What constitutes a ‘Group of Death’?
Every time a major tournament conducts a group stage draw, experts soon agree upon one pool which is tougher than the rest.
Sometimes, they can’t even do that.
That’s possible because two or more groups could easily come up pretty damn tough. And since there’s no cast-iron, scientific way to decide who has it easiest and who has it toughest, it’s always up for debate.
Take the 2014/15 Champions League draw, conducted yesterday, for instance. Which of the eight was the ‘group of death’?
Is it decided by which group has the most ‘big name’ sides in it? If so, perhaps Group E containing Bayern Munich, Manchester City and Roma (oh, and CSKA Moscow) is the toughest group. Perhaps Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain and Ajax’s collective presence in Group F gives them the nod (sorry, APOEL…).
But here’s a theory: Group C contains four sides all experienced in going beyond the group stage, all with capable squads and all with a handful of quality players. Any two of Benfica, Zenit St Petersburg, Bayer Leverkusen or AS Monaco could qualify. Any one of the four could end up being a fairly big European club not playing any continental football beyond December.
Sure, it’s not the most eye-catching group, but to anyone linked to any of those four clubs that is a very tough challenge, albeit one with the high reward of a very real crack at finishing in that elusive top-seeded spot.
We could try to take the subjective and ‘Moneyball’ it, on the other hand.
Using the most recent UEFA club co-efficient, we worked out which group was the most – and least – packed with danger based on a group’s four team rankings added up. Lowest total = lowest rankings = toughest group, right?
A: Atletico Madrid, Juventus, Olympiacos, Malmo – 7, 22, 27, 137 = 193
C: Benfica, Zenit St Petersburg, Bayer Leverkusen, Monaco - 5, 15, 20, 123 = 158
D: Arsenal, Borussia Dortmund, Galatasaray, Anderlecht - 10, 12, 34, 43 = 99
F: Barcelona, Paris St-Germain, Ajax, APOEL - 2, 13, 26, 52 = 93
G: Chelsea, Schalke, Sporting Lisbon, Maribor - 4, 9, 33, 89 = 135
H: FC Porto, Shakhtar Donetsk, Athletic Bilbao, BATE Borisov - 11, 19, 35, 54 = 119
So, there you have it. Barcelona’s Group F is the 'group of death'.
Only, erm, apparently Arsenal’s Group D with Borussia Dortmund, Galatasaray and Anderlecht is the second-toughest.
I mean, sure – Dortmund and Gala will not be easy opposition for Arsenal, and Anderlecht have enough talent to pull off an upset once every blue moon, but really? Second-toughest?
To completely kill off what credibility this system had, Group G would have been recognised via the co-efficient as the toughest, had Chelsea and co drawn Anderlecht (who were whipping boys last season) instead of Maribor, with a total of 90.
Not only that, but a hypothetical group containing Porto, Juventus, Liverpool and Monaco would have scored a whopping 201 points, making it far easier than the easiest actual group this season (Group A, starring the Spanish and Italian champions).
Perhaps there will always be debate over which of eight groups in any given major tournament is a ‘group of death’, thus diluting the scary term just a tad.
Nonetheless, if history has taught us anything is that the easiest group can always be scientifically deduced as the one which Chelsea are in.
Liam Happe | Follow on Twitter @liamhappe
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