The Champions League kicked off this week with four English teams in action. It was surprising to not see the familiar faces of Chelsea or Manchester United, but their poor Premier League performance last season saw them lose their places, with Tottenham and league winners Leicester City coming in, with the latter making their debut in the competition. Overall it was a pretty good gameweek for English teams, but here’s my grade for each of them.
Arsenal kicked off the Champions League group stage with an away game against the favourites for the group in PSG. Arsenal had bad memories of opening days in this competition, but good experiences in France. They started tragically, conceding in the 1st minute and after 5 minutes, fans feared they would be humiliated. Arsene Wenger’s decision not to include Granit Xhaka, Petr Cech and Olivier Giroud raised eyebrows, and only the omission of Cech appeared to pay off, with David Ospina keeping the team in the game at half time. Arsenal improved in the second half and PSG looked like they had tired, with the changes on the hour mark, Arsenal began to take control of the game and in the end, via a moment of quality from Alexis Sanchez, stole a point from under the noses of the French Champions. Whilst the performance was far from great, the result surely makes the Gunners favourites for the group and if they can play like they did in the last 30 minutes, you would fancy Arsenal to take all three points. The Gunners now need to ensure they don’t underestimate FC Basel and Ludogrets and they should ensure progression, top spot must now be the aim for Arsenal. B for result ‘-‘ for performance.
Pep Guardiola negotiated the qualification stage of this competition with ease and it looked just as easy on Wednesday night when they hosted Borussia Mochengladbach. Under Pellegrini City have looked lacklustre in Europe but with Pep there is a confidence that they can go all the way. Sergio Aguero is in incredible form and his hat trick helped the team to a straightforward 4-0 win. I’m sure the rain delay was frustrating for manager and players, but it did not impact their performance, perhaps it did play a part in the away sides poor showing. Ilkay Gundogan made his first start for the club and looked really good, he could prove to be a top signing, though with Kevin De Bruyne and Fernandinho also in top form, it will be interesting to see how Pep fits all his superstars into the line up.
Tottenham returned to the Champions League in unfamiliar surrounding at Wembley. The fans turned up in their thousands, with the club breaking an English record for attendees at a European game. The party was soon stopped though as Monaco scored 2 early goals to silence the home crowd. Tottenham appeared to, just like Arsenal had previously, underestimate the French side, who have started the season in top form, topping the French league currently. Despite the poor level of the French league overall, Monaco have some top quality players and Spurs will need to ensure they do not underestimate them again when they head to France for the reverse fixture. Pochettino needs to reflect on this terrible start to what was perceived as an ‘easy’ group.
The dream continues. Leicester may not have started their Premier League defence in the best fashion, losing 2 of their first 4 games, but the club now need to enjoy what they earned last season – a European adventure. Because of their top seeding, Leicester were drawn into a favourable group and they took full advantage. Despite Club Brugge not being the hardest side, an away game in the Champions League is rarely easy, but Leicester made it look that way with a convincing 3-0 win in Belgium. With an away win in the bag, Ranieri will be confident of progressing in the group and with their main rivals, FC Porto drawing at home with Copenhagen, the English side now look as if they can actually top the group and they will certainly believe they can. What a start.
Overall it was good to see a good performance from English sides on Gameweek 1. With Pep at Manchester City, there is a serious chance of an English side winning the competition and Leicester and Arsenal have both had positive starts too. You could expect Tottenham, despite this hiccup to still qualify, though the chances of them topping the group are now a lot slimmer.