How to navigate the Champions League group stage

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With this season’s Champions League group stage having kicked off, fans will no doubt be keen to see their team get off to a good start, but just how important is it and what else can you do to ensure a successful campaign?

We’ve analysed every group stage – and beyond – for the last 14 seasons of the competition, back to when the current format was introduced, to work out what success looks like in Europe’s premier club competition.

It pays to get off to a good start

Losing one match obviously isn’t the end of the world, but the margins can be fine in such small groups and almost half of clubs who won their opening game went on to qualify as group winners.

Meanwhile just over half of teams who drew their first match went on to be eliminated, along with almost three quarters of those who began with a defeat. After two winless matches, the chances of being eliminated grow to almost 90%, so a poor start cannot be shrugged off easily.

How many points do you need at each stage?

To enable fans to track their team’s progress in the competition, we’ve calculated how many points eventual winners, runners-up and eliminated clubs had after each round of matches on average. A runner-up usually finishes with around 10 points and has half of these on the board after three matches, so more than one defeat from the first three games is usually enough to sink most campaigns.

There is no need to strive for perfection though, as neither of the only two teams to have won all six matches – Real Madrid on both occasions – did not go on to win the competition that season.

Winning the group makes a difference

It is important not to rest on your laurels during the final rounds of Champions League group stage matches, as qualifying as outright group winners confers a considerable benefit. Over seven out of every 10 ties in the Round of 16 have seen clubs who won their group go on to qualify for the next stage and as a result occupy 22 of the last 28 final berths.

It takes a particularly special team to prevail after finishing second in their group, with four of the six to have reached the final going on to triumph, including Liverpool’s famous 2005 ‘miracle of Istanbul’ and Jose Mourinho’s 2010 treble-winning Inter side.

What about the ‘group of death’?

Much was made of Tottenham being drawn into the ‘group of death’, so we wanted to see just how tough their task was. Using UEFA’s club coefficients, we measured the difficulty of every group since the current format was initiated, and the prognosis is not good for Mauricio Pochettino’s side. Group H has the largest combined coefficient of all, although Group D – home to Barcelona and last year’s beaten finalists Juventus – runs it close.

Worse still for Spurs is the news that no club ranked third in their group – as they are – has ever qualified from the toughest group in the last 14 seasons, so their fans will be casting envious glances at the likes of Liverpool, who have a far less daunting task ahead of them in Group E.

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Andrew works at the Press Association where he oversees all the company’s sport betting editorial, having previously worked on the Teletext Sport desk and been editor of the England cricket team’s website. A lifelong Huddersfield Town fan, his preferred way to unwind is to head for the hills on his bike.

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