Europe’s top clubs returned to our TVs as the group stages of both the Champions League and Europa League kicked off across the continent. There were plenty of top games and talking points after 40 games and we have a look at the biggest below:
Defending The Title Isn’t Easy
Liverpool’s title defence got off on the wrong foot with a loss away to Napoli. The Reds who have won all five in the Premier League this season lost the match in the final 10 minutes down to two defensive errors, the first resulting in a penalty and the second in a Llorente goal.
Jurgen Klopp’s men evenly matched Napoli for most of the 90′ but there were still a few questions notably going forward as Mo Salah and Sadio Mane failed to create too many opportunities for themselves. Ballon d’Or favourite Virgil Van Dyk also committed an uncharacteristic mistake that led to Napoli’s second.
This was the first time since 1994 that the European titleholders had been defeated in the first game of their reign. While that stat sounds more ominous than it is, the defeat will have surely conveyed the magnitude of difficulty involved in winning back-to-back Champions Leagues.
In the group’s other game, Red Bull Salzburg once again showed why they are being talked about a lot in footballing circles these days as they demolished Genk 6-2. The Austrians visit Anfield next where Klopp will meet a side that plays with the same high tempo and intensity as his.
Real Issues In Madrid
Zinedine Zidane has never had any trouble defending the Champions League, having won three in a row with Real Madrid, but this time out there are definite problems that he needs to solve.
Real lost 3-0 to PSG in Paris and whilst the scoreline was a tad more flattering than the Parisiens actual performance, it meant that in Zidane’s second stint as manager his win record is less than 50%. The fact that it was ex-Blanco Angel Di Maria who scored the opening two goals would have rubbed salt into their wounds.
With Sergio Ramos out, the Real defence looked at sixes and nines in the early stages of the game, allowing PSG to go two ahead after 33 minutes. Remarkably, this was the fifth straight Champions League game that Real had lost when Ramos was not involved.
This Real side are still very much a Work in Progress, but Zidane and their fans will hope that there are positive signs that emerge sooner rather than later or else it could be another hard year for the 13-time European champions.
Have Spurs Lost Their Mojo?
The last few months at Tottenham Hotspurs have been bizarre to say the least. They contested the Champions League final against Liverpool, but since then there has been evident discontent behind the scenes.
Star player Christian Eriksen wished to leave this transfer window, but no bid that matched Spurs’ valuation of him arrived, thus making him stay in London. Manager Mauricio Pochettino was also not a happy man stating in a press conference that he would rather have his title changed to Coach as he didn’t have enough input.
It was no wonder then that the team made a rocky start to their Premier League campaign with a home loss to Newcastle serving as a shock. A 4-0 win over Crystal Palace seemed to have set them on the right track, but they let a two-goal lead slip against Olympiakos on Wednesday night to raise concerns again.
Harry Kane and Lucas Moura seemed to have locked the three points for Spurs, but Mathieu Valbuena first assisted Daniel Podence and then put away a penalty to square things up. Spurs then failed to create much throughout the rest of the game, and were seemingly content with a point – a far cry from their knockout exploits only a few months ago.
Ronaldo Wants Six
Cristiano Ronaldo wants another Champions League title – this isn’t exactly news but the Portuguese has widely spoken about how important it would be for him to become the first player since Paco Gento, who was part of Real’s legendary side in the 50s, to win six European titles.
His quest here started in Madrid again against fierce rivals Atletico with whom he has had quite the history. Last year Ronaldo single-handedly knocked out the Spaniards in the Round of 16, but this time they got a degree of retribution as Hector Herrera scored an equaliser in the 90th minute.
The draw was not the first time this season that Juventus had let a healthy lead slip and in the weekend’s game against Fiorentina they served up an insipid display to say the least. With Maurizio Sarri in charge, it will be interesting to see how this team adapts to his philosophy.
It has to be said though that given Juventus’ performances this season, it may well be Ronaldo’s desire for a sixth title that is needed to spur the club into action and end their long wait for European glory.
Emery Loves Europa League
Arsenal disappointed their fans this weekend as they dropped points at Watford despite being two up and looking completely in control at half time. They have begun the new campaign with the same issues from the last and their inability to keep a clean sheet is sure to haunt them.
But come Thursday night, clearly Unai Emery becomes a different animal as the Gunners conveniently won 3-0 away at Eintracht Frankfurt. The Arsenal manager won three Europa League titles with Sevilla and led his new side to the finals last year once more.
It is understood though that he needs to translate his European success to the domestic scene as the Gunners will not want to contemplate yet another season outside the Champions League next year. To this end, Emery should look to use his players as he he deploys them on Thursdays.
Lucas Torriera may have found a new role now behind the front three where he excelled against the Germans. Emery may as well throw the dice in his second season at the Gunners now and then come January look to shore up that leaky Arsenal defence. How many times have we said that before?