September 20, 2012
This week marks the start of the lucrative group stages in both the Champions League and Europa League and a number of the top English Premier League sides were involved in the action over the last three nights. All of these teams will be hoping for a good European campaign to follow in the footsteps of Liverpool, Manchester United and Chelsea who have all lifted the Champions League trophy in the last decade.
Throughout the years, teams from England have been very successful in Europe, with only Spain having more winners of the Champions League. This includes a period of five years when English teams were banned from European competition (six years for Liverpool) after the Heysel tragedy and it took several seasons to get back up to speed with the demands of these competitions.
The Champions League
After some great performances over the last few seasons, England now has the full complement of four teams in the Champions League. This is the maximum number allowed, and this season Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United are all playing in the group stages and hoping to progress to the knock-out rounds.
On Tuesday night, Arsenal and Manchester City were both playing away from home at Montpellier and Real Madrid respectively. The Wednesday fixtures had Chelsea and Manchester United lining up against Juventus and Galatasaray at home.
Arsenal got off to a great start to come back from behind in France against Montpellier. They got off to a terrible start giving away a penalty after 9 minutes that Younes Belhanda converted for the hosts. It didn’t take long for them to come back into the game with Lukas Podolski and Gervinho both scoring within the next 10 minutes to snatch the lead. Neither team could score again leaving Arsenal to eventually run out 2-1 winners and take top spot in their group.
The game between Manchester City and Real Madrid was a pulsating match at the Bernabeu stadium. After a goalless first half the visitors took the lead through Edin Dzeko after 68 minutes. Ten minutes later Marcelo leveled the scores for the home side. Then the game sprang to life in the 85th minute when Manchester City took the lead for the second time in the game through Aleksander Kolarov. Within a minute Madrid equalized through Karim Benzema before Cristiano Ronaldo scored the winning goal in the last minute of normal time. After playing so well Manchester City were unlucky to lose, but this was their most difficult group game and playing like this should give them the points needed to progress.
Wednesday saw Chelsea start their defense of the Champions League with a tricky fixture against Juventus. In his first Champions League game, the young Brazilian Oscar took the plaudits with two first half goals for the hosts. Arturo Vidal pulled one back for the visitors before half time before Claudio Machisio hit the equalizer in the 80th minute. A draw was a fair result for both teams, but Juventus will probably be happier with one point than Chelsea.
Manchester United secured a victory by a single goal over Galatasaray thanks to an early goal from Michael Carrick. Galatasaray were the better team, particularly in the second half, and deserved at least a goal but were unable to get the breakthrough they needed. United will be happy with the points, but Sir Alex Fergusson will be unhappy with the performance.
With two victories, one draw and one defeat, the English teams have got off to a good start but it is still early days and positions can still change.
The Europa League
Thursday night is the time for the Europa League to come to the fore. Many managers see this competition as the poor relation to the Champions League with some teams choosing to field weaker teams. However, as the replacement for the UEFA Cup and Cup Winners Cup it is the second most important continental competition in Europe.
This season, England has three teams playing in the group stages of the competition. Newcastle and Tottenham qualified as the highest placed finishers in the Premier League last season, and Liverpool qualified through their performances in the domestic cup competitions and have had to play in the qualifying rounds.
The early kick-off game saw Liverpool visit Switzerland to play Young Boys in the highest scoring game of the night. An early own goal from Juhani Ojala gave Liverpool a lead in the 4th minute that they kept until just before half time. Within two minutes, Raphael Nuzzolo scored the equalizer before Liverpool took the lead again through Andre Wisdom. Good play early in the second half gave Young Boys the lead as Juhani Ojala made up for his earlier mistake with the second before Gonzalo Eulogio Zarate gave them the lead. Less than five minutes passed before Sebastian Coates scored the equalizer. Two late goals from Jonjo Shelvey gave Liverpool victory by a 5-3 score line.
In contrast, both of the other two games featuring Premier League teams ended in goalless draws. Newcastle will be happy to take a point from a tricky visit to Maritimo in Portugal, and Tottenham will not be too disappointed to draw at home against Lazio. Both teams will need to find additional firepower in the next games to progress in the tournament, but will have easier games to gather points.