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Champions League group stage tiebreaker rules

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Head-to-head and goal difference and more

After tonight’s madness at Stamford Bridge, there is a three-way tie at the top of Group H, with Chelsea, Ajax, and Valencia all on seven points from four games played, two wins, one draw, and one loss each.

With two games still to go, obviously there’s plenty of time for things to change. And things will probably change, with Chelsea and Ajax both playing Valencia and Lille in the next two matchdays.

But let’s look at how tiebreakers work in the Champions League group stage, since they’re slightly different than in the Premier League (where it’s goal difference, followed by goals scored, regardless of opposition, that decides standings if teams are level on points).

FIRST TIEBREAKER: HEAD-TO-HEAD POINTS

Simple enough, matches played against each other. This is easy when there are only two teams level on points, but this time there are three. So head-to-head matches are matches involving those three teams — i.e. ignoring any games played against Lille.

This gives us:

  1. Chelsea on 4 points (win and draw against Ajax, loss against Valencia)
  2. Ajax on 4 points (win against Valencia, draw and loss against Chelsea)
  3. Valencia on just 3 points (win against Chelsea, loss against Ajax).

But since Chelsea and Ajax are still tied, we move on to the second tiebreaker

SECOND TIEBREAKER: HEAD-TO-HEAD GOAL DIFFERENCE

The crucial bit to keep in mind is that we’re still looking at all the games between the original three teams who are level. It’s not just between Chelsea and Ajax.

So that gives us:

  1. Ajax on +2 (+3 against Valencia, (-1) against Chelsea)
  2. Chelsea on 0 (+1 against Ajax, (-1) against Valencia)

If this goal difference wouldn’t separate the teams, then we’d move to GOALS SCORED and then AWAY GOALS SCORED — again these would still be counting all the games between the three originally tied teams.

Only after all four of those criteria fail to produce a difference for a pair of teams do they look at only the results between the two teams. And if that doesn’t work, then they start counting the results against Lille as well, with total goal difference, goals scored, away goals, wins, away wins, disciplinary points, and last and least, UEFA club coefficient deciding the standings.

But we probably won’t need to go that far.

Chelsea may be second at the moment, but we do have the better of results against Ajax (if just two teams are tied, the head-to-head tiebreakers are simple to calculate). A win against Valencia in three weeks would guarantee us a spot in the knockout round.