CHAMPIONS LEAGUE WINNERS AND LOSERS: RECORDS FALL, BENFICA FLY, SIMEONE AND GUENDOUZI FLOP
Benfica are the darkest of Champions League horses, records have fallen and Diego Simeone and Matteo Guendouzi only went and played themselves.
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Carlo Ancelotti The most wins ever as a Champions League manager – and still younger than Chris Hughton and Tony Pulis.
Benfica Béla Guttmann will be cursing his luck. Benfica are one of only two European teams who remain unbeaten across all competitions in 2022/23 – and they finished above the other in their group despite the obvious financial disparity.
Six different players scored those crucial goals against Maccabi Haifa to tease a more favourable draw for Benfica, whose name might ordinarily have been welcomed out of the hat by some teams, but not this season.
Roger Schmidt took over a good team in the summer and has made them great. Three of the starters on Wednesday are 23 or younger, five more are aged between 24 and 28 and the other three are 29, 29 and 34. It is an admirable blend of youth and experience, knitted together with an insatiable drive for improvement.
In a year when no club has really laid down a daunting marker of intent yet, Benfica have a genuine chance to achieve something special.
Rico Lewis Little over a year old when Karim Benzema became the youngest player to score on their full Champions League debut in December 2005, Rico Lewis set a new benchmark to inspire a Manchester City comeback.
Pep Guardiola noticed “something special” in the teenager during pre-season, but as ever the ability comes second to attitude. The manager praised the “intelligence” of his newest squad member first and foremost for a reason.
“Sometimes you think we’ll have to buy full-backs, knowing how expensive it is,” Guardiola added, in full knowledge of the amount Manchester City have invested in that position over the years. “But we can give someone from the academy the chance. That’s the dream. It is good for the economy of the club and we can rely on him.”
To have and embrace that responsibility at just 17 is astonishing. Lewis will remember that evening while lifting the Ballon d’Or in 2039.
Eintracht Frankfurt Europa League semi-final in 2019. Europa League last 16 in 2020. Europa League winners in 2022. Champions League last 16 in 2022. It has been a remarkably satisfying trajectory for a club that continues to break even at worst in the transfer market – Randal Kolo Muani, scorer of the winner against Sporting, joined for free from Nantes in the summer – and whose natural growth is the envy of those with more money but less sense.
Mehdi Taremi In 442 minutes with Mehdi Taremi on the pitch in the Champions League this season, Porto’s aggregate score was 11-1. In 98 minutes without him, it was 1-6.
It was Taremi who missed a glorious chance in the closing stages of a 1-1 draw against Portugal at the last World Cup when a goal would have put Iran into the knockout stages for the first time. The 30-year-old took that personally, joining Rio Ave in summer 2019, then Porto a year later, scoring 20 goals in all three of his seasons in Europe. He will return to Qatar in the form of his life and desperate to make amends.
Antonio Conte A record of 32 wins, nine draws and 14 defeats, with 106 goals scored and 57 conceded, as well as a Champions League last-16 berth and third place in the Premier League, does not sound like a half-bad way for Antonio Conte to round off his first year as Spurs manager.
It remains a mystery as to whether they are any good or not but the Italian has undeniably imbued them with an unbreakable spirit and a penchant for suffering.
Coming from behind in such a raucous atmosphere without Heung-min Son, Cristian Romero, Dejan Kulusevski and Richarlison is testament to their mental strength. Topping an admittedly welcoming group with Harry Kane only scoring one goal was not foreseen. And the debate over the means will go on but until the end is no longer justified, Conte won’t care a jot.
Ibrahima Konate Liverpool have lost only one of the 28 games Ibrahima Konate has started since he joined. It was the Champions League final so that isn’t exactly ideal but it’s a solid old record which hints at defensive improvement, provided they can keep him fit and available.
Bayern Munich A perfect group stage which simultaneously proves how ridiculously brilliant and effective they are, while also allowing room for Eurosceptic pundits to completely ignore their credentials because they haven’t done anything in the knockouts yet.
Bayern have five players on two goals or more this Champions League campaign, opened the scoring in the 10th minute or earlier in three of their six games, led for 406 of a possible 540 minutes and conceded only to Viktoria Plzen. It was an almost flawless stroll from Julian Nagelsmann’s side to squeeze the life out of a supposed Group of Death and they remain one of the favourites for the crown.
Simon Mignolet Kept two clean sheets in 23 Champions League appearances before this season. Has five clean sheets in six Champions League appearances in 2022/23.
Viktoria Plzen Have broken into the top 10 for all-time worst Champions League goal difference, joint with Rangers on -46 and behind Dynamo Kyiv (-48), BATE Borisov (-52) Besiktas (-57), Celtic (-62), Dinamo Zagreb (-69), Olympiakos (-71), Anderlecht (-76), Galatasaray (-83). We go again next year.
Olivier Giroud Now has more Champions League goals than Fernando Torres, Gareth Bale, Nicolas Anelka, Mario Mandzukic and Steven Gerrard.
Xabi Alonso No wonder he’s sixth-favourite to replace Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool with a touch like that.
Diego Simeone For the first time since 2010/11, when Quique Sanchez Flores could not navigate a Europa League group containing Bayer Leverkusen, Aris and Rosenborg, Atletico Madrid will not feature in Europe competition in a season beyond Christmas.
Flores left that summer, to be replaced by Gregorio Manzano. Lasting only six months before being sacked, Diego Simeone was then appointed in the first step of a transformative period for both manager and club.
The cycle is almost over. There is the distant chance of salvation in La Liga – and Simeone certainly performs at his optimal level when the chorus of opposition grows against him and it seems as though a painful uncoupling is necessary – but he and Atletico are chasing an impossible dream to their detriment.
Two runners-up medals will create that problem. Those excruciating defeats in 2014 and 2016 have formed an itch that Simeone and Atletico will never be able to scratch. Their time was then but irrefutably not now. Key players have long since moved on, investment has not been efficient enough and more than a decade of using the same methods has taken its toll.
Simeone is the highest-paid manager in world football on a contract that runs until 2024. He won’t jump; he’s too stubborn. Atletico won’t push him; they’re too skint. Neither will blink first, nor will either catch up with the contemporaries they used to run rings around. The only hope is that another 18 months of this does not damage the reputation of a phenomenal coach or a successful club, both of whom need a clean break, proper rest and fresh start.
Matteo Guendouzi Gave away the free-kick from which Clement Lenglet equalised, then needlessly surrendered the ball to launch Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg’s winner on the counter-attack.
It subsequently emerged that the Marseille players were unaware a draw would have sent them into the Europa League, despite those on the bench knowing full well that Sporting’s defeat to Eintracht Frankfurt left the Ligue Un side third in the group if they held onto a point. That failure was attributed by manager Igor Tudor to the “noise” of the stadium but that hardly excuses the lethargy and carelessness with which Guendouzi played that last pass.
For the third successive Champions League campaign, Marseille finished bottom of the group. They won one of a combined 12 games in 2020/21 and 2013/14 but this was a different brand of excruciatingly avoidable incompetence.
Rangers Literally the worst team in Champions League history. It’s a sort of achievement. Rangers could have forfeited every game and been two goals better off. If they had scored with every shot on target they had while still conceding the same amount of goals, they would still not have won a single game: 4-4 v Ajax (a), 3-3 v Napoli (h), 2-2 v Liverpool (a), 2-7 v Liverpool (h), 3-1 v Napoli (a), 3-3 v Ajax (h).
Giovanni van Bronckhorst stated that Rangers “can’t compete” with teams like Ajax after the opening defeat and he doubled down on that claim after rounding off a miserable group by losing against the Dutch. They operate on a different financial level to the sides they were drawn against but in a competition that often springs surprise results along the way, the only upset Rangers caused was to their own supporters.
Celtic Also pretty rubbish, despite not even being the worst team from their city.
But Ange Postecoglou isn’t quite as keen to reach for the excuses. “The responsibility lies with me because I have taken a bold approach to try and make an impact,” he said after the defeat to Real Madrid rounded off a campaign which rendered four goals from 76 shots, including 14 at the Bernabeu.
“We have paid the price for not having the quality and clinical finishing at one end and the opposition taking advantage at the other. The key for us is if we continue to play like this and continue to improve and we continually get to Champions League level then I have no doubt that we’ll make an impact.”
There are different ways to fail; Celtic’s seems far more preferable – and crucially intent on introspection instead of blaming external factors – than the Rangers approach.
Juventus Juventus have won two of their last 10 Champions League games – they were against Maccabi Haifa and Malmo.
Five defeats is the second-most Juventus have ever suffered in a single European season behind the six games they lost in 2002/03 – when they played 17 times across two group stages to reach the Champions League final.
Juventus did not lose a single home match in the Champions League between March 2004 and December 2009, then again between April 2013 and April 2018 – they have suffered at least one European defeat at home in five of the last six seasons.
And it really is very funny.
Paris Saint-Germain Probably shouldn’t be finishing second in consecutive Champions League groups but there you go.
Amar Dedic “It will be a tough game and a good duel between him and me,” said the Salzburg right-back of his impending battle with Rafael Leao. It did not go well.
Donyell Malen No goals – and only one assist – in 12 Champions League and Bundesliga games this season. Behold, a Borussia Dortmund forward Manchester City won’t want.