer after just five minutes:

This goal did not mean much at the moment, as with Newcastle winning, PSG were still on their way out. But two minutes later, Christian Pulisic scored for Milan, putting PSG back in second place, Newcastle in the Europa League, and Milan still out of it. Once again, the draw did nothing for either Newcastle or Milan, giving fans the rare sight of a tied game but with both teams going for it rather than just one of them trying to hold on to a point. After 10 minutes they forced Milan goalkeeper Mike Maignan to do this:

It was made all the more dramatic as Newcastle’s legs were really deteriorating with everything they’ve been through recently with their injury crisis, meaning Milan were getting 3v2 and 2v1 breaks on the log.

Meanwhile, Dortmund, for no other reason than being mischievous, were still gunning for the win they didn’t really need and didn’t call off the Hounds until the final few minutes. PSG were living on the edge, and when Milan took the lead in the 84th minute, it meant that if PSG gave up a late winner, Milan would be out and Milan would qualify. Finally, in stoppage time, Dortmund’s performance dipped, and they and Paris Saint-Germain played well in the last few minutes, while Newcastle never looked like they could get anything back in the north-east of England. Maybe PSG executives were able to ‘get the message across’ to Dortmund, who knows? So, PSG and AC Milan qualified for the Europa League, and Newcastle went out on the back foot.

All in the space of 90 minutes, Paris Saint-Germain went from qualifying to being eliminated and then qualifying again, and Newcastle went from going to the Europa League to qualifying for the knockout rounds and then returning to the Europa League and then crashing out of European competition altogether. Milan went from death to death to end the night in the Europa League. Sadly, a lot of the group It stops on a bullshit handball call Against Newcastle in Paris, but then again, no one will feel sorry for Newcastle again.
All of this will disappear next year when the tournament expands to 36 teams Swiss model No groups, just one big table. Where will this battle take place? 24th place battle to reach the playoff round? In the fight for eighth place to avoid the playoffs but not facing elimination outright? Sure, we’ll get more big games where teams in Pot 1 have to play two other teams in Pot 1, but will that make up for losing those kind of back-and-forth games? Will we all be too fed up with eight opening games instead of six until the end of January instead of mid-December?

As with everything in European football, we may have lost something to satisfy the appetite of the big clubs. At least we got one last reminder of what we have.

Follow Sam on Twitter @Felsgate and on Bluesky


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