Turn the UEFA Champions League. The competition is in its early stages: we are in the group stage but the Nyon urn has already been able to foresee treacherous challenges for our clubs or for some of them. Just think of Milan’s group made up of PSG, Newcastle and Borussia Dortmund. A group considered as “the group of death”, but the Rossoneri were not the only ones – in the last twenty years – to have to deal with a group that was not exactly affordable on paper, even beyond the final results that later emerged. We at 90Min we have drawn up this special top ten with the most difficult groups for our clubs in the last twenty years. The period of time considered is linked to the passage, certainly key, from the double elimination round to the direct elimination phase starting from the round of 16, a change which occurred starting from 2003/04.
One of the most striking examples is Napoli coached by Rafa Benitez, who in the 2013-2014 edition of the Champions League had Olympique Marseille, Arsenal and Borussia Dortmund in their group. After losing only to the Gunners at the Emirates Stadium and Signal Iduna Park against BVB, the Azzurri collected 12 points overall but were relegated to the Europa League. In the photo Higuain in tears, given the result (2-1) of BVB on the Marseille pitch which effectively sanctioned the elimination of the Azzurri from the competition.
Napoli, after finishing third in the previous season, qualified for the 2011-2012 Champions League. Very difficult group for the Azzurri at the time coached by Walter Mazzarri, who despite the famous clubs such as Bayern, City and Villarreal managed to get through. Napoli drew at the Etihad against the Citizens, a draw at home with Bayern, the two victories against Villarreal (away) and City (at home) being decisive, after the defeat against the Bavarians at the Allianz Arena.
AC Milan, after seven years of absence, returns to listen to the Champions League tune in 2021. Red-label group, with the Rossoneri placed with Atletico, Porto and Liverpool. First match lost: 3-2 for the reds at Anfield, at home. Second clash at San Siro against the Colchoneros, who prevailed 2-1 at the end of a truly fiery match. Bitter away match also in Porto where the Portuguese won narrowly by 1-0. The second leg drew 1-1 in Milan between the Rossoneri and Porto, then it was Messias’ goal that gave the group confidence in terms of qualification. It’s a shame, however, that in the end Liverpool extinguished all hope by beating Milan 2-1.
Round of fire for the last Milan coached by Max Allegri: in 2013 the Rossoneri draw Celtic, Ajax and Barcelona. Not a bad start with a clear 2-0 to the Scots, then the draw in Amsterdam with the Dutch, the draw at home with the Blaugrana. In the second leg the Catalans won 3-1 against Milan who made it back to the second round by beating Celtic 3-0 away. The final 0-0 at San Siro with Ajax decreed Allegri & Co.’s passage to the next round.
Tough group also for Conte’s first Inter in 2019: the Nerazzurri face BVB, Barcelona and Slavia Prague. First match at San Siro with Inter unable to go beyond the 1-1 draw against the Czech team. At the Camp Nou Barça won 2-1, while at San Siro Inter beat the Germans Borussia 2-0. BVB 3-2 in the return leg with a wild Hakimi, Inter win away to Slavia Prague (1-3), before the bitter defeat at home against Barcelona which, thanks to a goal from Ansu Fati, extinguishes the Nerazzurri’s chances of progressing to the round of 16 .
In the 2022-2023 edition, Inter draws Bayern, Barcelona and finally Viktoria Plzen. Away win against the third club, double knockout against the Bavarians but it is the match against the Blaugrana that turns out to be crucial: Calhanoglu scores the decisive goal giving Inzaghi three golden points to progress to the next round. 3-3 at Camp Nou, with Barça eventually relegated to the Europa League.
In 2014, Roma coached by Garcia was drawn with Bayern, City and CSKA. The Giallorossi won only five points and were relegated to the EL: the only success was at home against the Russians CSKA, then two draws and three defeats. Certainly an unlucky draw for the Capitoline club which abandons the competition prematurely.
Roma, in 2017, is placed in the same group as Chelsea, Atletico and Qarabag. The Giallorossi drew against the Colchoneros, won against the Azeris and then collected another draw with the Blues at the end of a pyrotechnic challenge. In the return leg 3-0 against Chelsea, defeat away to Atletico and victory against Qarabag. Di Francesco’s Giallorossi move into the round of 16 with 11 points (level on points with Chelsea) as first in the group standings.
Nightmare group for Napoli coached by Ancelotti in 2018: the Neapolitans take on PSG, Liverpool and Red Star. Against Red Star, Napoli collected a success and a draw, against the French – twice – the Azzurri achieved a draw. Against Liverpool one nil at the San Paolo (now Maradona), it’s a shame that at Anfield the reds won 1-0, knocking out the Italian team.
And finally we come to this year, where Milan has drawn PSG, Newcastle and Borussia Dortmund. The Rossoneri are called to a real feat, that is, passing the round in a prohibitive group. On one side Mbappé, on the other the “yellow wall” and then there is the former Sandro Tonali. Will Pioli be able to secure the pass for the round of 16?
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