8 Important Champions League Storylines That Nobody Is Talking About
With five rounds of matches complete and just one to go in this season's Champions League group stage, there have been some clear standout moments.
Premier League champions Manchester City have failed to reach the knockout phase for a second season running, defending champions Chelsea are on the verge of joining them after a defeat at Juventus that cost manager Roberto Di Matteo his job, and Celtic celebrated their 125th anniversary with a memorable win over Barcelona.
But there are also some other events and narratives that have not grabbed quite as much attention. Here are eight of those.
Germany Leads the Way in Europe
This season is the first time in seven years that all three German sides have make it through to the knockout phase.
Bundesliga champions Borussia Dortmund are already confirmed as winners of their group, while Bayern Munich and Schalke 04 have the chance to emulate that feat in the final matchday having each also secured their respective paths into the last 16.
It's certainly a great advert for the Bundesliga, but it should be warned it is no guarantee of success. The last time all three German sides went through in 2004/05, Bayer Leverkusen and Werder Bremen were roundly thrashed on aggregate in their last-16 ties (6-2 by Liverpool and 10-2 by Lyon, respectively), while Bayern were knocked out in the following round by Chelsea.
El Shaarawy Steps out of Zlatan's Shadow
The rather serene progression of Paris Saint-Germain into the next round has certainly caught the eye, thanks in no small part to the efforts of their two biggest summer signings, Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
The club that duo left, AC Milan, have not had things their own way since selling off their two best players, but the Rossoneri finally secured their progress this week courtesy of a 3-1 win at Anderlecht.
Young striker Stephan El Shaarawy, who only turned 20 last month, scored one goal and created another in that match to add to his strike in the 3-2 win at Zenit St. Petersburg on Matchday 1 and his 10 Serie A strikes already this season.
If he maintains this scoring form for much longer, people will soon stop talking about the man he has replaced in the team and start talking about him in his own right.
Arsenal Gun Through Group Again
Arsenal have already taken their turn to be the Premier League's circus club this season but on the European front they have, on the whole, gone about their business in Europe.
Despite losing 2-0 at home to Schalke and then letting a two-goal lead slip in the reverse fixture to draw 2-2, Arsenal's progress into the last 16 has rarely been in doubt.
Wednesday's 2-0 home win over Montpellier secured the Gunners' path into the last 16 for the 13th time in a row. That is a highly impressive achievement in its own right, even if it does not automatically win them that elusive trophy.
Unlikely Teams Emerging
Many sneered at UEFA president Michel Platini's reshaping of the seeding process in order to help more league champions from Europe's smaller nations reach the group stage as a cynical vote-winning exercise. Perhaps they are right, but the move is showing promise of helping sides from Europe's lesser league improve in the big competitions.
Romanian champions CFR Cluj could well qualify from Group H along with Manchester United and at the expense of Galatasaray in their final game, while Belarusian title holders BATE Borisov's famous 3-1 home win over Bayern Munich has helped them secure a Europa League spot from Group F.
Even Danish champions Nordsjaelland, whipping boys in Group E, have a 1-1 draw at home to Juventus upon which to reflect from their campaign.
Petrodollars Not Enough for Zenit
They may not be a team with a particularly distinctive Champions League pedigree, but a lot more was expected of Zenit in the competition this season.
The Russian champions, flush with the injection of cash from sponsors Gazprom, splashed out €40 million each on Brazil striker Hulk and Belgium attacking midfielder Axel Witsel.
Between them so far, the pair have mustered one goal between them in Europe, and Zenit go into their final group game with the flimsiest of grasps on a Europa League place.
With a healthy eight-point lead at the top of the Bundesliga and having reached the second round of the Champions League—a competition they reached the final of last season—you would think that everyone was pretty pleased with how Bayern Munich are going right now, wouldn't you?
Well, that has not been the case in Germany, where the Bavarian giants have had their fair share of critics. Following the defeat to BATE Borisov and drawing 1-1 at Valencia last time out despite having a one-man advantage for the majority of the game, kicker magazine described Bayern as "too sterile, predictable and emotionless."
Last season's runners-up may have progressed again, but there is just no pleasing some people.
Jose Is Due Another Win
After wresting the Spanish title from Barcelona last season, Jose Mourinho now has the Champions League firmly in his sights.
Should he win the trophy this season, it will be Real's 10th and his third with three different clubs. His first came in his second and final season at Porto, a feat he repeated at Inter Milan in 2010.
After taking charge of his 100th Champions League match against Manchester City on Wednesday, a match which ended in the Premier League champions' elimination, it is difficult to look at his current Real side and feel that Jose is due another triumph in the competition this year.
Whipping Boys Lead to Dead Rubbers
While there have been some cases of unfenced teams punching above their traditional weight, there have been several sides in this season's Champions League who have simply not been competitive.
Anderlecht are the only one of the eight sides bottom of their respective group to have picked up more than three points from their first five games, while two sides have picked up just a single point and one side, Dinamo Zagreb, has not even managed that.
All those group whipping boys conspired to mean that only three of the 16 places in the knockout phase are still up for grabs, meaning the final matchday is in danger of being a procession of dead rubbers played against reserve teams.
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