CHAMPIONS LEAGUE RETURNS: HOW WILL THE ENGLISH FARE?
In recent years, English clubs have failed to compete in Europe’s elite club competition. Since Chelsea’s victory in the 2011-12 campaign, only two English sides have progressed beyond the last-16 knockout round.
Bizarrely, this comes just a few years after one of England’s most dominant eras in European football. Between the 2004-05 campaign and Chelsea’s success in 2012, at the least one English club featured in seven of the eight Champions League finals – an impressive achievement.
This season, English sides may well compete with the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich for Europe’s top prize. While the new group system has handed a number of difficult draws to England’s finest clubs, their tournament rivals have the same problem. We take a look at their chances of success in this year’s competition.
Chelsea are the defending Premier League champions and will be one of the key teams throughout the competition. Although they have had a disappointing start to the domestic campaign, Jose Mourinho knows the importance of a great Champions League run and will be keen to reach the latter stages of the tournament at the very least.
Last season, the Blues were knocked out at the last-16 stage by Paris Saint-Germain after Mourinho’s “park the bus” strategy failed to pay off. Facing ten men, Chelsea opted to defend rather than go for the jugular and kill the tie. The Portuguese won’t make that mistake again, especially if his position at the club hangs on Champions League success.
Chelsea should breeze through the group stages and from there, it’s all about the draw. Mourinho is a master tactician and usually gets his system spot on, and the Blues will rely on their manager’s nous if they are to reach the semi-finals or further.
Manchester City, last year’s runners up to Chelsea, have played some scintillating football throughout the early stages of the campaign. Manuel Pellegrini’s men have won all five matches without conceding a goal so far this season but may be in trouble if Sergio Aguero picks up a serious injury.
Ultimately, City have failed to perform in Europe. While that may be deemed harsh due to their recent introduction to the competition, they have experienced players in their squad and should be good enough to reach the latter stages of the tournament. They have been unlucky with the draw in recent years but that is no longer an excuse now that they are in Pot 2.
Despite being paired up with Juventus, Borussia Monchengladbach and Sevilla in the group stages, City should advance as group winners. From there, they should avoid Barcelona – who they have faced in each of the past two seasons – and may reach the quarter-finals for the first time in the club’s illustrious history. From there, it’s anybody’s guess.
Many football fans tipped Arsenal for Premier League success this season but that doesn’t look as though it is going to materialise. Although it is early days, the Gunners still lack a world class presence up front and will struggle to break down the better defences in the top flight.
In Europe, Arsene Wenger’s side have failed to inspire over the past few years and have failed to progress past the last-16 stage in each of the last five seasons. As with their Premier League hopes, the same premise stands: Arsenal need a top striker if they are to compete for silverware against the best sides.
Arsenal will struggle to qualify for the last-16 as group winners due to the fact that they have been paired up with Bayern Munich. However, the Gunners will be confident of reaching the last-16 once again and, with a bit of luck, they could feature in the quarter-finals.
Manchester United secured their return to the Champions League in Louis van Gaal’s first season at the club and the Dutchman has been an instant hit with the majority of fans at Old Trafford. They are currently joint-second in the Premier League and will be looking to keep pace with their title rivals throughout the campaign.
While the jury remains out on Van Gaal, he has plenty of European experience and will plan on taking the competition very seriously this season. Although he won’t compromise United’s Premier League position, the Dutchman will be keen to lead the Red Devils to the latter stages of the competition.
United are more than capable of reaching the quarter-finals this season, especially as they should ease through the group stages. Progression isn’t a formality but United will be looking to send out a statement after a year out of Europe’s elite competition.