12 of the 16 teams making it through to the knockout stages were from the big four leagues of England, Germany, Spain and Italy. All four German and English sides made it through, while three of the four Spanish sides made it. A young Real Sociedad, who seemed overawed by the competition were the only ones to fail amongst the Spanish contingent.
The surprising thing was that only one Italian club made it thorough. And even more surprising was the fact that it wasn’t Antonio Conte’s Juventus who have a really strong squad or even the impressive Rafa Bentitez coached Napoli side.
Milan somehow made it through. Yes the same Milan side, which has looked listless for most of the season and is 22 points behind league leaders Juventus in the Serie A. Yet you have to admire their ability to hang in there. 71% possession for Ajax in the final group game and Milan still managed to get a 0-0 draw. They may be going through bad times but they remain a dangerous opponent for any side in the knockouts.
The non-performance of Juventus was a real shock. A side containing the likes of Paul Pogba, Andrea Pirlo, Carlos Tevez, and Fernando Llorente should not be going out at the group stage. Napoli were a bit unlucky. They managed 12 points and still did not qualify. That is the cost of being drawn in the ‘group of death’.
Whatever the reasons, the vital point is that Italian clubs should be doing better in the Champions League. For all the talk about the decline of Italian football, they still have some really talented players plying their trade there.
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