A ‘Group of Death’ in the UEFA Champions League is normally referred to a group containing very competitive teams, who have to fight for Champions League survival. Each group has four clubs that are drawn randomly from a bowl. The clubs finishing in the top two spots after the group stage move onto the Round of 16 in the Champions League. The clubs finishing third are relegated to the Europa League and the club finishing last is out of the European competition altogether.
Hence, a ‘Group of Death’ usually consists of teams that are all favourites and there are no underdogs. We have witnessed numerous Groups of Death in Champions League history before. However, we tried to narrow it down to the top five. Let us take a look at our selection.
Tottenham Hotspur, Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund and APOEL | 2017-18
While APOEL wasn’t exactly a favourite in this group, the remaining three were. Tottenham had unqualified their North London rivals Arsenal to deny them Champions League football for the first time in over two decades. Real Madrid were the Champions League winners of the previous season, while Dortmund’s quality was unquestionable. This, on paper, was seen as the Group of Death.
While most fans expected Dortmund to go through to the Round of 16, they finished third and were demoted to the Europa League. Dortmund failed to score points against even the only underdog in the group APOEL, settling for a draw in both fixtures. It was perhaps a miracle that the Yellows and Blacks managed to qualify for the Europa League considering they finished with the same points as APOEL and remained winless in the Champions League group stage.
In what was seen as a great upset, Tottenham finished as group leaders ahead of the defending champions Real Madrid.
Borussia Dortmund, Real Madrid, Ajax and Manchester City | 2012-13
This group saw the champions of their respective leagues in one group to fight for Champions League glory. Dortmund won the Bundesliga for the second time in a row, Real Madrid were Champions of Spain, Ajax won the Dutch league and Manchester City were the Champions of England.
This Group of Death resulted in Ajax being relegated to the Europa League and Man City finishing last. Dortmund and Madrid made it to the Round of 16 as Jurgen Klopp’s Yellow and Blacks made it to the final. To their utter dismay, they were beaten by their league rivals Bayern Munich as Dortmund settled for the silver medal.
Bayern Munich, Benfica, Barcelona and Dynamo Kyiv | 2021-22
This Group of Death managed to deliver arguably the greatest upsets in the recent history of the sport. What should have been a rather easy group for the two football giants in the group was anything but. Bayern Munich cruised to the Round of 16 with a 100 percent record. However, a Messi-less Barcelona lagged behind Portuguese side Benfica and got relegated to the Europa League for the first time since the 2003-04 season.
Benfica joined Bayern in the Round of 16 draws while Dynamo Kyiv finished last. It surely was a tough pill to swallow for Barcelona and its supporters.
Borussia Dortmund, Arsenal, Napoli and Marseille | 2013-14
One of the toughest draws on paper, every club was from a different league in this group. Arsenal from England, Borussia Dortmund from Germany, Napoli from Italy and Marseille from France. Every team was a favourite to at least make it through the group stage. It would surely have been disappointing seeing two of these clubs exit from the Champions League.
However, this ‘Group of Death’ was exhilarating nonetheless as three of these clubs ended their group stage campaign level on points. Arsenal, Dortmund and Napoli had all mustered 12 points each with a hapless Marseille losing all six matches. It had to be settled with goal difference as the Italian side were the unfortunate ones to be relegated to the Europa League.
Barcelona, Inter Milan, Tottenham Hotspur and PSV Eindhoven | 2018-19
In this Group of Death, Barcelona and Inter were seen as the favourites to qualify for the Round of 16, with the battle of third having no favourites as such. However, things took an exciting turn when Spurs managed to beat Inter and draw against Barcelona to keep their Champions League hopes alive.
Although PSV finished last, they did not let up against the Italian side and managed to draw 1-1. Spurs and Inter were level on points as the latter bottled easy fixtures. It was the goal difference that favoured the North London side as they made it through the group stage. Inter had to settle for the Europa League, where they finished third. Barcelona finished on top of the table, without a single loss.
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