Champions League: Barcelona rests Messi, draws Juventus, highlighting group stage's irrelevance

Barcelona’s Andres Iniesta and Juventus’ Paulo Dybala battled in midfield while Leo Messi rested on the Barca bench. (Getty)

Eight Champions League matches were contested on Wednesday. Barring major upsets two weeks later, none of them – not a single one of the eight – really mattered.

The games featured several title contenders and a few surprising results, but in the grand scheme of European football, they were pretty irrelevant. Part of their irrelevance is circumstantial. Part of it is hierarchical. The gap between the elite and what used to be their challengers has widened. But that’s another discussion for another day.

Whatever the reasons, the second half of the penultimate matchday will likely have no impact on the ultimate outcome off the competition. Atletico Madrid beat Roma, but will need a win over Chelsea and a Qarabag result in Rome to advance to the knockout stages. Manchester United lost to Basel, but will almost certainly qualify for the Round of 16 despite of its shortcomings in Switzerland.

A draw between Barcelona and Juventus helped distinguish Group D winner from runner-up. But that distinction has only a minimal impact on the Round of 16. Bayern Munich won to keep its hopes of top spot in Group B alive as well, but will need to beat PSG by four goals on the final matchday to pip the Parisians for first place.

The games weren’t completely uneventful. Below is a recap of all the action. But the implications will make the day a forgettable one.

Griezmann keeps Atletico alive

Atletico Madrid needed a win over Roma at Estadio Wanda Metropolitano to stay alive. It got it, courtesy of an acrobatic Antoine Griezmann wondergoal:


Kevin Gameiro sealed the victory late on after Roma’s Bruno Peres had been sent off. But, as mentioned above, the three points bring Atletico to just six on the campaign. Roma is on eight. Earlier in the day, Chelsea beat 10-man FK Qarabag 4-0 to bring it to 10 points and confirm its progression.

That means Atletico will have to win at Stamford Bridge on Matchday 6 to advance. It will also need Qarabag to go to Rome and either win or draw. (Atletico would have the tiebreaker over Roma.)

Assuming Roma does win, the only implications at the top of the group will be winner versus runner-up. Chelsea would need to beat Atletico to secure top spot. (Roma would have the tiebreaker over Chelsea in the event of a Blues draw.)

PSG smashes Celtic, Bayern labors to win

The two Group B giants haven’t dropped points against the two Group B minnows. Anderlecht almost ended that streak in Belgium on Wednesday. It was level at 1-1 with Bayern with 15 minutes remaining. But Corentin Tolisso’s 77th-minute goal secured three points for the Bavarians.

Meanwhile, PSG ran circles around Celtic in Paris. The visitors scored less than 60 seconds into the match, but the hosts proceeded to score seven.


They broke the Champions League group stage goal record with more than 90 minutes to spare. They’ve tallied 24 in five matches. They’ve also only conceded one. They’re surpassing lofty expectations, and appear to be one of the favorites for the European throne.


The game that decided the group, however, came two months ago. PSG beat Bayern 3-0 in September. Because of the head-to-head tiebreakers, Munich will have to win by four goals back home to win the group. Otherwise, it’ll finish second.

The Barcelona-Juventus snoozer

Juventus essentially needed to beat Barcelona by four goals for Wednesday’s match to matter. Needless to say, it didn’t do that. Barcelona was so sure the Italians weren’t going to do that that it rested Lionel Messi. His 35-minute second-half cameo marked his first Champions League appearance off the bench in five seasons.

The match finished 0-0, and left Juventus just one point ahead of Sporting Clube de Portugal, which beat Olympiacos 3-1. But Sporting travels to Barca on Matchday 6, and will need to win. It will also need Juventus to drop points at bottom-feeder Olympiacos. As long as one of those two things doesn’t happen, Barcelona will finish first, and Juve second.

United loses late, still likely to top group

An 89th-minute goal from Michael Lang condemned Manchester United to its first loss of the 2017-18 Champions League. The goal put Basel in great position to finish as the Group A runner-up.

But the loss almost certainly won’t have any ramifications for the Red Devils. They sit atop the group on 12 points, with both Basel and CSKA Moscow – which beat Benfica 2-0 Wednesday – on nine points. Even if, on Matchday 6, Basel were to beat Benfica and United were to lose to CSKA, the first tiebreaker in case of a three-way tie is points in games between the three tied teams. The second is goal differential in those games. All three of United, Basel and CSKA would be tied on head-to-head results, but United’s goal differential against those two is plus-5. Basel’s is minus-1. CSKA’s is minus-4.

United, therefore, would have to lose by five goals at home against CSKA to drop to second. It would have to lose by seven goals to drop all the way to third and suffer elimination.

So while United’s loss, just like many other results, seemed relevant, in all likelihood it, and they, were not.

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Henry Bushnell covers soccer – the U.S. national teams, the Premier League, and much, much more – for FC Yahoo and Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at henrydbushnell@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell.