2022-10-26 · 4 min read · UEFA Champions League/Soccer
Shakhtar Donetsk and AC Milan

Getty Images | Spada/LaPresse via AP

It’s about that time of the Champions League group stage where clubs fall into two categories: those who can chill, and those with regrets. Have you qualified with ease and can now rest vital players? Chill. Are you a major side who expects to always make the knockouts, but are scrapping to stay in the competition? Regrets. And it’s probably too late. Saying this, here are my clear Winners and Losers from matchday five.
Winners: Shakhtar
You have to commend Shakhtar Donetsk for their incredible achievements in this year’s competition. Tuesday’s 1-1 draw with Celtic confirms at least a spot in the Europa League for the Ukrainian outfit, who will advance to the Champions League round of 16 if they beat RB Leipzig on the final matchday.
Shakhtar have just one defeat in five group matches, a feat that would be impressive in any season. Football doesn’t matter while Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine continues, but it does act as a symbol of passion, strength and pride that defines the Ukrainian people. Shakhtar’s schedule, squad, staff and even home continue to be impacted by the war. They have played all their "home" games in the group stage in Warsaw, Poland. That didn’t stop their stars from stepping up.
The real story was one of stunning success under the weight of completely unfair odds. Well done to Igor Jovicevic, his players and everyone at the club. Truly inspiring.
Losers: Juventus
Massimiliano Allegri warned us not to get carried away. Juventus’ start to the season has been awful, but the Serie A giants headed to Benfica on the back of beating Torino 1-0 and whooping Empoli 4-0. Two wins, two clean sheets.
All of Juventus’ positivity was crushed in a first-half display that is going to embarrass for quite some time. Benfica are a magnificent team in full flow, playing incisive football that can tear anyone apart. They walked through the Juventus defence and were 3-1 up before the half-time whistle, all but ending the Old Lady’s chances of poking her nose into the competition after the World Cup. There were just so many problems. One-time leader Leonardo Bonucci put on a 10 out of 10 disaster class, while the rest of the team lacked energy and couldn’t get anywhere near Benfica’s boundless frontline that was carried by Rafa Silva’s brace. The 4-3 defeat puts Juventus into the Europa League at best, but they still need to better Maccabi Haifa’s result on the final day to confirm that when they host Paris Saint-Germain and Benfica travel to Israel.
Winners: AC Milan
It looked bleak for Milan heading into Matchday 5. Two points behind RB Salzburg, Stefano Pioli’s side would have been dreaming of beating Dinamo Zagreb and Chelsea taking all three points from the Austrians. That’s exactly what happened. Milan pinged four beyond Monza at the weekend and hit their stride with another four against a Zagreb side that showed little fight.
The Italians are now one point ahead of RB Salzburg in the second. They host Matthias Jaissle’s side next week in a winner-takes-all showdown for a place in the knockouts. Milan will take heart from the previous 1-1 draw between the teams and know avoiding defeat will see them into the money rounds. Work to be done, but this week went as well as it truly could.
Losers: Barcelona
Barcelona were condemned to the Europa League before they even stepped onto the pitch Wednesday. Almost inevitably, Inter waltzed beyond Viktoria Plzen 4-0 to end any lingering hopes that Xavi’s men would make the last 16. It felt like it was never going to end any other way than with a whimper. A summer of pulling ‘economic levers’ and assigning money that wasn’t guaranteed put the pressure on to reach at least the quarter-finals. Failure to do so compounds the club’s need to curtail spending before it becomes fatal.
There are so many questions to be answered. Most prominently, Frenkie de Jong’s future will once again come under the microscope after the summer saga that saw Manchester United fail to capitalise on Barca's money issues. Time to expect endless rumours, a lot of confusing financial analysis and a ton of trolling from rival fans. Oh, and they lost 3-0 against Bayern Munich this week.
Losers: Spurs
Tottenham have entered a certified rough patch and need a sudden turn in form. Premier League defeats to Manchester United and Newcastle put the pressure on Antonio Conte, whose side are embroiled in a suffocatingly tight Group D alongside Sporting, Eintracht Frankfurt and Marseille. The 1-1 draw with Sporting does not help.
We head into the final matchday with two points separating all four teams. Spurs must travel to the cauldron of Marseille to clinch their spot in the knockouts, but Marseille know a win will see them progress. Sporting and Frankfurt are also aware that three points will see them through. It’s just incredible drama. You just wonder if the World Cup is coming up at the right time for the North London side, who are looking tired and out of ideas at the moment.
Winners: The Europa League
Ajax, Barcelona, Shakhtar Donetsk and Sevilla are dropping down to Europe’s second-tier competition. The likes of Juventus, Atletico Madrid, Milan, Sporting and Tottenham Hotspur could still join them.
It’s a fierce set of Champions League dropouts this year, all of whom will expect to challenge for one of the strangest vases in sport. The format changes means one of these teams could even face Manchester United in a play-off round, should they finish second in Group E.
Neutral fans should be celebrating more big games between the world’s best clubs, and indeed, more opportunities for huge shocks. Sevilla have won it six times since 2006, so bet against them at your own peril…
Sports Tree Profile

By: Aaron Cantin


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