European football fans have been eagerly waiting for the grand return of the UEFA Champions League, the pinnacle of European football, since Cristiano Ronaldo’s penalty secured Real Madrid their eleventh major European trophy against bitter local rivals Atlético Madrid way back in May. After what seemed like an eternity, the iconic Champions League anthem once again blared through our TV monitors reminding us of how much we’ve missed it.
Tottenham have adopted Wembley Stadium as their temporary home for European games this season and, despite accommodating a record crowd of over 85,000 spectators, the players soon learnt that the national stadium can become a very lonely place. The impatient crowd’s frustrations filtered through to the players as Spurs went two down against Ligue 1 leaders, Monaco, in a sloppy first half. The ambience changed dramatically once Toby Alderweireld pulled one back and momentum swung in Tottenham’s favour just before half time. Spurs were unable, however, to capitalise on this and when Harry Kane missed a golden opportunity to level the tie, it became apparent that the comeback was destined to allude the North London side. Monaco ran out winners 2-1.
After last season’s heroics, many have assumed Leicester City would slowly fall away as the ‘Big Clubs’ reasserted the established pecking order. In many quarters Leicester have already been written off winning the Champions League as a step too far in their seemingly ongoing Fairytale. The lightening fast killer instincts that served them so well last year were back on show at Club Brugge. They were back to their brilliant best as a Riyad Mahrez brace and a goal for Marc Albrighton, combined with a much steadier looking defence, was enough to see off the Belgian side comfortably. It still feels a stretch too far that they will be crowned Champions this season, but then again that’s what we all said last year.
Arsenal’s performance against the French giants PSG did not justify the point they returned to London with. It seems to me that Arsene, despite succeeding twenty years at the club, still doesn’t yet know his strongest team. Resting players in mid-week European games is nothing extraordinary, but you’d expect Arsene to field the strongest team possible away against a club of PSG’s stature. Yet Arsenal started with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Alex Iwobi and David Ospina, all a farcry away from the ability of others in Arsenal’s impressive squad. The vast improvement in Arsenal’s performance uncoincidentally came after Granit Xhaka and Olivier Giroud came on. Perhaps if Arsene had started his strongest team Arsenal would be sitting pretty on top of their Champions League group having collected all three points on offer.
Manchester City were made to wait an extra day before their opening group game against Borussia Mönchengladbach due to a waterlogged pitch. When the game finally kicked off, fans at the Etihad were treated to a dominating performance from Guardiola’s men as they ran out convincing 4-0 winners. It is still early days in the Spaniard’s tenure but City look like genuine challengers for Europe’s most coveted trophy. With Sergio Aguero fit and firing and being nurtured by arguably the best coach in the world, it looks as if this may finally be the year that Manchester City overcome their persistent European woes.