5 Great Champions League Group Stage Upsets
Will there be a major upset in this season's Champions League group stage? Today on the blog Abhisar Gupta takes a look back at some of the biggest shock results over the last decade.
The Champions League remains the pinnacle of European football but for many the group phase is often a tedious formality as the usual suspects coast through. Except a tight group or two, most of the games seem predictable as the giants face off against clubs that just can't compete financially.
The addition of some high quality teams into pots 3 and 4 of the draw has thrown up some interesting battles in recent years but even then it's usually limited to a couple of groups. In light of this, and with the group phases about to begin, I thought it might be worth taking a look at some of the biggest upsets in the opening rounds of games.
#1 : Barcelona 1 - 2 Rubin Kazan 20/10/2009
UEFA Coefficient: Barcelona 121.853 Ranked 1st, Rubin Kazan 9.525 Ranked 29th
Pre-Match Odds: Barcelona 1.13, Draw 8.55, Rubin Kazan 22.80
Guardiola's Barcelona at the peak of their powers faced the easternmost team in the competition at the Camp Nou. Rubin Kazan were Russian Champions from 2008-09, granted, but few fans outside Russia knew much about them.
Going into this match, Kazan were without a win in their short Champions League history but they shocked the crowd in the second minute when Alexandr Ryazantsev scorched Valdes' net with a 35 yard screamer.
The hosts got one back through Ibrahimovic early in the second half but the unheralded visitors again took the lead through a quick counter-attack with 17 minutes to go. Barcelona ended the match with 76 percent possession and 24 attempts at goal, 2 of which hit the wood work, but they weren't able to find another way past Ryzhikov in goal. This was Rubin Kazan's only win that season in the Champions League and they had one more the next season. You know what Barcelona did.
It was a truly stunning result.
#2 : Valencia 0 - 2 Rosenborg 06/11/2007
UEFA Coefficient: Valencia 99.374 Ranked 9th, Rosenborg 31.509 Ranked 32nd
Pre-Match Odds: Valencia 1.26, Draw 5.75, Rosenborg 12.85
Valencia were a dominant force in Spanish football at the turn of the Millennium and even in the 2007-08 season, when they won the Copa Del Rey, Los Che boasted stars like David Villa, David Silva, and Fernando Morientes in their ranks alongside quality players like Vicente, Albelda, Joaquin, and a young Juan Mata.
Rosenborg were a big name in Norwegian football and they qualified for the Champions League 13 times between the years 1995 and 2007. But as is the case with many winners from weaker leagues, they struggled against stronger opposition and only got past the group stages twice. While they did have historic wins over Milan, Real Madrid, and Borussia Dortmund in the final decade of the previous century, Rosenborg entered that season's Champions League with a lowly coefficient that put them at the bottom of pot 4. Despite losing 2-0 in Norway, Valencia were by far the favourites to win at the Mestalla. But this was a season of management changes and internal turmoil for Los Che and they succumbed to a crushing defeat.
Rosenborg created the best chances in the game and Steffen Iversen scored from a well worked counter-attack and a Corner. They could have had more. Valencia finished bottom of the group with 5 points while the Norwegians took the spot above them with 7 points, 6 of which came against the Spanish club.
This result came one day after Ronald Koeman took charge at the Mestalla and showed that big names on the team sheet count for little if they don't work as a unit on the pitch. Shocking results, by definition, are very hard to foresee but, based on form at the time, this was arguably the most predictable of the major surprises and an excellent opportunity to win big.
#3 : AC Milan 0 - 1 FC Zurich 30/09/2009
UEFA Coefficient: AC Milan 110.582 Ranked 5th, FC Zurich 14.05 Ranked 28th
Pre-Match Odds: AC Milan 1.25, Draw 6.00, FC Zurich 12.20
A few weeks before Rubin Kazan shocked the world, FC Zurich pulled off a massive upset of their own. Sitting just one spot above the Russians, the Swiss club making their debut in the modern version of the competition beat a European superpower at San Siro. A sensational back-heel by Finnish defender Hannu Tihinen in the 10th minute from a corner was enough to secure the Swiss side's only win in the group phase. Pirlo, Seedorf, Ronaldinho, Inzhagi, Pato, and the other household names in the Rossoneri ranks mustered over 20 attempts but rarely found the target.
It was Milan's only loss during the group phase but was linked to poor home form where they failed to win a single game in the Champions League that season. It was strange because they won away to Marseille and Real Madrid.
Milan had been struggling at the highest level for the previous couple of seasons and the pressures of the home crowd, used to lofty standards and major titles, could have been a big factor. Identifying trends of clubs on the wane or rise might be one useful way of spotting big upsets in the betting markets.
#4 : AS Roma 1 - 2 CRF Cluj 16/09/2008
UEFA Coefficient: AS Roma 81.934 Ranked 12th, CFR Cluj 13.398 Ranked 29th
Pre-Match Odds: AS Roma 1.30, Draw 5.25, CFR Cluj 11.65
The first decade of this century saw Roma finish very close to the top of Serie A on a regular basis. Spaletti had an excellent team that produced some exciting football but they were also a tad inconsistent as highlighted by this result.
Champions League debutants Cluj astonished everyone by winning their first game in the competition against a club that would eventually finish at the top of the group table. And they did it after going a goal down at the imposing Stadio Olimpico thanks to a couple of crisp left-footed strikes by Argentinean Juan Culio who's never represented his country.
Maybe it was beginners luck or sheer fearlessness of those who've nothing to lose that saw the Romanians over the line. Given that they didn't win any of their remaining five fixtures it probably was more down to Roma's inconsistency. Sometimes bigger clubs that don't always defend well offer good value in the betting markets, particularly when they come up against relatively unknown teams that are capable of having a go.
#5 : Celtic 2 - 1 Barcelona 07/11/2012
UEFA Coefficient: Celtic 32.728 Ranked 25th, Barcelona 157.837 Ranked 1st
Pre-Match Odds: Celtic 10.60, Draw 5.75, Barcelona 1.30
The Catalans are there again. They've just been so consistent in recent years that few would expect them to lose against teams from the fourth pot in the group phases, even away from home. But sometimes opponents can be successful when they are disciplined, diligent, and dogged in defence and nick it on the break with a bit of luck and clinical finishing. Celtic just had 16 percent possession but that was all they needed.
This is also one of the only two games on the list where a win for the home side was a surprise result. Just a day after celebrating their 125th anniversary Neil Lennon's side achieved one of the outstanding results in the club's history. Unlike the other surprise winners above, the win also helped Celtic get through to the second round.
The Other Seismic Results
FC Porto's loss against FC Petrazalka 1898 in 05-06, Eventual Champions Bayern's loss away to BATE Borisov last season, Marseille beating Liverpool at Anfield in 07-08, Panathanaikos winning at the San Siro against Inter Milan in 07-08, and Besiktas winning at Old Trafford in 09-10 are some of the other major surprise results from the last decade.
A lot will depend on the form of teams on any given day but a few match-ups are worth keeping an eye on.
Schalke 04, like Roma above, are a good quality team that can be very inconsistent. It might be worth checking their form and the odds before games against Steaua Bucharest, for instance.
Manchester United have a massive legacy but after a change at the top, and particularly with David Moyes lacking Champions League experience, their games against Real Sociedad from the fourth pot could also get very interesting.
Barcelona are going to meet Celtic again. Lightning doesn't strike twice and all that but the Catalans have looked defensively fragile in the initial games this season.
Keep in mind, though, that of the 96 group phase games, usually only 1 or 2 throw up a major upset. See if you can spot the jackpot.
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Follow Abhisar on Twitter: @goonerdesi
And read more of his work on his blog Desigunner.wordpress