There are a mixed bag of Champions League group stage runners-up. These clubs differ in quality as the likes of Real Madrid and Atletico are obviously the strongest. The likes of Atalanta and Lyon will be looked at as the weakest of the teams to progress. Each team is graded on their efforts and their possible round of 16 opponents are discussed.
Champions League Group Stage Runners-up Grades
Real Madrid: B-
Real Madrid started off very slowly in the Champions League. An embarrassing loss to PSG was followed up by a 2-2 draw against Club Brugge. Luckily, after that, they caught form, highlighted by a 6-0 rout of Galatasaray at the Santiago Bernabeu. Zinedine Zidane has improved the team as the season has gone on, both domestically and in the Champions League. However, coming second in the group will come at a cost.
Their possible opponents are Bayern Munich, Manchester City, Juventus, Liverpool, or RB Leipzig. They’ll be praying to avoid the big boys and end up getting Leipzig, but it’s a low probability. Bayern or Juventus aren’t in the best form in their respective leagues, evident by Bayern’s position and Juventus’ inability to adapt to Maurizio Sarri’s style. That being said, by the time the round of 16 rolls around (February), it could all be different.
Tottenham Hotspur: C+
Tottenham Hotspur got exactly what was expected of them, runner-up in a manageable group. They lost twice to Bayern and drew to Olympiacos. They won the rest of their games, but they weren’t anything to write home about. Jose Mourinho is now at the helm and they do have a lot of room for improvement until February.
Their possible opponents for the next round include PSG, Juventus, Barcelona, Leipzig, and Valencia. They avoid their English rivals, Liverpool and Manchester City, due to specific rules stating you can’t face-off from a team in your domestic league in the round of 16. Tottenham’s best chances would be drawing with Leipzig or Valencia and even those games aren’t a given. Leipzig is only getting stronger under their young coach, Julian Nagelsmann, and Valencia is an unpredictable team that can come out firing.
How did Gian Piero Gasperini do it? It seemed like an impossible task as they lost their first-ever Champions League game 4-0 to Zagreb. That was followed up by a 2-1 loss to Shakhtar after taking a 1-0 lead. Finally, they had a 5-1 drubbing at the Etihad to English Champions Manchester City. Three games in, zero points. However, against all odds, in the following three games, they drew to Man City and beat both Zagreb and Shaktar. Two wins, seven points, and a -4-goal difference. Gasperini’s men were through by the skin of their teeth.
Atalanta will no doubt be one of the weaker teams in the Round of 16, along with Lyon. Their possible opponents include PSG, Bayern, Liverpool, Barcelona, Leipzig, and Valencia. They’ll be underdogs in all the matches, but Leipzig and Valencia will be the most favourable options for the Bergamo based team.
Atletico Madrid: C
Atletico was underwhelming and needed until the last game against Lokomotiv Moscow to secure qualification. They lost games against Juventus and Bayer Leverkusen and only just salvaged a draw against Juventus at the Wanda Metropolitano. Simeone knows what it takes to beat big teams over two legs, but they have shown clear deficiencies in the Champions League and in La Liga. However, it’s safe to safe that they’ll most likely improve by the time February rolls around.
Their possible opponents will be PSG, Bayern, City, Leipzig, or Liverpool. The fact that Valencia got top of Group H increases the chance that Atletico will face one of the favourites in the next round. They’ll be hoping for Leipzig in the next round. However, there’s an 80% chance they’ll be drawn against a powerhouse. This could possibly lead to the second round of 16 exit in a row for Los Colchoneros.
Napoli will be kicking themselves for dropping points against Genk away, and Salzburg at home, as they went through the difficult task of obtaining four points in two games against Liverpool. All that being said, they are one of six teams that remain undefeated in the Champions League this season and a lot of credit has to go to Carlo Ancelotti as he excels in European competition. The sad part is, Ancelotti fell out with club owner Aurelio De Laurentis, and he is no longer at the club. The unproved Gennaro Gattuso has taken over which means Napoli is hard to predict as of this minute.
Their possible opponents are PSG, Bayern, Manchester City, Barcelona, Leipzig, and Valencia. They’ll be a good match for Leipzig and Valencia, but they would face a huge uphill task against any of the other teams.
Borussia Dortmund: C+
Quite frankly, Dortmund is a bit lucky to be at this stage. Inter needed to beat an already group winner clinched Barcelona. Inter failed to do that even when Barcelona fielded mostly bench players. Dortmund traded victories with Inter, expectedly beat Prague twice and took one point against Barcelona at the Westfalenstadion.
Their time only gets more difficult as they can’t draw Leipzig in the next round. Their possible opponents include PSG, Manchester City, Juventus, Liverpool, and Valencia. If they get Valencia, they’d be extremely fortunate to avoid one of the European giants.
Along with Atalanta, Lyon is the weakest of the runner-up teams. They qualified on eight points, two wins, two draws, and two losses. No one will fear Lyon in the next round. They’re most likely just happy to be here at this stage. Their league form has also been disappointing as they currently sit in seventh place.
They will be heavy underdogs against Bayern, Manchester City, Juventus, Liverpool, and Barcelona. Their best bet would be Valencia, as they could mount a challenge against them.
Chelsea is in a rebuilding phase and many thought they wouldn’t qualify from their tough group. They had some difficulties, losing to Valencia in match-day one and drawing to them at the Mestalla. However, overall, there were a lot of positives and they had glimpses of world-class football on display.
They’ll have a tough time in the next round as their possible opponents are PSG, Bayern, Juventus, Barcelona or Leipzig. The theme here is that Leipzig would be the favourable draw, but the rest of the teams would be favourites against the Blues. Chelsea is a wild-card. They aren’t expected to go far in the Champions League this season but they have already proved a lot of doubters wrong. It’ll be interesting if they continue to do so in the next round.