The group stage of the 2022-23 UEFA Champions League has been completed after the last six first-round matches on Wednesday, with the draw for the 16 clubs in the knockout stage. AC Milan i RB Leipzig they were the last two teams to secure their places, scheduled for Monday.
Here are five quick thoughts after Matchday 6.
Is this finally it? Paris Saint-Germain course?
It’s hard to know how things will play out in the new year, with the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar set to be played between now and then. Still, as of today, it’s hard not to like of PSG possibilities, even afterwards Benfica edged them out on away goals on Wednesday to win Group H.
While defensive questions persist for the Parisians, the club’s killer front line has been almost unstoppable for months. As out of place as Kylian Mbappé, Lionel Messi i Neymar At times during Messi’s debut season in 2021-22, this year they function almost as one. And each remains a match-winner in his own right, with Mbappe’s brilliant solo goal in Tuesday’s 2-1 win. Juventus a timely reminder:
How PSG’s three-headed attacking monster emerges from the World Cup bears watching. Messi is 35 years old. Neymar turns 31 in February. The longest season in European history will be both mentally and physically exhausting. The draw matters too; PSG may end up kicking themselves to miss out on a second-round seed at the final hurdle. If PSG are performing in the spring as they have been of late, however, watch out.
milan, Leipzig don’t be mistaken
That was all AC Milan had to do on Wednesday to ensure they didn’t miss out on a second-round knockout tie against FC Salzburg. Leaving nothing to chance, the Rossoneri demolished the Austrians 4-0 at the San Siro. Thirty-six years Olivier Giroud he was the star man, scoring the first goal, setting up the home side’s second with a clever header and ending any chance of a comeback when he made it 3-0 early in the second half:
Leipzig’s road to the knockout stage was rockier; they had to go to a neutral ground in Poland to play the sentimental favourite, Ukraine Shakhtar Donetskwho still had a chance of being in the top two of Group F.
However, like Milan, the Germans cruised to a 4-0 victory to reach the last 16 for the third time in four seasons. It is also one of four Bundesliga teams to advance.
Against all odds, Tottenham ends on top
spursThe rollercoaster of the group stage ended on Tuesday in the same way it began on September 7, with an important victory over the French side. Marseille. In between there was plenty of drama for the London club, who were beaten by Sporting Lisbon in their second game and held by the Portuguese to a point last week.
It made for a thrilling finish, with Tottenham waiting until the fifth minute of second-half stoppage time to score the winner through Pierre-Emile Højbjerg. The three points were enough for Spurs to leapfrog Eintracht Frankfurt — who came from behind to beat Sporting 2-1 in Lisbon on Tuesday — and clinch the Group B title. Third-placed Sporting were top of the quartet at half-time on Tuesday . Instead, they were relegated to the Europa League while Marseille, who were also 45 minutes away from progressing, went up. Chancel Mbemba put them ahead shortly before the break, finishing last.
Spurs’ progress to the knockout stages should move Antonio Conte’s side to add reinforcements in the January transfer window, particularly after Son Heung-min suffered a fractured orbital on Tuesday that will require surgery. Whether it is enough to return to the final, they were runners-up Liverpool in 2019, remains to be seen.
Liverpool return the favor against Napoli
With the Reds and Napoli already through to the second round, Tuesday’s meeting on Merseyside was a matter of pride. The pride of Liverpool. Jurgen Klopp’s side were in desperate need of a win after losing back-to-back Premier League games against teams in the relegation zone.
The fact that it was Napoli they were up against on Tuesday made the need for a strong performance all the more important. The Italians have been lights out all year in both Serie A and the Champions League, in which they look like real contenders for the trophy. The Neapolitans crushed the Reds in the first game between the two sides in September, a 4-1 victory that could have been more one-sided.
In fact, Liverpool were not great in the second half. They appeared to have fallen behind in the second half before VAR came to their rescue. But Mohamed Salah, who else? — broke a scoreless tie with five minutes to play, and Darwin Nunez sealed a win that broke Napoli’s perfect record in stoppage time. How the Reds did it is secondary, though. The question now is who they will face in the Round of 16 and what kind of form they will be in when this two-legged series begins in February.
don’t sleep Bayern Munich
What a silly thing to say about a six-time champion and the lone team (of 32) to finish the first half of this year’s competition a perfect 6-0, right? However, when you talk about title favourites, Manchester CityPSG and defending champions Real Madrid probably comes to mind before Bavarians.
It’s understandable. Bayern’s absolute dominance in the Bundesliga over the past decade has meant that of Germany the maximum wants a boring. Julian Nagelsmann’s side have been even more ruthlessly efficient in the Champions League this season despite being drawn into the group of death next door. Barcelona i Inter Milan — teams with three European titles between them since 2010. By ruthlessly eliminating Inter 2-0 on Tuesday, they showed what could be in store in the new year.
A lot will depend on the draw, of course. But Bayern are the real deal, the truth, a foe none of the remaining 15 teams will want any part of more than a two-goal aggregate goal streak in the last 16 or beyond. While they aren’t the hot pick to win it all, don’t be surprised if it’s Nagelsmann’s team left alone after the June 10 final in Istanbul.
Doug McIntyre is a football writer for FOX Sports. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a writer for ESPN and Yahoo Sports and has covered the US men’s and women’s national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Follow him on Twitter @By Doug McIntyre.
Get more from the UEFA Champions League Follow your favorites for information on games, news and more