One English club has taken a walk in the betting to win the Champions League, another has been backed to become the champions of Europe for the first time and the other two Premier League representatives have just about remained solid and unmoved in the betting. The big winners of the week were certainly Arsenal while Manchester City had to deal with a nightmare scenario. Tottenham and Leicester are now in a strong position to qualify for the knockout stages.
Barcelona were the favourites to win the Champions League at the start of the season and nothing has happened over the first three match days to change that assessment. They certainly burst the Manchester City bubble by beating them 4-0 at home this week. The two clubs have now met five times in the competition and Barcelona have won each match, scoring 11 goals and conceding three. Lionel Messi scored his 37th hat-trick for Barcelona in the latest match and City were well beaten.
Messi is from Argentina who have history with England and he seems to be paying the country back for some grievances. Maradona had his take which was the ‘Hand of God’ goal against England in the 1986 World Cup. Messi has now scored 16 goals in 15 matches against Premier League clubs. Manchester City recruited Pep Guardiola to prevent 4-0 drubbings in the Champions League and to lose to his former club so badly must be a blow.
City’s back four could not cope with Messi despite the signing of John Stones from Everton for some ridiculous amount of money. He is still more raw talent and potential and not the finished article and it showed against Messi and Barcelona. He had some uncomfortable moments and one consolation is that he won’t have to face the best attack in the world again… or at least until the reverse match in Manchester! City cannot win the Champions League this season on the evidence of the loss to Barcelona and even qualifying for the knockout stages is not certain.
The picture is so much brighter for Arsenal and they have a genuine chance to finally win the Champions League and prove Arsene Wenger right after all these years. It has become almost his Holy Grail over 20 years at the club and losing in the final to Barcelona in 2006 is his nearest miss. That side were part of The Invincibles era during which Arsenal did not lose a match in the Premier League in the 2003-04 season. The current crop have not even won the League but there are positives in the context of the Champions League this time.
Any side that can call upon Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil must have a chance and Arsenal are well on course to make the knockout stage. Winning home matches is a requirement and Arsenal have won 31 of their last 40 Champions League matches at the Emirates with only three defeats during that run. Arsenal have scored two goals or more in the last nine and not conceded in six of those fixtures. The crunch comes later in the competition against one of the better sides but this could just be their year in the Champions League and 25/1 looks nice!
Tottenham and Leicester are now both favourites to win their groups which means there could be the unlikely situation of three of the four English clubs progressing and Manchester City the only side to miss out. Tottenham have two home matches to play in three match days in their group and wins against Leverkusen and CSKA Moscow in those fixtures should secure a place in the last 16. The foibles of knockout football which could see them go all the way. Tottenham v Arsenal in the Champions League final in Cardiff anyone?
Gareth Bale and Real Madrid will certainly have their say and what price Bale scoring the winning goal in his home town next June? Bayern Munich will certainly be involved in the business end of the Champions League this season but Leicester could be a fly in the ointment again and they do have history of upsetting the apple cart. But teams like Leicester never win the Premier League and Champions League! Bizarrely they could be the champions of Europe and get relegated in the same season. Their performances have been like chalk and cheese in Europe and at home.
However, it’s another English club that can win the Champions League this season and they are called Arsenal!