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.