Champions League Group C — When A Single Goal Makes The Difference

When UEFA settled the hierarchy of the tie-breaking rules, situations like the one in Group C were taken into account. As the Champions League group stage will come to an end with today’s Matchday 6 action, certain teams are still on the brink of elimination, and their odds hanging by a thread.

Teams like Juventus, Barcelona, and Real Madrid have already booked their ticket to the Round of 16 stage, but other heavyweights have yet to secure a passage onto the next round. Among these uncertain competitors: Napoli, Paris Saint-Germain, and Liverpool, whose chances to make it past Group C could depend on the vanity of a single goal.

To understand how the situation of Matchday 6 came about, it is important to lay out the developments of previous matches. 

On Matchday 1, the results reflected what had been predicted since the group stage draw. Liverpool beat Paris SG at home with three effortless goals, in spite of two French attempts to narrow the result. In Belgrade, Napoli was handed a scoreless tie by Red Star, who began the group stage by making a statement as a serious competitor, and not that of a participant. 

Liverpool players celebrating after Firmino (right) scored the 90th minute game-winning goal against PSG

On Matchday 2, the rankings started to take shape as Paris mercilessly took three points from Red Star in a 6-1 showdown. In Naples, Liverpool’s odds to make it past the group stage started to quiver, as Napoli was able to get three points in a single-goal win that showed a new face of Liverpool; one that couldn’t have thought to have been possible. 

Neymar celebrating one of his three goals against Belgrade on Matchday 2

As Matchday 3 came about, Liverpool found some relief in a 4-0 home win against Belgrade. It was a win that made a statement of redemption for what had happened in Naples two weeks before, and waved any doubts away with Salah scoring twice. In contrast, Paris found Napoli to be a tougher task than Belgrade had been when a 2-2 score shook up the group rankings, and placed all four teams in a qualifying position.

Ángel Di María taking the game-tying shot against Napoli on Matchday 3

What the games of Matchday 4 revealed layed the foundations of what placed all teams in a difficult position. While Paris was handed a tie once again by Napoli, Liverpool was beaten in Belgrade in a humiliating 2-0 loss that still haunts them in the group rankings. As a second blow, Paris gave them a heavier punch in France, after a 2-1 loss put Liverpool on the third seeding of the group. Seeking the unprecedented, Napoli scored three in a win against Belgrade that placed them first, and now in a comfortable position to make it past the group stage. 

To reiterate, the group standings before today’s matches see Napoli first with nine points, Paris second with eight points, Liverpool third with six, and Belgrade fourth with four. With this point spread, any two teams could get away with something, but only two will have the right to delve deeper into the competition.

At Anfield, Liverpool hosts Napoli, who not only have the best home record in the group, but also the best away record. While the Italians were initially considered to be the underdogs, Liverpool HAS to win. The result by which they do depends on how many they score, meaning that each goal scored or conceded could leave the Anfielders crying in their home turf. 

Dries Mertens (left) and Lorenzo Insignie have each scored three goals in the group stage so far for Napoli

In accordance to UEFA’s order of importance for a tiebreaker, a 1-0 win automatically qualifies Liverpool. However, if Napoli scores only once, Liverpool has to shoot for a two-goal difference due to the away loss suffered at the hands of the Italians.

Of course, Belgrade would also do Liverpool a favor by beating Paris. Keeping in mind that Paris plays at Red Star’s intimidating home environment, they are still seen as the favorites for the match. The incentive of Europa League qualification does serve as Belgrade’s fuel, but their efforts could only be enough for them to just garner the respect of the audience and nothing more.

Although statistical results are considered blasphemous in soccer, it is worth noting that Napoli and Paris are bound to qualify. Napoli holds the best home and away records, while close-second Paris has tallied the most goals and the best goal differential.

Liverpool has unfortunately disappointed this season, especially seeing them in this year’s season with a different eye after their appearance in the 2018 final. They can make it happen today, but it will require a great deal of luck and focus. Belgrade could surprise against Paris and shoot for the stars, while Napoli stands as the safest team in the group (If safety is even a word in the group). It all remains to be resolved on the pitch, as Group C will unveil the reason why soccer is often glorified above all other sports. 

Cover photo:
Firmino photo:
Neymar photo:
Di Maria photo:
Mertens and Insignie photo:

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