Champions League Round of 16 Preview #2

You’d have thought we’d seen everything. From Zidane’s incredible volley to Messi’s El Clasico masterpiece, Manchester United’s comeback against Bayern, or even last week’s 4-0 thrashing by PSG at the hands of Barcelona. Yet, there may be a fairytale to top it all off, never seen before in this competition.

Leicester City.

It would seem impossible. A disastrous Premier League campaign sees them sat one point outside of the relegation zone and three points away from being bottom of the league altogether. Now more than ever, the odds seem stacked against them. But surely we’ve learnt our lesson by now; in 2014/15 we said they’d go down, in 2015/16 we said the same, and now we’re saying they can’t succeed in the Champions League.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I do not expect Leicester to overcome Sevilla over two legs. Nor do I expect them to get close to Jorge Sampaoli’s dazzling side. But never write Leicester off.

Vardy could yet spring back into life, along with Riyad Mahrez, and if they can regain their previous defensive solidarity, they have every chance of keeping the tie alive going into the second leg, although we’ve been saying they need to re-impose their mean defence all season, and it’s never happened, so whilst there is still part of me that has a small crumb of hope that they can still defy the bookies and the pundits, I expect them to be brushed aside by the reigning Europa League winners for the past three years running.

Sevilla, who currently sit third in La Liga, have at times been devastating going forward under new attack-minded coach Sampaoli.

The Argentine, who guided Chile to back to back Copa America titles against his home nation, has transformed Sevilla into a title-challenging outfit this term, and whilst they look unlikely to take the crown come May, they still sit above Atletico Madrid.

The other English side competing this week are Manchester City. Pep’s side began the season in rampant form but soon went off the boil and haven’t really regained impressive form since, but with the quality in their squad in the obvious tactical nous of Guardiola, a European dream is still alive.

In their way are Ligue 1 Monaco, who are serious title contenders after years of domination in France’s capital.

After topping their group in qualifying, accompanied by the fact that they have been so impressive domestically this campaign, this tie could really go either way, and although City have a far superior squad, I would argue that they’re not favourites for this one.

Bayer Leverkusen host Atletico Madrid in the third of the four matches, and with both sides performing relatively poorly in their leagues sitting eighth and fourth respectively,  this should make for an open and interesting tie, with progression to the quarter-finals vital for the campaign’s of both sides.

Still, Diego Simeone’s Atletico may have lost their cutting edge in La Liga, but they topped their group finishing ahead of Bayern and thus avoiding a tie with Arsenal, so there are reasons to be optimistic at the Vicente Calderon.

However, Bayer Leverkusen will see this is as a difficult tie that will yet be important to win, putting them in a difficult position.

Finally, Porto welcome Juventus in a type of encounter that would often be categorised as ‘predictable’.

Nevertheless, these types of games often catch you out, and just when it looks like Juventus should prove too strong for their Portuguese opponents, especially over two matches, all could not go to plan for Allegrini and co.

So, it appears that all games should be relatively straight-forward other than the intriguing match up of Manchester City against Monaco – but this is football; you can never be sure.

Champions League Round of 16 Preview

So, the Champions League is back, and this is where it gets serious, and the questions we ask every year come back around. How far can the English teams go? Will Bayern beat Arsenal again? Will Barca or Real get knocked out early? Will there be a surprise winner?

The round of 16 draw has thrown up a couple of crackers, and in the first week’s action we see Benfica take on Borussia Dortmund, Paris Saint Germain host Barcelona, Bayern Munich welcome Arsenal (again, the predictable eye roll from your typical Arsenal fan,) and hosts Real Madrid face Napoli.

The first game will see an inconsistent Dortmund side look to regain their form outside of the domestic programme, with Thomas Tuchel’s side hoping for European refreshment at the Estadio de la Luz.

However, under Rui Vitoria, Benfica currently lead the way in Portugal despite the loss of Renato Sanches to Bayern in the summer, and they will be no pushover for the German favourites.

Still, with Brazilian striker Jonas appearing to be a doubt for the game, they could offer little attacking threat, although bright spark Goncalo Guedes, compared already to Cristiano Ronaldo, will definitely be one to watch when Benfica do look to get forward, although don’t be surprised to see Tuchel’s side dominate possession.

As for players to look out for in yellow, young Ousmane Dembele seems to be a real prospect and his skill and energy is aesthetically pleasing to watch, and he could prove the key in a game where his side are likely to dominate.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will as always be a difficult man to contain, and whilst the domestic form of both sides has contrasted so far this season, I expect Dortmund to have too much quality on the night, although it will be by no means straight-forward.

Also tomorrow night, Barcelona travel to Paris in what has become an increasingly common fixture in recent Champions League campaigns, although the Spanish giants have ran out as victors every time.

Furthermore, in a league which is so often a stroll for the French heavyweights, Unai Emery has struggled since switching from Sevilla in the summer with the club sitting in second place after 25 games gone, three points behind leaders Monaco.

The loss of Zlatan Ibrahimovic to Manchester United has no doubt affected PSG but the form of Edinson Cavani has been encouraging.

Still, his normally impressive six group stage goals don’t come close to the ten goals of Lionel Messi, who only played five of the six games.

Messi, who is arguably playing the best football of his career, still poses the same question to opposing managers – who do you stop him?

And whilst he is occasionally contained, the likelihood of containing Luis Suarez and Neymar also could prove just as difficult, with both of the South American forwards terrorising PSG in recent seasons with stunning displays.

The usual meeting between Bayern Munich and Arsenal has been thrown up by the draw once again, and despite the fact that Arsenal finally topped their group this year, their luck rewarded them with the German champions, who they have lost to in each of the last three ties.

However, there is optimism to be had for Wenger and co. as the Gunners frequently beat Bayern and have come very very close to ousting them in recent years.

Arsenal will, as usual be praying for Alexis Sanchez to be on song, as when they are, they are rarely stopped, but it has scarcely happened so far this season and it again seems unlikely that they will be capable of pulling off the upset.

Don’t be surprised to see Wenger start Olivier Giroud who has proved a threat against Bayern in the past as he could be the key to winning the tie, but they’ll need more than just Giroud.

The final game sees reigning champions Real Madrid host Napoli, and despite Madrid’s relatively uninspiring group stage showing where they failed to top their group, they consistently make the semi-finals of this competition with ease, year after year, and setbacks rarely stop them – how many times have we seen them on the brink of being knocked out, only for a late moment of Ronaldo magic or a Sergio Ramos header to save them in the dying embers of games.

This will to win and never give in is what has helped them reach the latter stages so often, and is why they’ve won the Champions League twice in the last three years.

As for Napoli, Dries Mertens and Marek Hamsik could well catch Zidane’s side out and there is quality throughout the Italian side, so it will, like all of the other games, be fairly closely contested although this game also features a team considered favourites.

But then again, what is the point in labelling a team as ‘favourites’? Were Leicester favourites for the title? No. Were Portugal favourites for the Euros? Of course not. So really, whilst you can analyse players, form, tactics and everything else, it is always inevitably inspiringly unpredictable.

Will Gabriel Jesus be a success in the Premier League?

You’d be forgiven for thinking that throwing Gabriel Jesus in at the deep end immediately after his signing from Palmeiras was the wrong option.

Besides, Pep Guardiola already has a world-class striker at his disposal in Sergio Aguero, so Jesus should be eased in from the bench, given short bursts of game time in order to show what he can do and prove himself.

Yet Pep doesn’t do safe or simple. Pep takes risks. And whilst this season has not been ideal so far, the decision to drop Aguero for Jesus has instantly paid off, with three goals in his first three games in English football.

Still at the tender age of 19, Jesus is unlikely to fire City to a surprise comeback title, however, the Brazilian wonderkid appears to possess all the attributes to make it at the top level.

He was impressive in Brazil’s triumphant Olympic campaign in the summer, and he has shown signs already of being a genuine top quality player, linking up to great effect with the likes of Neymar and Phillipe Coutinho in first-team action in World Cup qualifiers.

He is an intelligent and skilful false number 9, who can effectively drop in the hole and look to create, or get in the box to finish of moves, both of which are ideal for City.

He has great skill and ability on the ball, able to run at speed, pick passes and beat players in one-on-one situations, and after scoring 28 goals in Brazil with Palmeiras, it seems that he could potentially develop into a very accomplished finisher.

His first goal in the 2-1 win against Swansea was a clever finish, and not only can he round off moves but he shows a classy striker’s instinct, frequently getting into the right positions when his team are getting forward.

All three of his goals in England so far have demonstrated his clever positioning, and his early form has already seen him clinch Aguero’s place in Pep Guardiola’s first eleven, with the Argentinian being dropped to the bench against Swansea.

Whilst this first team joy may not last for Jesus, he will certainly be another exciting attacking option for Guardiola at his disposal; he has the talent to become a special player.

No, he won’t drastically change things for a struggling Manchester City team, but his pace, dribbling and attacking qualities could prove pivotal in their pursuit of a top four finish.

The revival of Eden Hazard

2014/15 was the season where Eden Hazard put himself out there, showed that he wasn’t merely a skilful player with a lot of potential, but a very good player, perhaps even a world-class one.

His outstanding technical ability was a key factor in Chelsea’s title resounding title win that year, and it was clear that he was a huge talent and an exciting prospect who could become one of the world’s very best.

Following his excellent year where his goals, assists, and all round brilliance fired Chelsea to the title, he made it clear that he wanted to take his game up a notch, and he said on numerous occasions that he wanted to ‘score the amount of goals that Messi and Ronaldo do’, and that was the area of his game that he was focusing on.

However, 2015/16 was, in short, a disaster.

It is hard to see exactly where things went wrong for Hazard and Chelsea, whether it was a lack of hunger, or maybe just that the players fell out with Mourinho.

What we do know is that by the end of his rein he had certainly lost the dressing room, and surrounded by an out of form team, Hazard found himself out of form too, and there were suggestions made that he was one of the players who had been involved in a major fall out with Mourinho.

So, playing under a manager he didn’t like in an underperforming team, the Belgian struggled; he didn’t get into advanced positions as often, he wasn’t running directly at players which he does best and he failed to score Premier League goal in the entire first half of the season.

Still, when Jose was sacked on December 17th 2015, and replaced by Guus Hiddink for the remainder of the campaign, Chelsea’s form slowly began to recover, and as results improved, the latter stages of the season saw Hazard offer glimpses of his former self.

His two goals away at Bournemouth were his first of the season, and he followed that up with an outstanding goal to hand the title to underdogs Leicester, a year after scoring the title-winning goal for Chelsea.

Another spark of utter brilliance was displayed against Liverpool with a special solo goal, and that late end of season form saw him go into Euro 2016 with Belgium with a fresh optimism.

His displays were satisfactory in France, with a number  of solid but unspectacular games along with an impressive performance and trademark goal against Hungary, but whilst he played to a decent level himself, his country were sent packing by Wales in the quarter-finals, giving him the chance to return to Chelsea under new manager Antonio Conte and look ahead to a new season.

So, after Hiddink revived the spirit at the club and put them in a stable situation, Conte drilled Hazard and the rest of the squad and has quickly got them playing his way in his three at the back system.

He has taken what is and always has been a very good squad, but has turned them from mere solidarity to the team favourites for the title, and with Hazard now fully behind the ideas of his new boss, he has been able to thrive again, especially with the return to form of his team-mate Diego Costa.

In a slightly different role where the Belgian is a little bit further forward and closer to Costa, their simply ridiculous near telepathic link has been the reason for goal after goal after goal for the Blues this season.

His new found confidence has seen him run at defenders again and get into dangerous and goal-scoring positions, and a number of wonderful creative displays has seen him fire the team to the top of the table.

Now that the team is thriving, it is the perfect situation for him, but he must ensure that he doesn’t always play to the level of the rest of the side, and that he is capable of still performing whilst others may not be in form.

He is the main spark of creativity and genius in Conte’s scintillating side, and for now, it looks as if he has re-discovered his magic touch.

Liverpool vs Southampton EFL Cup semi-final match report

After penalty heartbreak in last year’s final, Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool had been determined to make amends as they faced Southampton in the first leg of the EFL Cup semi-final a fortnight ago, but a poor performance saw the Reds outplayed in a 0-1 defeat, which could, and almost certainly should have been more, with a number of chances going begging for the Saints.

It is always difficult when a clean sheet is required at Anfield, especially with Liverpool being the Premier League’s top scorers so far this season, but Claude Puel’s men executed a difficult game plan to perfection.

The absence of an early goal unsettled Liverpool as they struggled to break down a resolute Southampton defence, and whilst they’re focus was on getting the first goal, they looked shaky when being hit on the counter.

Nathan Redmond, very impressive on the night, lead two threatening bursts forward as Saints created the two most dangerous chances of the half, with the first being a pull back to Dusan Tadic who, 8 yards from goal, could only be denied by Liverpool  keeper Karius.

The second saw another positive run from Redmond as he drove at the heart of the Red’s defence at pace, and this time he pulled the ball back for Steven Davis who failed to latch onto the first ball, and panicked at the second bite of the cherry, skewing the half volley chance high over the bar.

Despite 0-0 suggesting that it had been a successful half for the South Coast side, the missed opportunities allowed nerves to creep in, but it had been a very encouraging 45 minutes of football.

Southampton have often been criticized for lacking tempo in the final third, counter attacking without pace or conviction and passing backwards too often this season, but that changed tonight as they soaked up the Liverpool pressure whilst remaining effective on the break.

However, Jay Rodriguez hadn’t looked too sharp leading the line, and the pace of Shane Long offered a far more dangerous option.

The half time team talk seemed to have rejuvenated Liverpool to an extent, and it seemed as if they had woken up at last, but in the final quarter of the tie, it always seemed like it would be too little too late.

With a bit more creativity, Daniel Sturridge was presented with two clear cut opportunities, but the first was a close range acrobatic effort that flew over, and the second also cleared Fraser Forster’s goal.

Forster, who looked to have made a catastrophic error with what looked to be a routine save, made an incredible leap to claw the ball away from the goal and tip it round the far post in what was a miraculous clearance, and at that point, it just seemed to be Southampton’s night.

Despite the chances created, take nothing away from the colossal performances in the Southampton back line, with Jack Stephens and Maya Yoshida the makeshift centre-back partnership.

The pair were both out of favour merely a month ago, but with the sale of Jose Fonte to West Ham and the injury to the superb Virgil Van Dijk, the two relatively inexperienced defenders were placed under immense pressure.

Stephens, called up for the biggest game of his career so far, had a flawless game, whilst Yoshida continued his recent good form with another top match.

So, after Southampton had put in a defensive master-class and had kept Liverpool at bay for ninety minutes, their moment going forward finally came, with two substitutes combining.

Josh Sims carried the ball at pace from his own penalty area in a brilliant run, and after cutting across Georginio Wijnaldum, he slid the ball through to that man Shane Long, who caressed the ball into his path before keeping his composure and belting the ball past Karius in goal and sending Saints to Wembley.

Southampton’s last major cup success came in the FA Cup of 1976 against Manchester United, and should the Red Devils overcome Hull in their return leg, history could repeat itself.

The biggest concern is that Virgil Van Dijk will remain a doubt for the final itself, but should their new found partnership at the back continue to flourish, they will remain serious contenders for League cup glory.

In what has been a relatively poor season for them in reality, cup success would make it a far more memorable one, so Saints fans – keep February 26th free in your diary.

 

FIFA expand World Cup to 48 teams

Could this be the latest move by Gianni Infantino to further liken himself to former corrupt FIFA President Sepp Blatter? It seems likely.

From 2026 onwards, the World Cup will now feature an expanded version of the tournament featuring 48 teams rather than the previous 32, and whilst there are positives to take out of this move, there are far more negatives.

We’ll start with the glass half empty. We get to watch more football, which is what we love. The knockout stages, which now begin with a round of 32, are commonly more exciting than the group stages, and with more knockout games, there is a case for suggesting more late drama and more entertainment.

Also, with more countries around the world participating in the competition, the profile of football will be raised amongst those areas, which can surely only be a good thing.

However, this is a clever move from Infantino.

By choosing to include more teams in the tournament, there will be more fixtures, meaning there will be more TV money, resulting in more money for FIFA.

Infantino has clearly opted for this expansion for financial gain, but it will also play into his hands as this change will allow more countries to qualify, and those countries will be more likely to vote for him as a result, increasing his chances of being re-elected.

Whilst he has tried to make a case for the change by saying the quality of the football will improve, it clearly didn’t work at Euro 2016, which was not a success.

After expanding the tournament from 16 teams to 24, we saw a drop in entertainment, and despite the fairytale stories of Iceland and Wales, they are mere consolations to what was, in reality, a failure of a tournament, where we saw a team that lacked  in talented players (Ronaldo aside of course) set up with an extremely defensive style, grinding out results with football which really wasn’t good to watch.

Yes, we may be more likely to see teams thrive like Iceland and Wales did, but with more teams, those fairytales will seem slightly forced as they are more likely to happen, and they risk not being quite as magical as they would be in a 32 team competition.

Further cons include the fact that three team groups could incentivise smaller teams to play for 0-0 score-lines in order to progress.

The three team format could also see teams be mutually beneficial to one another, as it is likely that there will be a situation where two sides would both qualify if a certain result occurred, and if that score-line is reached, two teams not trying would hardly make for interesting football.

Away from the World Cup finals themselves, teams like USA and Mexico will find qualification almost a given and far too easy with the expanded format, and there will be a lack of competition in their qualifying campaigns, adding to the suggestions that the club game is succeeding the international game with ease – be honest, does anyone look forward to an international break anymore?

Overall, this appears to be a change that will bring financial gain to FIFA and will give Blatter a better chance of re-election, and as for the football, there’s not much hope.

Southampton worries pile up amid Van Dijk rumours

Year after year, impressive recruitment allows Southampton to remain a top half Premier League side, often pushing for Europe.

Despite losing the likes of Adam Lallana, Luke Shaw, Morgan Schniederlin, Nathaniel Clyne and many more over the past few seasons, they have consistently improved upon their league position each season.

However, this time, their luck seems to have run out.

After losing Graziano Pelle, Sadio Mane, Victor Wanyama and boss Ronald Koeman in the summer, the Saints have found goals hard to come by this season.

In 2015/16, the form of Shane Long throughout, added to a few goals from Pelle and an impressive late flourish from Mane saw Saints finish as one of the higher scoring clubs in the league, but with the lack of goals from the former and the departures of the latter, the goals have dried up.

Charlie Austin has had a unspectacular start to the season and has now been side-lined through injury, and new-signing Nathan Redmond has been inconsistent, whilst Jay Rodriguez, finally back from injury, has hardly set the league alight with three goals.

What has kept Southampton tenth in the table up until now has been their solid back four of Cedric, Jose Fonte, Virgil Van Dijk and Ryan Bertrand, but with Fonte rumoured to be on his way to Manchester United and Van Dijk also subject of interest from a number of top clubs, their main assets in the squad could depart, leaving them without much hope.

Van Dijk, who signed from Celtic in 2015 for a fee of around £13 million, is being courted by the likes of Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City, and it’s easy to see why.

The Dutch defender, who won Southampton’s player of the season award in 2016 is a calm and composed defender, possessing elegance similar to players such as John Stones and Gerard Pique.

His repertoire features his impressive range of passing, his excellent reading of the game, and his aerial ability which is second to none, coming handy in both defence and attack.

Going forward, he has scored three goals this season, the same as striker Nathan Redmond, and more than Shane Long, and whilst he has played as a centre-back for his whole career so far, his understanding of the game and his technical ability suggests that he could play in a role further forward, possibly as a holding midfielder.

The only reason to suggest that he isn’t a world-class defender already is the fact that we are yet to see how he adapts to a variety of tactical instructions, and maybe a move to the Etihad to play under Pep Guardiola would suit him.

He also seems ready-made to be a Barcelona player, with his ability on the ball appearing to be a perfect fit for the Catalan champions, whilst a move to title favourites Chelsea could also help his development, although he could struggle for game time.

Whether he stays or goes, Southampton aren’t in a healthy situation, but fans at St Mary’s will be praying that he stays nevertheless – and with good reason.

Football Magic Player of the Year 2016: Lionel Messi

There is no doubt, this was not the most straight-forward decision. For obvious reasons, this will cause controversy – but it’s time to explain why Lionel Messi is the 2016 Football Magic player of the year.

Firstly, I would like to stress that whilst the Ballon D’Or has very specific criteria, this award will be entirely based on performance over the course of the year, and nothing else.

Lionel Messi, is a class above. It’s simple. When deployed as a false nine under Pep Guardiola before the arrivals of Neymar and Luis Suarez, he scored goal after goal after goal. More than anyone else in the world by far.

And although times have changed, as he is now accompanied by two other certain South American forwards, he has become a different player – and arguably, even better.

He begins on the right, but has freedom to go where he likes, finding different pockets of space all over the pitch, appearing deep, on the left or sometimes even as a central striker.

Whilst Luis Suarez has arrived and is now scoring more goals than ever before, it is clear that whilst it doesn’t seem like Messi will ever hit the goal scoring heights of his incredible 91 goal year in 2012, he has not lost his ability in front of goal at all, as now, in a different position, with slightly less chances, he has still scored an outstanding 51 goals in 51 games for Barcelona, with a further 8 in the colours of his country.

In addition to that incredible feat, the link established with Neymar and Suarez has seen him showcase his fantastic ability to consistently set up for his team-mates, with 32 assists this year.

Still, despite all that, some may still argue that Ronaldo or Suarez have still been better.

After all, the Portuguese did completely turn a 0-2 deficit on its head in the Champions League with a hat-trick against Wolfsburg, and at times he has looked unstoppable this year, especially with his sensational four goal haul against Celta Vigo last March.

As for Suarez, an incredible run of form at the end of 2015/16 wrapped up the title and the cup for Barcelona, with 14 goals in just 4 games at one stage, and countless important goals and assists.

However, no matter how deep you look into goals, assists and trophies, all too often people miss the performances.

By looking at the stats, Messi scored one goal and made no assists in last weekends 4-1 win over Espanyol.

But, analysing the match fully, Messi quite simply did things that weren’t human in that game.

After impressive work from Iniesta to feed the ball into Messi 25 yards from goal, a classy nutmeg in a tight area followed by the dismantling of the Espanyol defence, taking a further four defenders out of the equation with insane balance, dribbling and control, a quick toe-poke forced the goalkeeper into parrying the ball into the path of Luis Suarez, who slotted home.

Immediately after this, he received the ball 25 yards from goal once again, this time showing unbelievable acceleration and terrific skill to blast through three defenders, with the ball eventually falling to Jordi Alba who smashed the ball into the corner after Messi had weaved his way through another maze.

Later on in the game, a swift counter attack, where the Argentinian once again lead the charge, saw Messi find Suarez before continuing his run into the area. Suarez then demonstrated their near telepathic link with an inch perfect chipped ball into Messi’s path allowing him to finish coolly and make it 4-1.

So, by looking at the stats, the fact that for his first mazy run the ball came off the goalkeeper before Suarez scored, and for his second the ball flicked off the defender’s knee before falling for Jordi Alba, he only scored one goal, and officially, no assists.

But, by analysing the performance, we can tell that the skill he portrayed in that game was second to none.

But wait, you might say, you can’t say he’s been the best player in 2016 because of one match.

And that’s true. But it hasn’t just been one match.

There were similar dribbles against Celta Vigo last season that defied any law, and in that same game, where Barca triumphed 6-1, his audacious pass to Suarez from the penalty spot showed not only how un-selfish he is, as had he taken and converted the spot-kick he would have scored 300 La Liga goals, but it also showed what a unique talent he is.

More jaw-dropping moments this year include his out-standing free-kicks against Colombia and USA, or an impossible, perfectly waited long-range pass for Luis Suarez against Real Betis, as well as two brilliant goals against the same opposition on the first day of this season.

Whether it’s his dribbling, passing, finishing, free-kicks, balance, composure or just all round brilliance, in my opinion there is no doubt that he is the best player in the world, and in 2016, he’s been no different.

 

 

 

Can Leicester conquer Europe?

Another season of exciting Champions League football begins, where Europe’s elite clubs battle it out on the big stage, all with an eye on the ultimate prize.

However, this year could well be different.

Not only are the big clubs proving to be unpredictable once again, but Manchester City, under Pep Guardiola, are beginning to look like at team that could be a real threat in this competition.

Still, what will be most different about this year is the fact that Leicester City, shock Premier League Champions last season, have the opportunity to defy the odds and re-write any previous rules once again.

In a reasonably accessible group, the Foxes could surprise everyone again.

Back in the Premier League, it seems as if many opponents have worked them out, they’ve cracked their daring code. But it could be very different against European opposition.

Against Club Brugge, Kobenhavn and Porto, Ranieri’s men will try to surprise opponents that are all beatable, and if they can get through the group, they relish being against the odds, so anything is possible.

Will opponents no exactly what they are facing aswell as Premier League teams do? Will they be complacent? We don’t know, but if so, that would really work in Vardy and co.’s favour.

Moving on to the other groups, group A features both PSG and Arsenal, in what could be a mouth-watering clash, whilst Basel and Ludogorets will have a tough task on their hands if they are to progress.

PSG have had their eyes on winning this competition for a long time, and will accept nothing less than the semi-finals from new boss Unai Emery after years of domestic success accompanied by European failure.

Last season, despite a clean sweep of the French Super Cup, French League Cup, French Cup and Ligue 1, Luarent Blanc was still axed after falling to Manchester City in the quarter finals of this competition.

As for Arsenal, they will once again have to battle against a European heavyweight in their group.

This time out, they will hope to win the group to avoid a team like Barcelona (who they faced last season) in the round of 16, but with the French champions about, they could struggle.

Still, if they do manage to achieve top spot, anything is possible – in what could be Arsene Wenger’s farewell season, Champions League success would be perfect.

Napoli and Benfica will be favourites in group B whilst Manchester City find themselves up against Barcelona in group C, with Pep Guardiola facing his former club.

Last time Pep took on his old side, a Leo Messi inspired Barca brushed them aside 3-0 in the first leg, and despite Pep’s Bayern managing to win 3-2 in the return leg, the Spaniard had been defeated.

This time, with a strong squad of competitive talent at his disposal, he could get revenge, especially after City’s dazzling start to the season has got the entire half of Manchester on his side.

As for Barca themselves, a deeper squad could take them past last season’s quarter final stage as they fell to eventual finalists Atletico Madrid, and the ‘Azulgranas’ will of course be main challengers once again.

With group D boasting both Atletico and Bayern, aswell as group A containing both PSG and Arsenal, group C containing both Barcelona and Manchester City and group F containing Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid, there is a possibility for some epic clashes in the round of 16 stage, where big teams could be eliminated, possibly paving the way for teams like Leicester to once again do the impossible.

Spurs have a winnable group, but are unlikely to reach the latter stages of the tournament – they’re not quite at that level yet.

It wouldn’t be surprising for them to keep progressing until they meet one of the big teams, (Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Atletico etc.) they will just have to hope that the draw is kind to the them, should they get through their group.

Champions Real Madrid should be favourites for group F, whilst Borussia Dortmund should follow them in second place.

After a great start to his managerial career, this year we will really see what Zinedine Zidane is made of – but we wouldn’t dare try to predict Real Madrid of course.

Finally, group H features Juventus, Lyon, Sevilla and Dinamo Zagreb, with Juventus as clear favourites leading Lyon and Sevilla to battle it out for second, whilst Dinamo Zagreb will probably be happy with third if they can scrape it, as that would mean Europa League knockout stage qualification.

So, will Real Madrid win again, or will Barca take their trophy back? Will Bayern claim the title, or can PSG finally crack Europe? Or, will Leicester prove us all wrong again?

16/17 Round up #3

Another weekend of Premier League action, and plenty more goals and talking points to discuss as we head into the international break.

Starting with the game at White Hart Lane between Spurs and Liverpool, the points were shared in a game where, at the start of the match, both teams would probably have taken a point.

A late first half penalty from James Milner followed by Danny Rose’s equalising strike saw the game finish 1-1, but Harry Kane’s failure to notch once again suggests that he may well be a slow starter – however, that may not matter as the English striker failed to score in his first six games last season – and still ended up as the Premier League’s top scorer.

Elsewhere, Chelsea continued their 100% start by easing past Burnley 3-0  through Eden Hazard, Willian and Victor Moses.

Hazard, who went from the PFA player of the year to biggest flop of they year, has more than hinted at a return to his scintillating 2014/15 form.

He offered glimpses at the end of last season with spectacular goals against Tottenham and Liverpool, whilst he had a mixed Euro 2016 campaign, playing well in most matches, but playing in a Belgian side lacking any sort of team spirit or togetherness as their tournament was curtailed by Wales in the quarter finals.

He has started this season with 2 goals in 3 games, and he looks like a man on a mission, taking the game to the opposition, threatening all the time, rather than keeping the ball for keeping the ball’s sake.

As for Jamie Vardy,  who had almost the exact opposite season last time out, the Foxes striker scored his first Premier League goal of the season with a brilliant goal as the champions saw off Swansea 2-1.

Next week Vardy will face Liverpool’s leaky defence, and if they press high, which we assume they almost certainly will, there will be gaps in behind for the pacey striker to exploit, so the Red’s defenders will have a lot on their plate.

Crystal Palace met Bournemouth at Selhurst park in another early kick-off, and Eddie Howe’s Cherries had the win robbed from them as Scott Dann cancelled out Josh King’s opener, equalising in the 93rd minute, after Yohan Cabaye had had a penalty saved by Artur Boruc after Mike Dean gave a penalty for what was clear shirt pulling in the box.

On transfer deadline day Bournemouth added Jack Wilshere to their side on loan, in if he stays fit, (and that is a big if) he could seamlessly slot into their style of play and help the South Coast side in their survival bid.

At Goodison Park a Leighton Baines penalty was tipped onto the post by Shay Given, only for the ball to cannon back of Given’s back and into the net, giving the Toffee’s their second win of the season against Stoke.

The Potters, who have finished 9th for the last three seasons, will struggle to repeat the feat this time round with the strengthening of clubs like Everton and Chelsea, who both finished below Stoke last season.

Southampton came from behind to draw with Sunderland, as Claude Puel’s men again started slowly, coming into the game after going a goal down.

Jay Rodriguez scored his first goal since March 2014, and after he stayed at the club following deadline day, (amid talks of a loan to West Brom) he could be a useful player for Saints as he looks to get his career back on track after some terrible injuries.

Arsenal claimed their first three points of the season with a comfortable 1-3 win at Watford, and with the additions of Shkodran Mustafi and Lucas Perez, Arsene Wenger could finally be building a side that could finally challenge for the title – but, with the two Manchester clubs and Chelsea looking very strong this time, it might be too little too late, especially after a slow start.

The late kick-off saw Hull put in another solid defensive performance only for Marcus Rashford to continue proving people wrong by grabbing the only goal of the game in stoppage time, thus enabling United to continue their 100% start.

Rashford, who scored a hat-trick on his U21 debut, in my opinion, will be a star. He’s doing it against top defenders already, and with his searing pace and unbelievable skill, he doesn’t look like fading away in the coming years.

Finally, after West Brom drew 0-0 with Middlesbrough, Raheem Sterling continued to thrive under Pep with two impressive goals.

The young winger, who disappointed at the Euros and struggled towards the end of last season, is looking like a transformed player under Guardiola.

However, whilst that, along with the ever impressive form of Fernandinho, is great for City fans, star striker Sergio Aguero will miss this weekend’s Manchester Derby after elbowing West Ham’s Winston Reid.

It is expected that the promising Kalechi Iheanacho will be used in his place, but Nolito could also play as a striker, so the Jose v Pep face off could be even more tactically intriguing than we first thought.