Champions League: 5 storylines to emerge from the group stage

The group stage of the Champions League is close to reaching its climax. Here are the major storylines to emerge after four matchdays.

Only two matchdays are left to be played in the group stage of the Champions League and several storylines have emerged over the course of the past six weeks.

More than midway through the group stage and a few teams have clinched spots to the knockout stage, while others have crashed out. Our latest power rankings at the midway point featured a batch of usual suspects (like Manchester City, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich) and a few surprises (Napoli, Club Brugge and Benfica).

On why Manchester City has failed to win the UCL the last few years, manager Pep Guardiola was blunt: “Because Madrid is always there.”

The Madrid side Guardiola was referring to was Real, who won the title last season and remains the winningest club in Europe. Real Madrid are one of several clubs have qualified for the knockout stage, alongside Manchester City, Napoli, Bayern Munich and Club Brugge. This quintet have been formidable so far in the competition.

Here are five trends to emerge in the UCL:

5. Napoli has been on an absolute tear

The Italian club managed by Luciano Spalletti remains undefeated, winning four out of four in the UCL. They are also currently tops in Serie A. The Group A team has scored 17 goals in the Champions League, more than any other team in the tournament. It’s a surprise start given this past summer’s key departures, which included striker Lorenzo Insigne and defender Kalidou Koulibaly.

4. Jude Bellingham has been key for Borussia Dortmund

The England international among the UCL’s top scorers with five goals (tied with Man City’s Erling Haaland and one behind top scorer Leroy Sane of Bayern Munich), helping power Dortmund to second place in Group G (behind Man City) and in good position to advance to the knockout stage. Should Bellingham continue to play this way, expect him to become a hot commodity on next summer’s transfer market.

3. Juventus and Barcelona the biggest disappointments

While Napoli have been the toast of Europe, Juventus have been a total bust in Group H. With a 1-0-3 record, it looks unlikely that they will be able to catch either PSG or Benfica at this stage. Barcelona, meanwhile, have emerged as a weak side. In Group C, a defeat and a draw against Inter Milan pushed them to third place and all but eliminated.

2. Lionel Messi finally settling in at PSG

Messi’s second year at Paris Saint-Germain has been a very good one. It’s true that the Argentine is in top form with the World Cup just a month away, but infighting at the club could hurt the French club down the road. Messi has scored 127 goals all-time in the UCL, second only to Cristiano Ronaldo’s 140.

1. Erling Haaland could break scoring records

Man City could very well win the whole thing. If they do, they will have Haaland to thank. His scoring prowess has made him the toast of Europe and his pace could shatter records come season’s end. Man City left Haaland on the bench on Tuesday, a Group G match that ended scoreless against FC Copenhagen. As if we needed proof that no Haaland means no goals.