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Champions League Preview: The Group Stages

 

On the eve of the return of the UEFA Champions League, we preview the Group Stages, using data to highlight some of the biggest narratives to watch out for.

By: Matt Furniss

The Great Debate: Messi v Ronaldo

The 2020/21 UEFA Champions League should see the return of the great rivalry between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Barcelona and Juventus are set to meet one another in the Group Stage on MD2 and MD6, with all eyes on their star men.

Messi v Ronaldo CL All Time

Cristiano Ronaldo may be 15 goals ahead of Lionel Messi in the all-time UEFA Champions League rankings, but Lionel Messi will be looking to extend his UCL record of scoring in 15 successive seasons in the competition to another campaign.

Messi v Ronaldo Race Chart

They’ve previously met in five UEFA Champions League encounters, with Lionel Messi 3-0 up on Ronaldo in goals. The game on October 28th will be their first duel in the competition since the May 2011 semi-final between Barcelona and Real Madrid and the first with the Portuguese in the famous black and white Juventus shirt.

20 Going On 21?

From the two all-time greats, to one of the future stars – PSG striker Kylian Mbappe will be looking to become the youngest player to score 20 Champions League goals.

With his current tally standing at 19 goals, should he score in the Group Stages then the French forward would be the first 21-year-old to reach 20 goals in the competition and move ahead of Lionel Messi as the youngest player to do so.

Youngest Players To 20 CL Goals

Eleven Not Out

Bayern Munich won all 11 of their UEFA Champions League games on the way to lifting the trophy last season – the first-ever side to do this is a single European Cup/UEFA Champions League campaign.

Bayern 11 Unbeaten in UCL

This 11-game winning run is also the longest ever seen in the European Cup/UEFA Champions League, but Bayern will have to beat at their best if they want to continue that unbeaten streak, as they face Atlético de Madrid on the opening matchday.

Longest Winning Runs in CL history

The two clubs have met on two previous occasions before at the Allianz Arena in the competition – both were in 2016/17 and the winning goalscorer on both occasions was Polish striker Robert Lewandowski….

Group Stage Specialist

Robert Lewandowski is looking to break a record of his own on MD1, with the Bayern Munich striker hoping to become the first-ever player to score in 10 successive UEFA Champions League Group Stage appearances.

The 32-year-old has currently scored in each of his last nine matches in the Group Stages in a run dating back to October 2, 2018. He’s netted 17 goals in total over this period.

To put that goal tally into perspective, that’s the same number of goals that Czech side Viktoria Plzen have scored in their entire UCL history but in half the number of games (17 goals in 18 games).

Run of Group Stage Games Scored In:

PlayerDates of RunRun of Group Stage Games Scored In
Robert Lewandowski02/10/2018 - Current9
Cristiano Ronaldo21/11/2012 - 22/10/20149
Lionel Messi16/09/2015 - 12/09/20178
George Weah28/09/1994 - 16/10/19967

Lewandowski will be looking to break Cristiano Ronaldo’s nine-game run from between November 2012 to October 2014.

Lucescu back in the UCL

After a stint as Turkish national team manager, Mircea Lucescu is back in club football with Dynamo Kyiv and with it will manage his first game in the Champions League for five years.

In doing so, Lucescu will become the oldest manager to ever take charge of a match in the UCL, aged 75 years and 83 days old.

Oldest Champions League Managers:

DateManagerTeamOpponentAge
October 20, 2020Mircea LucescuDynamo KyivJuventus75 years 83 days
May 1, 2018Josef HeynckesFC Bayern MünchenReal Madrid72 years 357 days
December 11, 2019Yuri SeminLokomotiv MoscowAtlético de Madrid72 years 214 days
May 26, 1993Raymond GoethalsMarseilleMilan71 years 231 days
March 5, 2013Alex FergusonManchester UnitedReal Madrid71 years 064 days
December 10, 2008Luis AragonésFenerbahçeDynamo Kyiv70 years 135 days

The Romanian boss is just one of six managers to have taken charge of at least 100 games in the UEFA Champions League, with this set to be his 104th.

Group G Jinx

Two of the contenders for the 2020/21 Champions League title were drawn in the Group Stage together, with Barcelona and Juventus placed in Group G. The problem for both sides is that Group G is the only group yet to produce a Champions League winner since the current format of the competition began in 2003/04.

Which Champions League Group Has Produced Most Winners?

GroupUCL Winners since 2003/04
A2
B2
C3
D1
E1
F6
G0
H2

Since the current format of the UEFA Champions League began in 2003/04, six of the 17 teams to win the trophy were drawn in to Group F (35%) – so maybe this year could be Borussia Dortmund’s season?

Some New, Some Return

Four clubs will make their debuts in the 2020/21 UEFA Champions League, with two of those facing one another on MD1.

Rennes & FK Krasnodar both play their first game in the competition against one another – the first time that this has happened in the UCL since Manchester City hosted Napoli in September 2011.

FC Midtjylland – only formed in April 1999 – will become just the fifth Danish side to play in the UEFA Champions League proper, while İstanbul Başakşehir become the sixth Turkish club to play in the UCL.

Ferencváros appear in their first Champions League campaign since 1995/96 and will be the first Hungarian side in the Group Stages since Debreceni VSC in 2009/10. They’ll hope to do a better job than them, however, as the Debrecen-based outfit lost every single game that season and had a goal difference of minus 14.

This season will also see three Russian clubs appear in the Group Stage, the first time that this has ever happened. The last four seasons have seen all eight Russian competitors knocked out in the Group Stage, so Krasnodar, Zenit Saint Petersburg and Lokomotiv Moscow will be hoping to navigate their way to the knockout stages and give Russia their first side in the Last 16 since Zenit themselves did it in 2015/16.


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