Author : Renjith Ravindran
The English clubs have always made their mark in the Uefa Champions League and every time a new season kick starts most of them are branded as title contenders or serious opponents for the other teams. While some live up to the expectations other fall short, much to the disappointment of the fans and the pundits. Both ways the performance of English teams in the Champions League is always a hot topic to debate upon.
And this year hasn’t been any different, from the draw itself Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal has been attracting eyeballs from all around the world. Though many might not give them a chance against the lights of Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich to win the title, the clubs have the potential to be the dark horse in the tournament and make the other clubs sleepless. While last season saw the English clubs fail to make it into the quarter finals in more than 17 years, this season might bring a different story as most of the teams are well placed to give themselves a push to go as far as they can in the competition.
Wake me up when January comes
The defending domestic champions Manchester United, arguably has one of the easiest group from the lot as they were pitted against three Europa League standard teams in the form of Shakhtar Donetsk, Bayer Leverkusen and Real Sociedad. They might not have the grace and magic of Sir Alex Ferguson but David Moyes has what is takes to catapult the team into the round of 16 without much difficulty. And the first three matches suggest the same as United sit pretty on top of their group with two wins and a draw. The real test for The Chosen One will be in the round of 16, Moyes was known for his giant killing tactics during his time at Everton but he is yet to showcase such aura with a much better team at his disposal. And United could find an early exit if they are to come up against a superior opponent unless Moyes makes a ground breaking signing in January similar to that of Mesut Ozil at Arsenal. With the group stages ending in December and the team struggling in the league, the champions League just might be the place where Moyes could prove himself to keep his job intact.
All that’s missing is the rhythm
From The Chosen one to the Special One, the only thing that was missing in Jose Mourinho’s last spell at Chelsea was European glory. And he didn’t have a good start this time around also as the team fell to Basel in their opening match but picked up well with wins over Schalke and Steaua Bucharest. Compared to the other managers Mourinho will be the one under least pressure to succeed in the Champions League. With the backing of his owner and good squad, a FA Cup win will be more than enough for his first season but the ego of Mourinho is likely to make him go for it this time in Europe. Like United, Chelsea won’t be having any difficulty in progressing to the round of 16. Boasting one of the most talented attacking line up in Europe, the team might even get into the quarter finals and beyond if Mourinho finds the right rhythm between his midfielders and attackers.
Seventeen years and still waiting
While Chelsea and Manchester United were presented with an easier group, Arsene Wenger and his boys had the faith of ending up in the group of death with Marseille, Borussia Dortmund and Napoli. And when we look it from another angle this might be their best advantage. The qualification from this group will be a huge morale boost for the team, coupled with their brilliant domestic form and maybe another marquee signing in the January transfer window, Arsenal could walk their way beyond the quarter finals. Though Wenger is still waiting for the Champions League title to decorate his 17 year career at the club, the jinx might not go this season if he plans to stick with the same squad after the January window. A good striker, defender and a world class goal keeper in January could make Arsenal literally invincible. But the lack of experience in the European stage could hinder his side as the younger players in the side are likely to snap under pressure at the big stage. Rectify that and what we have in our hands will be a genuine contender to reach the final only if the team clears the initial hurdle.
In stealth mode so far
Last but definetly not the least, Manchester City has been in stealth mode in the Champions League so far while a certain Bayern Munich steals the limelight in their group. The team was outclassed by Bayern in the opening match but picked themselves up in the following two matches and City has almost cemented their place in the round of 16 behind the Germans meaning that they will be having a tougher opponent in the next stage with the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Paris St Germain being among the possibilities. Manuel Pellegrini has become the most successful City manager in the champion’s league with that two wins and he has the experience to carry the team to uncharted territories in the competition. With a glittery team at his disposal, Pellegrini might just do that keeping in mind that City still need to make a mark in Europe. But compared to the chances of Chelsea and Arsenal, City still have a tough road ahead to reach or go beyond the quarter finals of the competition.
To sum up, this might not be a year when an English club wins the Champions League, but Arsenal and Chelsea are placed well in the competition to travel far and long, while United’s performance solely depends on their activity in the January transfer window. And the stealth mode of City will be broken sooner or later with the club still trying to make a name for themselves in Europe.