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The Champions League has kicked off and we are halfway through the group stages. The first three match weeks should have pleased soccer fans all over the world with all the great soccer played and the many goals scored. Before the second half of the group stages start on November 5, it is best to take a look at how the groups are shaping up so far:

Group A:

1. Manchester United (7 points)

2. Bayer Leverkusen (6 points)

3. Shaktar Donetsk (4 points)

4. Real Sociedad (0 points)

The current standing of this group isn’t all that surprising. Manchester United were always group favorites with either Shaktar or Bayer Leverkusen finishing in second. Currently, no team is guaranteed first place, but Manchester United should go on to protect its advantage in the upcoming three matches while Bayer Leverkusen and Shaktar Donetsk fight it out for second place. The most critical match for the two will be the match on November fifth as Leverkusen will be visiting Shaktar Donetsk. The match in Germany had finished 4-0 in Bayer Leverkusen’s favor, so Shaktar Donetsk will look to grab a win and pull ahead of them. How the two teams fare against Manchester United (Bayer Leverkusen will be playing at home, while Shaktar will be travelling to England) could also be decisive. However, Real Sociedad, as a young squad, will still be looking to make at least some impact and maybe even finish third for a place in the Europa League. Other teams in the group should watch out for their matches with Real Sociedad as the Spanish side may end up upsetting the opposition.

Group B:

1. Real Madrid (9 points)

2. Galatasaray (4 points)

3. Juventus (2 points)

4. Copenhagen (1 point)

Group B started off with a bit of a shocker as Juventus tied Copenhagen in Denmark, while Real Madrid smashed Galatasaray 6-1 in Istanbul. Although Juventus had tied with the weakest link of the group, Galatasaray’s weak display hinted that Juventus may not be challenged after all by Galatasaray. However, the next two matches quickly changed that. Juventus tied Galatasaray in Italy and lost to Real Madrid in Spain. Galatasaray picked up three points against Copenhagen in Istanbul. Real Madrid now sits comfortably on top of the group and it will be near impossible to see them not qualify for the knockout stages of the Champions League. As for the second team to qualify, it will most probably be between Galatasaray and Juventus as Copenhagen will not have the power to make the entire run to qualify for the knockout stages. They may make another surprise like the 1-1 draw against Juventus. Juventus will have the advantage of playing in Italy for two of their remaining matches, while Galatasaray will play two games on the road. However, if it comes down to the last match of the group, then Galatasaray will truly have the home team advantage as Juventus will face Galatasaray in Istanbul to conclude the group stage for both teams. In such a case, it will be an extremely difficult environment for Juventus to play in and Galatasaray may actually finish second, leaving Juventus in third. I advise that all soccer fans keep a keen eye on this group as things will definitely get interesting.

Group C:

1. Paris Saint-Germain (9 points)

2. Olympiacos (4 points)

3. SL Benfica (4 points)

4. RSC Anderlecht (0 points)

Group C has seen Paris Saint-Germain dominate in all departments. They have put on some of the finest displays of Champions League soccer while scoring 12 goals in three matches and only conceding one. It is safe to say that Paris Saint-Germain will finish in first. Second place is still up for grabs. Anderlecht has failed to get a single point in the first three matches. It will be difficult for them to even finish third, let alone second given their disadvantage. The battle for second place will be between Olympiacos and SL Benfica. The two teams tied in Portugal 1-1, both beat Anderlecht and both lost to Paris Saint-Germain. They are quite similar in form, though Benfica does seem to have more quality than Olympiacos. On Nov. 5, Olympiacos and Benfica will face off in Greece and the outcome of the match will give soccer fans a clearer idea on which team will finish second. If it happens to be a draw, both teams will have to be cautious in both of their matches while looking to win as much as possible.

Group D:

1. Bayern Munich (9 points)

2. Manchester City (6 points)

3. CSKA Moscow (3 points)

4. Viktoria Plzen (0 points)

No surprise has been present in Group D as Bayern Munich sit on top with 9 points and the second favorites, Manchester City are three points clear in second place. It is highly unlikely the next three match weeks will change the order of the teams in the group, though certainly they will provide delightful matchups for fans.

Group E:

1. Chelsea (6 points)

2. Schalke 04 (6 points)

3. FC Basel (4 points)

4. Steau Bucharest (1 point)

Group E started with a surprising scoreline: Basel won 2-1 against Chelsea in London. However, Mourinho’s Chelsea managed to pick themselves up to win twice in a row on the road including a decisive 3-0 win over Schalke 04 in Germany. Chelsea will play Schalke 04 in London on Nov. 6. If all goes well for Chelsea in that match, Chelsea will surely finish in first. The second team to qualify for the knockout round would then either be Schalke 04 or Basel. Basel were lucky to have gotten the three points from Chelsea and those three points may prove important in finishing on top of Schalke 04. In any case, the most important match will be Basel playing against Schalke in Germany on the last match week of the group stages. If it comes to this match Schalke will have the home team advantage and will probably finish on top of Basel.

Group F:

1. Arsenal (6 points)

2. Borussia Dortmund (6 points)

3. SSC Napoli (6 points)

4. Olympique de Marseille
(0 points)

Before Champions League play had started, this group was one of trickiest in determining who would advance. The first three match weeks have proved this is still the case as three teams are equal in points and there is no clear favorite to qualify. Arsenal has been playing some terrific soccer especially with the addition of Mesut Ozil to the squad, but they lost the match against Borussia Dortmund in England on Oct. 22. They will be travelling to Germany to face off against Dortmund on Nov. 6 and this match will be very important in determining the fate of both clubs, (but especially Arsenal’s) in the group. Napoli has been one of the best performing clubs in Europe this season and Dortmund is always a lethal team. Each match week from hereon in will present us with at least one critical and exciting match. The standings will come down to the wire in this group, so do keep a good watch on them.

Group G:

1. Atletico Madrid (9 points)

2. Zenit St. Petersburg (4 points)

3. FC Porto (3 points)

4. Austria Wien (1 point)

Atletico Madrid has been phenomenal this year, showing that they can perform just as well, if not better, without Falcao. Their form has reflected into their Champions League group as they sit comfortably on top with 9 points. They have almost nearly guaranteed qualification for the knockout rounds and will probably finish second in the group. Zenit and Porto will fight it out for second place and the match between the two sides in Russia on Nov. 6 will give soccer fans a better idea on how the group will shape up.

Group H:

1. FC Barcelona (7 points)

2. AC Milan (5 points)

3. Celtic (3 points)

4. Ajax (1 point)

This group has been somewhat surprising. Barcelona was expected to finish first and are on the path of doing so, but they dropped a point against Milan. Thus, Milan will have their hopes up going into the match in Spain on Nov. 6. It is unlikely that Milan will come away with a win, but the win is still in the cards for them. The actual surprise has been the fact that Celtic is ahead of Ajax. Ajax seemed like the better squad before the matches kicked off, but Celtic got the best of them in Scotland, 2-1. If Ajax still wants to finish third to qualify for the Europa League, they have to bounce back from that loss when they play Celtic in Netherlands. Either team may still make a run for second place depending on how Milan fares with the injuries their squad is faced with now. This group is still up in the air except for Barcelona’s place in first.