The first round of the Champions League – is over, and the English teams have not done the best job, with two losses from both Manchester sides, and an away draw in Turkey for Chelsea. Let’s take a look at what happened with the Premier League teams in the first leg, before making some predictions for the return to come.
First off, Manchester City. The third place in the Premier League lost 2-0 at home against Barcelona. Even though they flashed some of the skills they showed throughout the season, the Citizens were a step behind on the Catalan giants, also aided by the sending-off of Demichelis early in the second half. Messi scored the following penalty, and Dani Alves finished them off in the last minute. Two goals conceded in the Etihad, and a trip to the Nou Camp yet to come is a daunting task indeed, but perhaps City can regain their run of form and surprise the Spanish number 3, who have been struggling in their league for the last few games, and have not yet shown their best lately. But the chances are slim, and the odds are against them. For the last few seasons, Barcelona have always reached the semi-finals at least, and this Champions League is Manchester City’s first to pass the group-stages. Lacking the experience, and that finishing touch of class several Barca players do have, I would put my money on Barcelona winning at home as well.
Next up is that other club from Manchester: United. The Red Devils seem to have given their scorching trident along with Sir Ferguson as a parting gift, because this season has been far below expectations. With a seventh place in the league, the championship out of reach and knocked out in the domestic cups, the European theatre is where they hope to find solace and glory. Their draw seemed to be in their favour, having avoided teams like AC Milan and neighbours City, and pulling out Olympiakos. The Greek record-champions sold their top striker Mitroglou to Fulham, and didn’t play too well in their group stage, only winning convincingly against Anderlecht, and drawing once against Benfica. On paper it would be an easy pick, but this United isn’t the same as last year. The Greeks gave it all they got and more against a seemingly uninterested opponent, keeping the points home with a 2-0 win.
Being two goals behind is always tough to swallow, and gathering the strength to fight back and beat them 3-0 is even harder, more so for a struggling side like United. If they can get their confidence back quickly, and find their winning stride in the coming two games against West Brom and Liverpool, the Red Devils might stand a chance. I fear however that, after a long run of ups and downs, they won’t be able to win 3-0 at home against a side that has smelled blood and wants more. My prediction is a 1-1 draw, and thus an exit for Manchester.
The third and final Premier League club active in Europe’s highest tier is Chelsea, who drawed 1-all against Turkish side Galatasaray yesterday. Another unconvincing performance in Europe from the London club, who have been strutting their stuff in the Premier League, having climbed up to first place, claiming City’s scalp at the Etihad along the way. All’s well in England, but things don’t run as well abroad as they do at home. In a relatively weak group, with opponents Schalke, Basel and Steaua Bucharest, they still managed to lose two times, both instances against the Swiss champions FC Basel. The eyes of fans – and all Belgians – were fixed on rising star Eden Hazard, who has proven himself to have true potential for greatness. But we were dissapointed. He played an unremarkable match, not being fit for physically tough teams like Galatasaray.
Not all is lost, and Chelsea do have the advantage of scoring a goal away from home, but they need to be wary of taking their foot off the gas too soon, as they did in Istanbul. I do expect Mourinho to spur them on to a victory at home, thus making Chelsea the only English team to go through to the next round.
How do you think the three will fare? Will City shock Europe? Does United have what it takes to beat Olympiakos? And will Mourinho get his players’ heads straight? Sound off in the comments!