Wednesday, September 25, 2019

THE Champions League is back in full swing and the first series of group games threw up quite a few surprising results.

Last year’s champions Liverpool lost their first game away to Napoli, but they should still be good enough to qualify and win their group too. They won’t be too worried about losing to Napoli as they did the same last year and still went on to win the Champions League. This season, I think Liverpool look an even better side than they were, and they have also opened up a five-point gap in the Premier League over Manchester City which could be significant if they carry on like they did last season.

It wasn’t the greatest of starts for the English sides with only Manchester City getting maximum points in their opening game. They beat Shakhtar Donetsk 3-0 away from home very convincingly and not many teams will do that in Ukraine.

City probably have the easiest group in the competition this season, so I’d expect them to qualify with maximum points and a bag full of goals in those six games too as they look to finally make their mark on the Champions League. As good as they have been in the Premier League over the past few seasons, things haven’t exactly gone to plan in Europe so they will want to change that.

After being defeated in the final last year, Spurs had a very lacklustre start drawing 2-2 away from home against Olympiacos in Greece. They were cruising leading 2-0 early in the first half but they conceded a goal either side of half time to drop two points.

Spurs have had a poor start to the season and in three of their last four games they have taken the lead only to draw twice (both two-goal leads) and lose the other (Saturday’s 2-1 defeat at Leicester). The result in Greece should only be a blip from the point of view of their qualifying campaign, but I can’t see them winning the group ahead of Bayern Munich or getting remotely close to repeating last year’s European heroics.

There seems to be a few things wrong with Spurs at the moment and there is only so long they can hold on to their best players and their manager without winning trophies.

Harry Kane, Christian Eriksen and Mauricio Pochettino all want to be successful I presume, and their loyalty will no doubt be questioned in the next couple of transfer windows. If Spurs are to compete for honours, it’s key they don’t lose any of those three people and add some depth to the squad too.

Chelsea had the worst start of the three teams, losing 1-0 at home to Valencia who had just sacked their manager the previous week. They also had the bad luck of missing a penalty with Ross Barkley hitting the crossbar from the spot.

It seemed like Barkley took charge when the penalty was given and went against team orders, taking the ball from Willian and having a little argument with him before he missed. After the game, Chelsea manager Frank Lampard said Barkley was the designated penalty taker but sometimes these things are said publicly to diffuse the situation but behind close doors they are dealt with very differently, and not as diplomatically either.

The result was a massive blow to a young Chelsea squad’s chances in making the last 16, even at this early stage. Their group is tough with Ajax and Lille also fighting for a place. Before the first game, I had Chelsea as second favourites to qualify. But they need to win their home games and try to steal a couple of points on their travels to get them over the line. Now they have put some real pressure on themselves.

Manchester City probably have the best chance of winning the Champions League of the English sides this season, just slightly ahead of Liverpool in my opinion. Liverpool will sense this season’s Premier League is there to be won and they are in pole position already. That could make them take their eyes off Europe a little bit.

They will obviously want to defend their title, but the Premier League is the big one for Liverpool and their fans this year. They haven’t won it since the Premier League started and that is a massive thorn in the side of Liverpool fans.

It looks like this could be their year.

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