The Champions League has finally returned to our television screens, and it did not disappoint. A total of 50 goals were netted between Tuesday and Wednesday, while the Premier League contestants suffered from mixed results, but which of the English elite can go all the way?
Leicester City kicked off their Champions League fairytale with a commanding 3-0 victory away from home against Club Brugge. Goals from Riyad Mahrez (2), and Mark Albrigthon ensured that Leicester City came away from their European debut with the perfect result. However, this fairytale will not have a happy ending.
While the Foxes were very good against a poor Club Brugge side, and may go on to progress from their group considering the quality of the sides in it (FC Porto and FC Copenhagen), they may collapse when it comes time for the knockout stage. After all, they don’t have the experience in Europe that Arsenal do (more on them later) or the squad depth that Manchester City have. Couple that with the fixture pile-up that will come with the Premier League, FA Cup, and League Cup, and Leicester will be forgiven for running out of steam come the arrival of the last-16.
Manchester City continued their remarkable, and 100%, start to the season on Wednesday when they trounced Borussia Monchengladbach 4-0 at the Etihad Stadium thanks to goals from Kelechi Iheanacho and a hat trick from the consistently sensational Sergio Aguero, and it is on the shoulders of the Argentinian that their hopes will lie.
The blue side of Manchester has, by far, the best squad of any of the Premier League sides in the Champions League. In fact, it can be argued that they have one of the best squads in the competition as a whole. Despite this, with the excellence of Kevin de Bruyne and David Silva, among many others, the importance of Aguero cannot be understated.
The 28-year-old, having already scored 6 goals in his last 2 Champions League games (3 vs Steau Bucharest, 3 vs Monchengladbach) along with 3 goals in 3 games in the Premier League so far this season, will certainly be City’s main source of goals. As long as City can keep him fit and firing, as well as if City can continue to grow into the side that Guardiola is morphing them into, City could travel farther than they have before.
However, while City will be entertaining to watch and Guardiola is a manager that breathes success, it is difficult to see them getting past the likes of Bayern Munich or Barcelona. A strong showing, and a semi-final finish, would be seen as a strong campaign for a side in transition. From there, Pep can push on next season and turn City into a true European giant.
Arsenal, as I alluded to earlier, are the most experienced English side in this seasons competition, despite having never won it, even with far better squads than they have at this moment. Unfortunately for Gunners’ fans, that is unlikely to change.
The London club began their campaign reasonably enough with a 1-1 draw over a Paris St. Germain team that are coming to terms with the departure of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The absence of the Swede has already been felt by the French side in Ligue 1 with the usually dominant team has collected just 7 points from 4 games.
However, a team can only beat the team that they are put in front of and, despite the draw, Arsenal are almost assured to get through the group which contains Ludogorets and FC Basel. It is beyond this that things can get a bit tricky. Arsenal’s squad is not the strongest, after all, and Arsene Wenger will need to utilise it well to compete. While a quarter final IS possible. Beyond that, due to an unremarkable starting XI and a weak bench, Arsenal will struggle. That is why Arsenal will continue to knock on the door of Europe’s elite rather than busting it down.
The leaves us with Tottenham Hotspur. The north London club was the only English club to suffer defeat in gameweek 1 after falling 2-1 to Monaco at Wembley Stadium. It is not an embarrassing result for Spurs by any means, Monaco stand top of Ligue 1 with 10 points from 4 games. It is, however, a disastrous start for Spurs who now have it all to do to get out of a group that contains CSKA Moscow and Bayer Leverkusen.
It is because of this start, and a lack of European experience, that I don’t expect Spurs to set the competition alight. If, and that is a big IF, Spurs can get out of this group, a quarter final finish is the best that they can hope for in this writer’s view.
This piece kicked off by asking the question of which of the Premier League sides can go all the way in the Champions League. Put simply, for yet another season, none of them. The Premier League has not had a Champions League winner since 2012, and that 4 year draught will grow to 5 this year.
While City have the squad depth and talent to entertain and a manager that is accustomed to success, it remains a squad in transition and may not have enough for the likes of Bayern Munich or Barcelona. Leicester City’s journey to this point has been mesmerising but won’t have the depth nor the experience to go the distance. Arsene Wenger’s transfer policy of not splashing the cash enough when required will hold his side back. As for Tottenham, they may have given themselves a mountain to climb and it will take a lot of energy for them to simply get out of the group.