This has been a recurring question since Real Madrid's collapse in Warsaw. While attaining first place is very much achievable if Real Madrid grab two wins to see out the group stages against Dortmund and Sporting respectively, finishing 2nd has also become a very real scenario after Zidane's men dropped two points on Wednesday in Poland.
I won't rehash what I've written in this week's mailbag, but to make it clear - in no way do I or anyone on Managing Madrid advocate for Real Madrid to strive for a 2nd place finish. We're merely laying out the potential outcome of a 2nd place finish, which may not be as disastrous as you'd think.
Below is an excerpt from my mailbag, to go along with the video that Jose made today:
@managingmadrid looking at the standings. Would RM be better off finishing 2nd in the CL?— Ben Mathison (@benmathison) October 28, 2016
"To be clear, I never liked the idea of nose-diving in the standings in hopes of a favorable draw. Not that Ben is necessarily suggesting this, of course, but those kinds of gambles can backfire, and this season is no different.
Having said that, the current groups are lining up in a way that finishing 1st might seep you into a precarious position.
Group A is a wash. Arsenal and PSG will both be dangerous - though if I had to chose, I would rather avoid Arsenal at all costs given how cohesive they currently look - and group H has one of the most consistent teams on the continent in Juve standing tall. Sevilla is 2nd there, and though they're growing over the course of the season, Real Madrid will avoid Spanish teams next round.
In group B, Avoiding Napoli is ideal as Besiktas is a big drop-off - ditto Leicester and Kobenhavn in group G.
After that, Ben makes an interesting point. Barcelona will finish top of their group, and Atletico looks like they might too, meaning Real Madrid would avoid those two top-seeded Spanish teams even if they finished 2nd, leaving them with just a handful of possible outcomes. Simultaneously, Real would scratch off Manchester City and Bayern Munich who are the 2nd seeds in group C and D. Those are four European giants that Real Madrid would sidestep immediately, and that's always a great way to ‘buy time' as the club did last season en route to the European title.
Still, that's an ideal scenario, and it's a scenario that requires a few dominoes to fall. The groups are far from finalized, and a lot can happen in three matches. Be sure that neither Bayern or City will want to finish 2nd, nor will either of them want to face Real Madrid next round.
In any case, I wouldn't lose sleep over it. Zidane will strive for the top seed, and anything else is a pure gamble. Let's enjoy the ride and look forward to the opponent no matter who it is."