The Champions League group stage went out with a bang

The Champions League group stage spent most of its time getting maligned, a few of that in unhealthy religion from the most important golf equipment who simply needed to mould the competitors to their whims. However their important argument held lots of water, which was that it lacked drama or suspense, as for essentially the most half the highest golf equipment in Pot 1 would stroll by way of just about unmolested into the knockout levels whereas nonetheless having to play matches in backwaters (to them) in Denmark or Belgium or Croatia or sometimes Moldova.

That doesn’t imply the group stage didn’t have its charms – its rhythm, its sensical format and clear presentation. Whereas it may not have had all the drama, it nonetheless had greater than sufficient to make all of it appear value it. The group stage could also be shopping for the farm now (extra on that in a bit), but it surely went down how all of us can hope to: Weapons blazing, reminding everybody what it was able to, and what we’ll miss.

Most of Matchday 6’s theater-on-its-deathbed was offered on Wednesday in Group F, which was regarded as the Group of Demise when the draw was made all the best way again in September. This type of pleasure is constructed on what’s occurring in two completely different locations, with followers and groups alike ready for information from one other stadium a whole bunch of miles away, and the way it impacts what’s occurring the sphere in entrance of them. Which is what Group F offered.

Heading into the evening, solely Borussia Dortmund had booked their place within the final 16, itself a narrative in that their Bundesliga season has been wonky as all get out, they will’t actually defend anybody and had simply misplaced their greatest participant from final season (Jude Bellingham). They have been extensively picked to complete dead-ass final within the group and ended up profitable it.

That left PSG, AC Milan and Newcastle all attempting to scramble the second qualification spot (whereas PSG may nonetheless win the group), all attempting to keep away from being dumped out of Europe altogether, and all not likely certain what to make of being given the comfort of a Europa League playoff-round spot. And the permutations meant that each aim would reshuffle who was lined up for what, precisely what you need on the final day of a bunch stage.

The 2 settings definitely helped, as a extra raucous environment than both St. James’ Park or the Westfalenstadion in Dortmund. The baying Geordies would by no means let a flagging Newcastle staff let down and Dortmund’s behavior of doing every thing in essentially the most bonkers trend doable meant that we might get two matches to bounce between that will be performed at online game tempo. Particularly in Newcastle, the place a draw wouldn’t assist both the house staff or Milan, so that they each needed to go for it.

And it didn’t take lengthy for the motion to get to a meth degree. Despite the fact that Dortmund solely wanted a draw to win the group and had already certified, their resolution to fixing their leaky protection appears to be simply tossing it within the deep finish and ready for it to be taught to swim. They nonetheless pushed their fullbacks insanely excessive with barely any midfield safety, leaving their two sluggish centerbacks to take care of Kylian Mbappe and Bradley Barcola.

So inside 1 / 4 of an hour we bought Kang-in Lee lacking from right here:

And than Niklas Sule one way or the other stopping a Mbappe aim with this:

An excellent higher angle:

Dortmund additionally usual their very own possibilities, largely down PSG’s left, with the 2 groups combining for 15 photographs within the first half. It was despatched into overdrive about half an hour in when information filtered in that Newcastle had scored. And, in fact, that aim needed to be a banger:

Which meant that Newcastle have been going by way of, PSG have been headed to the Europa League and Milan have been out. Which solely souped up PSG’s assault extra, which additionally left them much more open defensively. With Milan additionally having to chase the match, we had simultaneous adrenaline rushes.

It solely bought amped up early within the second half when Dortmund took the lead. PSG have been at panic stations, which meant it was Mbappe time and he arrange their equalizer simply 5 minutes later:

That aim didn’t imply a lot in the mean time, with Newcastle profitable, PSG have been nonetheless headed out. However a pair minutes later, Christian Pulisic scored for Milan, placing PSG again within the second spot, Newcastle within the Europa League and Milan nonetheless out of every thing. And once more, a draw didn’t do something for both Newcastle or Milan, which gave followers the uncommon spectacle of a match that’s tied however each groups completely going for it as a substitute of 1 simply attempting to carry on for some extent. 10 minutes later they pressured Milan keeper Mike Maignan into this:

It was made all of the extra dramatic as Newcastle’s legs have been actually giving out with all they’ve been by way of of late with their damage disaster, which means Milan was getting 3-on-2 and 2-on-1 breaks on the reg.

In the meantime, Dortmund for no different motive than to simply be mischievous, have been nonetheless going for the win that they didn’t really want and didn’t name off the canines till the ultimate jiffy. PSG have been residing on the sting and when Milan took the lead within the 84th minute, it meant that ought to PSG surrender a late winner, they’d be out and Milan would undergo. Lastly, round damage time, Dortmund went down a gear and so they and PSG performed out a fairly tame previous couple of minutes whereas Newcastle by no means regarded like hauling something again again within the northeast of England. Perhaps the PSG executives have been capable of “get the message” to Dortmund’s, who is aware of? So PSG by way of, Milan to the Europa League, Newcastle out on their ass.

All within the span of 90 minutes, PSG went from going by way of to going out to going by way of once more, Newcastle went from going to Europa League to going by way of to the knockouts to again to the Europa League to going out of European competitors altogether. And Milan went from useless final to going by way of to ending the evening within the Europa League. It’s unhappy that a lot of the group hinged on the bullsh*t handball call towards Newcastle in Paris, however then once more, nobody will ever really feel sorry for Newcastle once more.
And it will all go away subsequent 12 months when the match expands to 36 groups and the Swiss Model with no teams, only one massive desk. The place will this combat happen? The battle for twenty fourth to get into the playoff spherical? A tussle over eighth place to keep away from the playoff spherical however nonetheless not dealing with elimination altogether? Certain, we’ll get extra big-time matches out of it with groups in Pot 1 having to play two different groups in Pot 1, however will that make up for shedding this sort of back-and-forth? Will all of us be too weary from eight opening video games as a substitute of six that drags till the top of January as a substitute of mid-December?

As with every thing in European soccer, we in all probability have misplaced one thing to cater to the most important golf equipment’ voracious appetites. At the very least we bought one final reminder of what we had.

Observe Sam on Twitter @Felsgate and on Bluesky

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