Top 10 moments from the Champions League group stage: Jude Bellingham breaks out with Real Madrid and more

Written by on February 12, 2024

The UEFA Champions League is back from its winter break on Tuesday with the round of 16, and the promise that the knockout rounds will be just as entertaining as the group stage.

This season’s edition of the group stage delivered dramatic moments, from memorable goals to star-making turns and season-defining results for a handful of Europe’s top teams. It was far from a straightforward campaign for most, since only two teams — Manchester City and Real Madrid — won a perfect six games out of six, providing plenty of intrigue as the last 16 prepare to continue their Champions League journeys.

Last fall’s matches serve as a fitting farewell to the Champions League as we know it, since the competition will be expanded from 32 to 36 teams as it switches to the so-called Swiss Format. Starting next season, the Champions League will feature a lengthier group stage campaign that runs until the end of January, and the wait for the knockouts will be just a few weeks.

With the Champions League’s final winter break for the foreseeable future in the books, here’s a look at the top 10 moments from the group stage. As always you can catch all the action as the Champions League returns across CBS, Paramount+, CBS Sports Network and CBS Sports Golazo Network.

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10. Xavi Simons’ goal against Cvena zvezda

There were 286 goals scored during the group stage this season and several of them were stunners, Xavi Simons’ first-ever Champions League goal included. The young midfielder took a strike from distance on Matchday 2, sending the ball straight into the top right corner to help his team to a 3-1 win and boost his own stock in the process.

9. Napoli 1, Union Berlin 1

First time Champions League participants Union Berlin had a rough go of things by finishing dead last in Group C with zero wins, and at one point had a 12-game losing streak. Their woeful run came to an end in surprising fashion with a 1-1 draw against reigning Italian champions Napoli on Matchday 4 thanks to a goal from David Datro Fofana. While it was a bright spot for Union, the draw also provided a turning point in Napoli’s season — they replaced Rudi Garcia with Walter Mazzarri just days later, though their struggles have, if anything, increased since then.

8. Alvaro Morata’s goal against Celtic

One of the most lopsided matches of the group stage was Atletico Madrid’s 6-0 win over Celtic on Matchday 4, which served as the perfect platform for the in-form Alvaro Morata and Antoine Griezmann to showcase their side’s credentials for making a deep run in Europe. Morata in particular showed off with this goal, in which he demonstrated from fancy footwork before taking a powerful strike from the edge of the penalty area.

7. Sevilla crash out of Europe

It feels like a running joke that every time Sevilla compete in the Champions League, they are destined to drop down to the Europa League to win their favorite continental competition yet again. The seven-time Europa League champions, though, finished bottom of Group B and were out of the race for the Champions League knockouts by Matchday 5, when they took a 2-0 lead over PSV only to go down a man in the 66th minute and then concede three goals. American Ricardo Pepi scored the game’s final goal that day, and then a loss to Lens on Matchday 6 sealed their fate.

6. Shakhtar Donetsk 1, Barcelona 0

Barcelona’s form has been all over the place for the last few months, leading Xavi to announce his departure at the end of the season. The first nail in the coffin, though, arguably came in the team’s 1-0 defeat to Shakhtar Donetsk on Matchday 4 that snapped Barcelona’s perfect start to Champions League play. La Liga’s reigning champions were the dominant side throughout but offered little going forward, leaving the opportunity for Shakhtar to capitalize if the situation presented itself, and it did with Danylo Sikan’s 40th minute goal.

5. Warren Zaire-Emery breaks out

In the first Champions League season without Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, there was room for Europe’s rising stars to take their place. While Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland feel like their natural successors, an honorable mention must go towards 17-year-old Warren Zaire-Emery. The Paris Saint-Germain midfielder has settled in seamlessly into Europe’s top ranks, and was perhaps his side’s most consistent player as they navigated their way out of an uber-competitive Group F.

4. Paris Saint-Germain 1, Newcastle United 1

Speaking of Group F, it is hard to nail down just one memorable moment from a group that was dramatic from start to finish. One of the most notable events, though, came on Matchday 5 when PSG rescued a late point after VAR stepped in and awarded them a penalty. That day saw a major shift in the standings, making a round of 16 berth more likely for PSG and Borussia Dortmund, who beat AC Milan 3-1, while Newcastle’s knockout hopes dwindled even though they once topped that group. The moment also inspired yet another discussion about VAR, this time about how to call a handball.

3. Ivan Provedel’s goal against Atletico Madrid

The most exciting goal of the group stage arguably came on Matchday 1, when Lazio goalkeeper Ivan Provedel scored in the dying moments of his side’s 1-1 draw with Atleti. Provedel came up for a corner and scored skillfully off a header, becoming only the second goalkeeper to score in the Champions League group stage and the fourth ever shot-stopper to score in the competition.

2. Bayern Munich 4, Manchester United 3

Few storylines were as attention-grabbing as Manchester United’s horrid Champions League campaign, which was doomed from the start with a dramatic loss on Matchday 1. Their opening day loss was emblematic of their whole run with plenty of goals, shambolic defending and a complete inability to take control of the game. This match, though, was also notable for Andre Onana’s mistake to concede the opening goal, which compelled the goalkeeper to request a post-match interview with CBS Sports in order to take responsibility for the result.

1. Jude Bellingham’s goal against Napoli

No one’s star shone as bright at Jude Bellingham’s did during the group stage, with the Englishman beginning life with Real Madrid in jaw-dropping form. He scored four goals and picked up three assists in five Champions League matches, and perhaps the most notable of them was his strike against Napoli. His stunning individual effort was the highlight of Real Madrid’s 3-2 win, and the match itself was emblematic of the team’s attack-first strategy that is poised to light up Europe for at least a few more weeks.

The post Top 10 moments from the Champions League group stage: Jude Bellingham breaks out with Real Madrid and more first appeared on CBS Sports.

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