Week five of the UEFA Champions League 2015/16 began to bring the next phase of the competition into clear focus, as 10 of the round of 16 slots are now confirmed. Week six of the group stage, which the UEFA has scheduled for December 8th and 9th, will see several on-the-fringe clubs battling for last-minute advancement. For the most part, though, the big title contenders have already secured their round of 16 spots.
The First Qualifiers
When we last checked in with the Champions League, following week four of competition in early November, three teams-Real Madrid, Manchester City, and Zenit St. Petersburg-had already guaranteed themselves advancement into the next round. Zenit St. Petersburg continues to carry the torch as the only team in this year's Champions League to have won all of their group stage matches. They beat Valencia 2-0 this week to fortify their status as one of the best football teams in the tournament.
Real Madrid, meanwhile, also kept an undefeated streak alive, topping Shakhtar Donetsk 4-3. Remarkably, the Vikings were up 4-0 with just 20 minutes left in the match but allowed Shakhtar to score three goals in the space of 11 minutes to end the match. The game was the second consecutive poor showing by Real Madrid, who lost big to FC Barcelona last weekend in the La Liga. The Shakhtar Donetsk game did see Cristiano Ronaldo netting two goals, though, making him the UCL's top scorer for the season with seven goals.
Of the first round of 16 qualifiers, Manchester City was the only one to lose their week five match. Juventus, in spite of a not-so-stellar domestic league season, have been solid in the Champions League. The Italian champs beat Manchester City 2-1 in the first week of UCL competition and won again this week with a 1-0 outcome. The victory puts Juventus at the top of the Group D standings, but both soccer clubs are guaranteed a round of 16 positions.
The New Arrivals
As for the other teams that have now qualified for the round of 16, they are mostly the ones you would have predicted. In Group A, Paris Saint Germain beat Malmo FF 5-0 to secure their knockout stage spot. In Group C, Benfica and Atletico Madrid have the same point total (10) but are so far ahead of their other groupmates (Galatasaray and Astana) that they can't miss out on the round of 16.
Lionel Messi made a resounding return to FC Barcelona in their match against AS Roma, helping the reigning Champions League victors to lock down their round of 16 spot. Messi scored two goals and contributed an assist en route to Barca's 6-1 triumph. Make no mistake: these guys are still the UCL frontrunners.
Finally, Bayern Munich flattened Olympiacos in a 4-0 home game to ensure their knockout stage advancement.
Bayern Munich's win against Olympiacos, in addition to setting the German champions up for the next phase of UCL competition, also opened things up a bit in Group F. Heading into the week, Bayern and Olympiacos were tied at nine points in the group standings. A simple draw would have pushed both teams out of range of Arsenal, who were back at three points after a fairly dismal start to their 2015 2016 Champions League campaign.
Instead, Olympiacos lost big to Bayern Munich, and Arsenal managed a 3-0 win over Dinamo Zagreb, moving within striking distance. The Gunners, now at six points, will need to beat Olympiacos on December 9th to progress. However, because Arsenal won big this week and Olympiacos lost big, the Gunners have an advantage in goal difference that gives them a fighting chance.
An even bigger wildcard at this point is Group B, where Wolfsburg, Manchester United, and PSV Eindhoven all have chances to move to the next stage of the tournament. Man United had a shot to lock down a round of 16 game this week, playing against PSV at home, but stumbled to a scoreless draw that keeps the Dutch team in contention.
Barcelona's domination in Group E leaves Roma, Bayer Leverkusen, and BATE Borisov to wage war for a distant second place. In G, meanwhile, Chelsea and Porto are the likely advancers, but Dynamo Kyiv could play the spoiler role. And in group H, Valencia and Gent are both in the running for second place, behind Zenit St. Petersburg.
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