The most interesting Champions League season yet?

Picture-Rubin1This week saw more drama and shock in the Champions League as Manchester United lost their proud home European record, with Romanian minnows Unirea Urziceni defeating Spanish giants and group leaders Sevilla. However this appears to be a continuing theme in this season’s tournament, with the underdogs making a name for themselves, leaving many European giants on the brink of elimination.

Like with most Champions League campaigns, when the draw for the group stages was made, many of the groups looked like a foregone conclusion. The two qualifiers from each group looked easy to pick and although there are shocks every year, this year has taken it to the next level.

Although the obvious choice, it would seem silly to ignore Liverpool’s group as a first point of discussion. The five times European Cup winners find themselves in a state where they are unable to qualify for the knockout stages with a game left to play having crashed out on Tuesday night after results went against them. It is widely documented that Liverpool are going through their worst run of form in quite some time, yet the competition in their group was still of high quality. Lyon would have been many people’s pick for the second qualification spot but are in second place behind Fiorentina, who have proved that maybe Italian football is not in the state that many believe.

Despite the fact that Liverpool’s is the most high profile exit, it is by no means the most interesting group of the competition as some other monumental shocks lie elsewhere. Take Juventus and Bayern Munich for example. After last night’s results the two sides are set up for a crunch clash in Turin in which one of them will be eliminated. Rewind to the knockout stages last year and Bayern Munich had just brushed aside Sporting Lisbon 12-1 on aggregate, yet Bordeaux have taken Group A by storm and are acting as proof that the gap between Europe’s mediocre and Europe’s elite is closing. Even AC Milan and Real Madrid are not completely safe and will need results on Matchday Six to ensure qualification. In a group that contains the Swiss champions and French runners-up you would not expect a situation like this to occur, with FC Zurich having even gone to the fortress that is the San Siro and won.

The real interesting group for me however is Group F, which contains two giants of European football. The group has been tight since day one and it will go down to the wire with any of the four teams still able to progress. Russian minnows Rubin Kazan act as a perfect example of what this year’s tournament has been like as they shook Europe with a victory in the Camp Nou. Barcelona also face a tricky trip to Ukraine with Dynamo Kiev knowing that a win should take them through. Imagine the repercussions around Europe if both Barca and Inter were to fall at the first hurdle.

In light of all this, what does this mean for the tournament? Is it a good thing that Europe’s underdogs are staking their claim for a chance to progress to the latter stages? With all due respect, despite the fact that we may be seeing the likes of Unirea, Rubin Kazan and FC Zurich in the knockout stages, it is still almost certain that one of Europe’s big names will eventually win the tournament and in this respect I believe it can only be a good thing. The competition standard has been increasing year by year and European giants need to start learning not to take group qualification for granted. On the other hand it is already a great shame that the latter stages will not contain two of the world’s great players in Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres and if in the unlikely event Real Madrid were to fail to qualify, Kaka, Ronaldo and Benzema would be added to that list. Yet I can’t help but think that this competition is healthy for the Champion League and I expect to see the European giants step up their game in the knockout stages because of it. There is something that is not up to debate, and that is that Matchday Six will be a very interesting day for the tournament and for European football.

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Helen Chamberlain, Max Rushden and the rest of the Soccer Am crew tackle the task of unearthing the team of their dreams.

Tubes, Health and Safety, Rocket and Baby Elvis are among the familiar faces joining Helen and Max to indulge in a special set of sketches, including Kung Fu Academy, Third Eyes and the return of the £10 Goal Celebration.

Who makes it through the filter of football’s funniest show as the Greatest Team In The World?

Does the Premier League take precedence or does La Liga lead the way??

NEW Soccer AM IIII DVD OUT NOW – Order your copy now