The UEFA Champions League group stage came to an end this week amidst some fascinating matchups, plenty of jubilation and some sadness as well.
For several teams, the week was their last chance to mix it with Europe's best, and the end of the group stage sees the end of their tournament altogether.
For several more, the week was their chance to book their place in the final 16 of the Champions League, and they'll now look forward in eager anticipation of what's ahead of them in the most prestigious competition in world football.
Let's take a look at 10 things we learned from Week 6 of the Champions League.
We had already known Manchester City's fate in the Champions League the week previously, but with another loss this week to Borussia Dortmund, the English champions now exit the tournament without a single win through their six league matches.
They were lucky to pick up a point at home to Dortmund when they played earlier in the competition, and whilst they showed at times that they can be dangerous in attack, they simply weren't good enough against the top teams in world football.
Some will say that City had a hard group—which they no doubt did. But at the same time, it was no harder than the group that Real Madrid or Borussia Dortmund had, and both of those teams managed to do just fine considering the circumstances.
The top teams step up when they need to—meaning that either City didn't step up or they cannot be considered a top team in world football this year.
Having said all of that about Manchester City, it's important that we also give proper recognition here to German champions Borussia Dortmund, who remain undefeated in the competition following their 1-0 home defeat of the English champions.
Jurgen Klopp's men have proven that they have the attacking strength to be a real danger in the tournament this year and have emerged from the group stages as the team perhaps most likely of breaking up the Barcelona-Real Madrid duopoly in world football.
The German side beat all three of their group stage opponents at some stage, and given the incredible home-ground advantage that they will have over traveling sides, they must be considered a genuine title threat moving forward in the competition.
With Paris St. Germain toppling Porto in their final group stage match, the big-spending French club will now enter the knockout rounds of the tournament as their group's top seed.
They spent big money in the summer transfer window luring the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva and Lucas Moura to Paris for the sole purpose that they would be competitive throughout Europe and that they would be a threat in the Champions League.
But have the Frenchman become solely focused on the European competition to the extent that they don't really care about achieving Ligue 1 success this year?
An interesting quote from Thiago Silva, perhaps.
Thiago Silva: "I'll be honest, we concentrate a lot more in the Champions League. It's not right, but we give more." (via @eurosportcom_fr)
— Tom Williams (@tomwfootball) December 4, 2012
For the record, PSG have 15 points from their six Champions League matches—emerging in first place as opposed to the fourth place which they currently possess domestically.
Other than diehard fans of both clubs, there really wasn't a whole lot to get excited about when Dynamo Kyiv played Dinamo Zagreb in their remaining Champions League group stage match.
After all, both had been eliminated from the competition, and with just one win and five goals scored between them, it wasn't shaping up as being the most thrilling affair around.
So it was good to see that the weather has a sense of humor with these things, when they forced the game to be stopped for 10 minutes so that the snow could be removed from the pitch.
Yes, there was that much snow that the most boring 90 minutes on earth had to extent to nearly two hours of absolute boredom. I'm glad someone out there—even if it was just the weather gods—got a kick out of watching us all long for it to be over.
Ten minutes. Unbelievable.
As good as the refereeing has been (as a whole) in the Champions League this year, there are always blunders that end up costing teams' results—something that we saw to be true again this week.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger was reportedly furious (per BBC Sport) that the referee had awarded a corner midway through the second half for something that appeared to be a goal kick. Olympiacos then scored off the corner, equalizing for the Greek side, with replays showing that it should not have been awarded a corner in the first place.
The loss (due to the goal off the corner) means that the North London club will not finish first in their group and will now have to play a group winner in the round of 16—something they could have avoided had results fallen their way this week.
Having said that, whilst the corner was big in possibly determining Arsenal's future, the onus cannot lie on anyone but the Arsenal players who allowed the goal to be scored off the corner. Every football match has refereeing decisions that teams aren't going to agree with, so it cannot be used as an excuse for poor performances or defensive errors.
When Celtic beat Barcelona earlier in the tournament, there was great belief that the Scottish club were somehow going to qualify for the final 16 of the competition.
This week, we learned that the dream would continue.
A late penalty conversion by Kris Commons gave the home side a 2-1 victory that would no doubt have sent Rod Stewart into tears of joy once more as the lowly Celtic booked their place as one of the 16 best football teams in Europe this season.
It seems almost ridiculous to suggest so, but Barcelona are through to the knockout rounds of the tournament without a single element of pressure, or even expectation on them.
The Spanish giants have almost unassumingly worked their way into the final 16 courtesy of some less-than-inspiring performances that have seen them unable to make the most of their possession and territorial advantages throughout the match.
They'll still finish top of their group but have had to come from behind in the final minutes of the match on several occasions already this year, which has perhaps lent itself to the attention not being given to Barcelona as they rightful deserve.
People expect Barca to progress through to the knockout stages; they don't expect Celtic to progress, which is why the Scottish club is getting so much more attention.
But be careful of the sleeping giants.
OK. Let's get to the biggest story with Barcelona, and that would be the injury suffered to star striker Lionel Messi, who was stretchered off in the final minutes against Benfica.
So let's run through a few facts and share a few thoughts on the matter, shall we?
1. Messi is brilliant and invaluable to Barcelona.
2. Barcelona have already qualified for the final 16, leaving there no reason in the world why Messi would need to take the pitch for them this week. A personal record does not count.
3. Messi does not usually like to fake injuries and get stretchered off for the fun of it.
There's much more to say on this, and I'll leave it here for now—there's a reason why teams rest their best players for matches they don't need to play in.
Barcelona should have down the same here with Messi; hopefully, the injury is not too serious that they will suffer because of it.
With the group stages complete, what we can see is the comparison across Europe's top leagues here—English, Spanish, Italian, German—and see just what the strongest league is.
It won't end the debate on which is the "strongest" or the "best" league in world football, but the best performing league from the group stages of the Champions League is...
Do the math for yourself.
|League||Average points per team||Standings in group|
|Bundesliga||3 teams, 39 points = 13 points per team||1st, 1st, 1st|
|Premier League||4 teams, 35 points = 8.75 points per team||1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th|
|La Liga||4 teams, 49 points = 12.25 points per team||1st, 1st, 2nd, 2nd|
|Serie A||2 teams, 20 points = 10 points per team||1st, 2nd|
The biggest story to emerge from Week 6 of the Champions League, and indeed the entire tournament so far, is the fact that the defending champions, Chelsea, are out of the competition.
The West London club ran out big winners this weekend against Nordsjaelland, but after some poor results against Shakhtar Donetsk and Juventus earlier in the group stage, we're reliant on the Ukrainian side beating the Italian giants in the final round of competition to keep their dreams alive.
An Olexandr Kucher goal to Juventus midway through the second half saw that dream come to an end, making Chelsea the first defending champions ever to be eliminated in the group stage of the competition—something that they can't blame Rafa Benitez for either.
This result and elimination is on them alone—for their inability to get the job done away from home in Italy last week and in Ukraine earlier in the tournament.
What did you learn from the Champions League this week?
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