The Champions League group stage came to an exciting conclusion Thursday, Dec. 10, 2020 with most of the qualifiers for the next round having been settled.
The exception was Group B where all four teams -- Spain’s Real Madrid, Germany’s Borussia Monchengladbach, Ukraine’s Shakhtar Donetsk and Italy’s Inter Milan -- were still duking it out for the two qualifying spots.
When the dust settled, Madrid and Monchengladbach emerged first and second in the group, respectively, to join 14 other European clubs in the knockout phase.
All four representatives of the La Liga -- Real Madrid, Atlético Madrid, Sevilla and FC Barcelona -- made it, and so did those of the Bundesliga -- Bayern Munich, Monchengladbach, Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig.
The Premier League only managed to send three out of four teams to the next round -- Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea -- and so did the Serie A -- Atalanta, Lazio and Juventus.
The two other slots went to Paris Saint-Germain of France and Porto of Portugal.
The biggest disappointments, of course, are Manchester United and Inter Milan, with both clubs having to settle with lower tier football at the Europa League after missing the Champions League Round of 16 boat.
Both didn’t see Champions League knockout action last year either.
If the two erstwhile giants of European football have any consolation, they have a chance of redemption at the domestic league.
Inter is faring much better at the Serie A, placing second in the league just behind frontrunner AC Milan, which is underachieving in the continental stage as well.
United is having a more difficult time at the Premier League at sixth spot, but with a game on hand, it could break through the top four and, if it can sustain its form, salvage the season to qualify for Europe anew.
While the draw on Dec. 14 will determine the pairings for the two-leg Round of 16 matches, it will still be months before the Champions League returns to action in mid-February.
In the meantime, it will be an all-domestic affair for the clubs, which will be in for plenty of action nevertheless but cannot wait for an extraordinarily difficult year to come to an end.
December 11, 2020
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