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Champions League progress: How to navigate the tournament

As this season’s group stage comes to a head and fans start looking ahead to the round of 16 in the spring, we have analysed every match under the current format to identify the patterns that matter in terms of Champions League progress.

How many points do teams need to qualify?

After four matches, the pivotal number of points for qualification is five. Since the competition’s format was last changed in 2003, almost half (49%) of the teams with five points on the board went on to finish as either winners or runners-up.

This suggests that Atletico Madrid’s qualification hopes hang in the balance, as they sit second in Group A but with only five points on the board. With runaway leaders Bayern Munich still to play, it could all come down to their trip to Salzburg in the final round of games.

The bar rises to seven points after five rounds of matches, with 46% of clubs hitting this mark going through to the round of 16. The job isn’t done at this point though, with the same proportion finishing first or second after reaching the eight-point mark in their final game.

This means that Inter Milan’s hopes of Champions League progress aren’t yet extinguished. While only 6% of clubs with two points from their first four matches have gone on to reach the knockout phase, victories in the final two rounds would see them reach the eight-point mark.

For those clubs who fail to qualify but are able to secure third place, passage into the Europa League means that their hopes of silverware are very much alive.

In the six seasons that this system has been in place, three Europa League finals have been won by a team that started the season in the Champions League.

Inter became the third last season and could repeat the trick. They defeated Shakhtar Donetsk – who followed the same trajectory – en route to their triumph and would have to do so again: the Ukrainian side are their visitors in the final round of group matches.

What are the ingredients of success in the knockouts?

A rampant performance in the group stage is not always a good omen for the knockout stages.

There have been 11 Champions League finalists who won fewer than 12 points in the group stage, including two winners of the competition who managed just nine.

Meanwhile another 11 teams finished with at least 15 points in their group but were eliminated in the round of 16.

Home advantage plays an increasingly important role as the knockout stages unfold. In the round of 16, a home team winning the first leg of a tie has gone on to progress 56% of the time: barely more than half.

However, this rises to 68% – more than two-thirds – for the quarter-finals and again to a whopping 84% in the semi-finals. Therefore anyone banking on a second-leg turnaround should proceed with caution in the later rounds.

The nationalities of the respective teams in a tie can also play a part in determining Champions League progress.

Premier League clubs have fared poorly against those from La Liga but dealt comfortably with opponents from Serie A and outside the ‘big five’ European leagues.

Bundesliga teams have made the shortest work of ties pitting them against clubs from weaker divisions, but have in turn been the most vulnerable when facing Ligue 1 sides.

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