Who's on course and who's in trouble at halfway mark of the AFC Champions League group stage?

After reaching the AFC Champions League round of 16 for the first time last season, Johor Darul Ta'zim are facing a real battle to emulate the feat in the 2023-24 campaign. Annice Lyn/Getty Images

With the group stage of the 2023-24 AFC Champions League reaching its halfway mark this week, the stage has now been set for the battle to reach the round of 16 over the coming weeks.

As always, there were the heavy favourites to comfortably negotiate their way through this round, while there were also the dark horses who could potentially spring a surprise.

But after three rounds, who remains on course for the last 16? And are any big names in real danger of missing out?

As a reminder, the ACL is split evenly between the West and East Asia Zones and kept apart until the final. Only the ten group winners qualify automatically for the knockout round, with the remaining spots going to the six best-ranking runners-up (three each from the West and East Asia Zones).

Here, we take a closer look at the state of the play in each of the groups.

Group A

In what initially looked one of the tournament's more unpredictable groups, it is Al Ain who have shone the brightest so far.

The 2003 champions have endured some tough times - failing to get out of the group stage in 2019 and 2020 before missing out altogether in the past two seasons - but are one of five teams currently boasting a perfect record of three straight wins to sit pretty atop Group A.

Behind them, Pakhtakor, Al Fayha and Ahal all have three points to their names although, on paper, it is likely that it would be the former two battling it out for second spot.

Group B

Things are looking tight in Group B with Sharjah leading the way but just a point ahead of Nasaf Qarshi.

Perhaps the biggest surprise in the group is the fact that Qatari giants Al Sadd -- who were expected to be the likeliest resistance to a Saudi Arabian domination in the West Asia Zone -- have been far from at their best and are currently third.

Al Sadd did rediscover some form on Monday as they thrashed Al Faisaly, who looked destined to prop up the table after losing all three of their matches so far.

Group C

Along with the five teams with three wins to their names, Al Ittihad also currently blemish-free although they have only played twice -- after their visit to Sepahan at the start of the month was called off following their refusal to take to the field over a statue of an assassinated Iranian general being placed at the entrance to the pitch.

Despite playing a game less, Al Ittihad still lead the way in Group C with a two-point lead over Sepahan and Air Force Club.

Uzbekistan's AGMK, who are featuring in the competition proper for only the second time, are one of seven teams yet to pick up a solitary point.

Group D

Although there is still another half of the group stage to play, based on current standings and overall form it appears that it will be Al Hilal and Navbahor vying for first and second spot in Group D.

After sharing the spoils in their campaign opener, both teams have since gone on to claim six points to share the lead.

Mumbai City are effectively out of the reckoning especially with a -11 goal difference, while Nassaji Mazandaran are still a realistic mathematical chance but could just be out of their depth in their debut campaign.

Group E

The third of the Saudi Pro League's three giants that are leading their group expectedly, Al Nassr are cruising to a top-spot finish after winning all of their matches so far.

One big surprise is Al Duhail, who like compatriots Al Sadd were expected to be the likeliest contenders in the West Asia Zone outside off the Saudi Arabian powerhouses, having just one point to their names -- from a 0-0 draw with Istiklol, who they should have beaten.

Admittedly, Group E did shape up as one of the tougher draws and it is was not completely expected that it would be Persepolis, runners-up in 2018 and 2020, who are doing the best job at giving Al Nassr a run for their money.

Group F

While it did seem as though two-time champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors comfortably finish on top but with real competition for second spot, Group F has been completely turned on its head by high-flying Bangkok United.

A shock 3-2 triumph over Jeonbuk coupled with gritty away victories over Lion City Sailors and Kitchee means it is the Thai League 1 outfit who are leading the way on nine points.

Jeonbuk are three points off the pace with the Sailors a further three adrift, with bottom-place Kitchee needing a minor miracle in the second half of the group stage if they are to contend for a last-16 berth.

Group G

With three teams tied on six points, this is currently the most keenly-contested and evenly-poised of the ten groups.

Incheon United made the early running but Wednesday's home loss to Shandong Taishan has dragged them back into a scrap, while Yokohama F. Marinos bounced back from an opening-day loss to the South Korean side to get back on track with consecutive victories.

This does however mean that Kaya FC-Iloilo have thus far been the whipping boys of the group having conceded ten goals in three outings, a situation which -- unfortunately for them -- does not look like changing in the weeks to come.

Group H

While Australian teams have not had the best of times in the ACL in recent seasons, Melbourne City are flying the flag so far this term as they lead Group H with seven points and yet to taste defeat.

After an emphatic start in their return to continental football for the first time in five editions, Buriram United have since suffered consecutive defeats and desperately need to get back to winning ways.

As things stand, it is Japanese second-tier club Ventforet Kofu second in Group H trailing Melbourne City by three points, while Zhejiang Professional -- who last appeared in the ACL in 2011 as Hangzhou Greentown -- are also still in with a shot tied with Buriram in third.

Group I

In a near-identical redraw from the previous edition, Ulsan Hyundai, Kawasaki Frontale and Johor Darul Ta'zim all found themselves renewing hostilities in Group I -- this time joined by BG Pathum United.

Although BGPU did brilliantly to reach the quarterfinals themselves last time out, it is a far different story this time around as they are yet to pick up a point and find themselves dead last.

With little to play for on the domestic front in the J1 League, Kawasaki have channeled their efforts to the ACL well and are leading with nine points, three ahead of Ulsan and six ahead of JDT, who have plenty of work to do in order to emulate last season's remarkable feat of qualifying as group winners.

Group J

While Group J boasts defending champions Urawa Red Diamonds, they have thus far been usurped by a resurgent Pohang Steelers -- runners-up in 2021 -- who currently hold a perfect record of three straight wins.

Urawa have not been poor themselves but a 2-2 opening-day draw with Wuhan Three Towns has proven costly, especially after they fell to a 2-0 home defeat to Pohang on Wednesday.

Urawa and Wuhan are both still in the running on four points, but the situation is looking dire for Hanoi FC -- without a point and holding the competition's worst defensive record with 12 goals conceded.