The round of 16 may be well underway in the Champions League, but the world is still in amazement from the performances that we saw in the group stages of the competition. Three teams were able to end the group stages of the competition with 100% records.
That is the first time in Champions League history that more than one side has been able to accomplish that feat. However, who were some of the brightest stars from the group stages of the Champions League in 2021-22?
Cristiano Ronaldo Saves Manchester United
It would be hard to start anywhere else other than Cristiano Ronaldo, who singlehandedly managed to ensure that Manchester United were able to reach the round of 16 stage. Ronaldo would have been brought back to Old Trafford to make the Red Devils a force in Europe again, and he did exactly that over the course of five appearances in the group stages this term.
The legendary Portuguese scored six goals in the games that he played, which included goals in all five starts. United looked to be heading towards an early exit after losing 2-1 against Young Boys.
But, Ronaldo scored the winning goal at Old Trafford against Villarreal to keep their hopes alive. He once again produced the moments of magic at home and away against Atalanta to ensure United took four points from a possible six against the Italians.
His final goal in the group stages came at Old Trafford against Villarreal, as United claimed a late 2-0 win against Villarreal, which ensured top spot in Group F. Ronaldo’s importance can’t be underplayed, as the Red Devils would have been eliminated if it wasn’t for their star number seven.
Messi Steers PSG Through
While many have questioned whether Lionel Messi have fitted in at PSG based on his performances in Ligue 1, as he has scored just twice in 15 games, he did come alive in the group stages for the Parisians. It was a battle for top spot in Group between PSG and Manchester City, with Messi’s side eventually finishing in second spot and eventually setting up a tie with Real Madrid.
However, without Messi, PSG may have been eliminated from the competition altogether. The legendary Argentinean ace dazzled throughout the group stages, as he played the best football of his short stay in Paris to date. In his five appearances for the club, he scored five goals.
The highlight of his group stages came on his PSG home debut, as he set the stadium alight with a blistering goal from the edge of the box to wrap up a famous 2-0 win against Manchester City.
It was a game that the visitors dominated from start to finish, but the magic from Messi’s left-boot meant that they left Paris empty handed. The Argentinean will be looking to continue that form in the knockout rounds, as PSG look to take full advantage of their 1-0 win from the home leg of their tie against Real Madrid.
Lewandowski Makes UCL History
Robert Lewandowski is already considered by many to be the best number nine in world football. Once again, he will be key for Bayern Munich if the club are to win an eighth European Cup this season. The Polish striker was in excellent form throughout the group stages this season, as he scored nine goals in six games.
Bayern were so dominant throughout the group stages of the competition this season, and like Ajax and Liverpool, they ended with a 100% record. That was the second time that the Bavarians have achieved the feat, and on both occasions, Lewandowski has been integral.
The Pole also made history in the group stages, as he scored in the ninth consecutive Champions League fixture on matchday five against Dynamo Kyiv. That was the second occasion that he had achieved that feat, becoming the first player to achieve it on more than one occasion.
This season also marked the tenth straight European campaign that the Polish striker had scored at least five goals in the competition. More Champions League history was made by Lewandowski’s Bayern teammate Thomas Muller, who scored his 50th goal in the group stages, becoming the eighth overall and first German player to achieve that feat.
Militao Fills The Void Left By Real Legend
When Sergio Ramos left in the summer for PSG, there were big questions who would fill the void left by the legendary central defender. However, Real Madrid may have finally found the man to replace Ramos for the long-term based on the incredible performances shown throughout the group stages.
Eder Militao have seamlessly filled the void left since the departures of Ramos and Raphael Varane, and helped ensure that Real Madrid progressed through to the knockout rounds with the joint best defensive record in the competition. There was a huge development in his game based on the performances from last season, where he looked more shaky under pressure.
However, this season, he has been remarkably calm throughout the group stages, even in testing away fixtures in Ukraine, Italy and Moldova. His defensive work in both games against Inter Milan ensured that the Spanish giants were able to top their group.
His stats were also among the best for Real in the first half of the competition. He recovered the ball more often than any other player in the team, leading Real with 45 recoveries in the six group stage games that they played. Meanwhile, his excellent defensive work could also be pinpointed after making seven tackles and a total of 17 clearances in the first stage of the competition. His ability to play out from the back also allowed the defensive line to be relieved of pressure despite Inter and Sheriff attempting to press from the top of the pitch.
Champions League 2021-22 Group Stage- Standout Stats
• Sporting Lisbon’s Pedro Goncalves scored braces in back-to-back group stage games; becoming only the second Portuguese player to achieve that feat.
• Sebastien Thill for Sheriff became the first player from Luxembourg to score a goal in the Champions League era.
• Karim Benzema and Lionel Messi became the first players in history to score in 17 consecutive Champions League campaigns.
• Kylian Mbappe reached 50 games in the competition by scoring his 20th goal away from home in the competition.
• Burak Yilmaz scored against Salzburg on matchday two to become the oldest Turkish goalscorer in the history of the competition.
Haller Reborn In The Group Stages
The group stages will be fondly remembered for the rebirth of Sebastien Haller’s career. The striker had a miserable time in the Premier League with West Ham United, but put himself back into the frame as one of the world’s most lethal strikers when at the top of his game during the group stages. He scored ten goals in six appearances in the group stages, before extending that run with a goal in Ajax’s entertaining 2-2 draw against Benfica in the first leg of their round of 16 stage tie.
Haller’s campaign couldn’t have gotten off to a much better start, as he became the first player since Marco van Basten to score four goals on his Champions League debut. Those four goals came in a huge win for Ajax against Sporting Lisbon, as the Dutch side won 5-1. Ajax ended the campaign with a perfect record, which was much down to the performances of the striker.
Haller broke a number of records during the group stages. On matchday five, he became the first player in the history of the competition to score nine goals in his opening five games of the competition, as he scored a brace against Besiktas.
He managed to go one better on the final matchday, as he scored another goal. That meant that he equalled the record set by Cristiano Ronaldo in 2017-18 to be the quickest players to reach ten goals in the history of the Champions League. His goalscoring record has continued into the knockout stages, and it will be fascinating to see how far he can go with Ajax this season.
Nkunku Shines Despite Leipzig’s Early Elimination
It’s very rare that a side can exit the Champions League at the group stage and still be able to claim that they had one of the best performers in the competition in their squad. However, Christopher Nkunku certainly didn’t deserve to be exiting the European competition at the group stage this season, after scoring seven goals and registering one assist in six appearances.
His performances throughout the campaign kept the Bundesliga side’s chances of qualification alive, despite being drawn alongside the likes of PSG and Manchester City. He was that impressive during the group stages that a number of clubs were reportedly keen in acquiring the French attacking midfielder during the January transfer window in order to enhance their chances of going far in the competition this season.
His best performance in the Champions League this term was also one of the standouts in recent history. It’s rare that a side that get hammered 6-3 could claim to have had the best player on the park, but that was exactly the case in Leipzig’s defeat at the Etihad against Manchester City earlier in the campaign. Nkunku scored a stunning hat-trick in that match, and was awarded the man of the match award after running the City defenders rigid.
The Frenchman was instrumental once again against PSG, as the sides played out a 2-2 draw, before he scored twice and registered an assist in their final group stage game against Club Brugge away from home. However, despite his excellent performances throughout the group stages, fans will only be able to watch Nkunku on the continent in the second half of the season in the Europa League.
Current Champions League Betting Odds
It promises to be a thrilling end to the season in the Champions League this term, with no shortage of the European giants still in contention to win the competition. At present, Manchester City are the clear favourites at the top of the betting to win their first European honour, as they look to banish the ghosts of their final defeat last season at the hands of Chelsea. Pep Guardiola’s side are currently a 12/5 chance to get their hands on the famous trophy for the first time.
Bayern Munich are joint-second favourites alongside Liverpool at 7/2, while Chelsea listed at 13/2. Ajax, despite enjoying an excellent campaign to this point are still a 16/1 chance. Manchester United, Real Madrid and Juventus are all available at 25/1 with Paddy Power, with Atletico Madrid, Villarreal, Inter Milan and Benfica among the clubs at bigger prices.
However, the selection that I like the look of is PSG at 7/1. There is certainly value in a bet on the Parisians ahead of their second leg against Real Madrid, and their case to win a first Champions League success this season has only been made even better with the recent announcement that the final this season has been moved to Paris from Saint Petersburg.
This will be their final chance to win the competition while still having Kylian Mbappe at their disposal, as he is likely to move to Real Madrid in the summer, and they look strong at both ends of the pitch, which has already been evident throughout the competition to this point.