Time to hit the Panic Button? UCL Review

Two matchdays into the UEFA Champions League has left some clubs looking sharp and others looking lost and in peril. For the following notable clubs without a win yet in the Champions League, let’s assess whether or not it’s time to panic yet.

Atalanta

Panic Level: High (0 points, -5 goal difference, and 4th in Group C)

Remaining Fixtures: Manchester City away 10/22, Manchester City home 11/6, Dinamo Zagreb home 11/26, Shakhtar Donetsk away 12/11

Expectations: After an inspired performance in the previous Serie A campaign, Atalanta appeared to have a strong team and momentum needed to advance in a rather forgiving group besides Manchester City.

Reality: A convincing defeat at the hands of Dinamo Zagreb and a last minute winner from Shakhtar Donetsk means Atalanta is all but certain to go out of the Champions League. They need points from Manchester City, the clear favorites of the group, but more than likely they’re playing to at least get to the Europa League.

Best Case Scenario: Atalanta limit the damage done by Manchester City, Zagreb and Shakhtar pick up minimum points against each other, and Atalanta beats them to somehow advance with 7–8 points.

Worst Case Scenario: Atalanta are clearly not as Champions League ready as the Croatian and Ukranian champions, let alone the English champions, and they are eliminated from Europe altogether come December without much of a fight.

Bayer Leverkusen

Panic Level: Moderate (0 points, -4 goal difference, and 4th in Group D)

Remaining Fixtures: Atlético Madrid away 10/22, Atlético Madrid home 11/6, Lokomotiv Moscow away 11/26, Juventus home 12/11

Expectations: Being in a group with Atlético Madrid and Juventus meant that expectations for an interesting, young Bayer Leverkusen side featuring the likes of Kai Havertz, Kerem Demirbay, Jonathan Tah, and Leon Bailey were hopeful at most. They were expected to at least give the big clubs some tough games and take 4–6 points from Lokomotiv Moscow.

Reality: Turns out Lokomotiv Moscow might be the third best team in the group, which means Bayer Leverkusen have to work extra hard to even finish in the Europa League place after losing to the Russians in one of their first two games.

Best Case Scenario: The German club stuns at least one of Atlético Madrid or Juventus at home and gets some payback in Russia. It might not be enough to reach the UCL knockout stage but it sets the stage for a promising Europa League run.

Worst Case Scenario: Another loss to Lokomotiv Moscow effectively ends Bayer Leverkusen’s European season, and this prompts some of their talent to consider the offers they are likely to get from bigger clubs.

Benfica

Panic Level: Moderate (0 points, -3 goal difference, and 4th in Group G)

Remaining Fixtures: Lyon home 10/23, Lyon away 11/5, RB Leipzig away 11/27, Zenit home 12/10

Expectations: The only club in this article not from one of the “Big Five” European Leagues (usually referring to the English Premier League, Spanish Liga, German Bundesliga, Italian Serie A, and French Ligue 1), not many football fans outside of Portugal will care if Benfica doesn’t make it out of this group. Unless you’re a FIFA career mode player and therefore likely used Alejandro Grimaldo, this is a talented but not an eye catching group of players. However, the Portuguese giants would like to believe they could survive this forgiving group of pretenders rather than contenders.

Reality: After losing their first two games, Benfica might not even be pretenders. This was always a tricky group to call, but on paper Benfica didn’t feel like the weakest link. However, looking at the Liga NOS table and seeing Famalicão, which isn’t a traditional Portuguese powerhouse, top of the table at this early stage, it hints things aren’t quite going as expected for Benfica domestically or on the continental front.

Best Case Scenario: Benfica bounce back and win at least 3 of their 4 remaining games, and the parity of this group results in a lot of draws to keep the door open for the Round of 16.

Worst Case Scenario: With each of the other clubs in this group recording a win in their first two games, that is enough of a foundation for two of them to keep Benfica from advancing.

Internazionale

Panic Level: High (1 point, -1 goal difference, and 4th in Group F)

Remaining Fixtures: Dortmund home 10/23, Dortmund away 11/5, Slavia Prague away 11/27, Barcelona home 12/10

Expectations: Since winning the Champions League in 2010 and the decline and exodus of their previous golden generation of players which included Diego Forlan, Wesley Sneijder, Maicon, and Julio Cesar, Inter have been in a long term rebuilding phase both in Italy and Europe. Things have started to pick up in these last few years and trading Romelu Lukaku for Mauro Icardi seemed to be a wise decision at the start of the season. It would be a tossup for them or Dortmund to advance alongside Barcelona.

Reality: When you drop two points at home to Slavia Prague, it goes to show you’re not quite at the level you thought you were. They were also recently humbled in Serie A in a loss to Juventus despite a perfect league start prior to that match. Inter appears to be a team with an easily bruised ego and momentum can leave as quickly as it appears. Also, it doesn’t help when Borussia Dortmund are causing Barcelona problems.

Best Case Scenario: Getting at least 8 points from their remaining 4 games is essential, and hope Barcelona beats Dortmund and Slavia as much as possible.

Worst Case Scenario: Inter gets no help from Barcelona, yet still loses to them at home, and Dortmund keeps their feet on the gas to seal qualification. Europa League won’t be a great consolation prize, unless they somehow win it.

Real Madrid

Panic Level: Very High (1 point, -3 goal difference, and 4th in Group A)

Remaining Fixtures: Galatasaray away 10/22, Galatasaray home 11/6, PSG home 11/26, Club Brugge away 12/11

Expectations: As great as PSG are, Real Madrid’s expectations every year are to win the Champions League. Winning the group is a must.

Reality: Cristiano Ronaldo was an integral part to their success, and although you can do worse than Eden Hazard to fill that void, the old core from the Ronaldo era don’t look quite the same and the new signings still haven’t set the world alight. This team just looks confused, and nearly lost to Club Brugge at home.

Best Case Scenario: Real Madrid’s stars begin to play like stars both at an individual and team level again, ruin riot in their remaining group games, and their confidence is rejuvenated.

Worst Case Scenario: Even Galatarsay and Club Brugge smell blood in the water. If Real Madrid fail to beat Galatasaray at home, possibly even away, the panic and media circus set in and Real Madrid’s collapse happens even earlier than last year when they crashed out at the Round of 16 to Ajax.

Tottenham Hotspur

Panic Level: Moderate/High (1 point, -5 goal difference, and 3rd in Group B)

Remaining Fixtures: Belgrade away 10/22, Belgrade home 11/6, Olympiacos home 11/26, Bayern Munich away 12/11

Expectations: Coming into this campaign as Champions League finalists, getting out of a group with two local giants but European minnows is expected. If they play as well as they can, Spurs could certainly even win the group.

Reality: Spurs might’ve gotten lucky last season. And it showed as the law of averages hit them like a truck in their first two games. They bottled a lead to Olympiacos and Bayern embarrassed them 7–2 at home. It’s in Tottenham’s DNA to melt when the going gets tough, no matter how many star players in Harry Kane, Hugo Lloris, Jan Vertonghen, Heung-min Son, and Christian Eriksen (who seems to have one eye on the exit door) among others they have.

Best Case Scenario: Spurs learn from their mistakes and beat their remaining games against Red Star Belgrade and Olympiacos. Maybe clinging to a draw at the Allianz Arena as well as Bayern also beating minnows as they are expected can shore up qualification to the knockout stage.

Worst Case Scenario: Tottenham Hotspur continues to be their own worst enemy and fail to live up to their performances last season, and have to settle for Europa League where their North London rivals Arsenal would love to rub further salt in the wounds.

How many of these clubs do you think can make it out of their UEFA Champions League group into the knockout stage? Let me know via email (ivaorn@gmail.com) or Twitter (@IvanOrnelas2).

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