For the last time ever, the Champions League group phase concluded this week.
From next season onwards, Europe’s premier club tournament will adopt what’s known as the “Swiss model”. In essence, competing clubs (raised from 32 participants to 36) will be placed into one giant table rather than being drawn into eight groups of four.
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It is a seismic departure from what fans are accustomed to. So to mark the end of an era, we looked back on the best and worst performing teams at this stage in competition history.
Bayern Munich top the ‘all-time Champions League group stage’ table
Three-time Champions League winners Bayern Munich rule this stage of the competition.
Since the adoption of the single-group format in 2003, they’ve averaged the most points (2.34) and goals (2.41) per game. Bayern also boast the best goal difference (+194).
The perennial Bundesliga champions have been nearly ever-present, last missing out in 2007/08 (just their fifth seasonal absence since the Champions League was incepted).
It is worth noting that, by entering as Germany’s number-one-ranked team, Bayern are more often than not a top seed. This means they’re likely to draw lower-quality opposition.
However, as the adage goes, you can only beat what’s in front of you, and on three occasions, Bayern have posted a perfect group stage campaign (2019/20, 2021/22 and 2022/23).
Chelsea the Premier League’s primary rep
For many years following Roman Abramovich’s seismic acquisition, Chelsea became obsessed with Champions League glory.
In 2012, they finally became London’s first men’s European champions, much to Arsenal’s chagrin. That relentless and dogged focus subsequently resulted in further Champions League glory nine years later when they beat Manchester City in the final.
But we’re here to talk about the groups, and the Blues are England’s most successful participation at this stage of the competition.
The aforementioned Bayern, Real Madrid and Barcelona sit in front of Chelsea, with Man City just behind. The gap is no chasm. City registered 2.04 points per game, just 0.04 fewer than Chelsea.
Premier League dominance laid bare
As touched upon, Chelsea and Man City sit high up the standings when it comes to points per game accumulated in this phase of the competition. And, as far as English sides go, they are not alone.
Half of the sides in the top 10 represent the Premier League, with Liverpool, Arsenal and Man Utd also included.
However, when it comes to winning every group stage game during a single campaign, only Liverpool and Man City from England can hold up their hands. Liverpool’s impressive achievement came during the 2021/22 season, which catapulted Jurgen Klopp’s men to another final — although Real Madrid (most notably Thibaut Courtois) proved to be a bridge too far in Paris. And Man City joined the bunch in the final group stage in 2023/24, going perfect as they look to defend their Champions League crown.
Leicester City the best one-season wonder
As for teams who played just one Champions League season during the group-phase era, we have Blackburn Rovers, Kaiserslautern, Montpellier, AZ, Twente and İstanbul Başakşehir.
But it is Leicester City who top the pile. Indeed, the Foxes are the best one-season wonder in this Champions League period, winning 13 points in a group featuring Porto, FC Copenhagen and Club Brugge. Of these seemingly one-and-done teams, only they and Malaga (2012/13) topped their groups. Both went on to reach the quarter-finals in their respective seasons. Craig Shakespeare was, in fact, the last English manager to get that far in the competition before Frank Lampard oversaw Chelsea’s showdown with Real Madrid in the 2022/23 edition.
The bottom of the pile
The commercialism of football has unfortunately created a widening gap between Europe’s super clubs and those looking from the outside in. This has led to a scenario where teams have finished a Champions League group stage campaign pointless. To date, there have been 22 teams who have ended pointless, a mixture of historic clubs and forgotten one-season participants.
Dinamo Zagreb (2011/12 and 2016/17) hold the unenviable distinction of doing it twice while Fenerbahce (2001/02), Marseille (2013/14), Villarreal (2011/12), Benfica (2017/18), Anderlecht (2004/05), Dynamo Kyiv (2007/08), Besiktas (2021/22) and Rangers (2022/23) are some eye-catching names. Focusing on PPG, the already mentioned Dinamo Zagreb average the fewest points, excluding teams to play in fewer than five seasons. Scottish fans might want to look away with both Rangers (0.63) and Celtic (0.85) featured in the bottom 10 — the latter slightly climbing the rankings thanks to their final win over Feyenoord.