Engaging with Europe’s elite

By | Sport
Ilkay Gundogan celebrates his first goal versus Barcelona. Credit @tumblr.com.

During this week, the fourth set of Champions League group stage matches take place and, amongst these are five British clubs, all seemingly attempting to advance to the latter stages of the competition. With the tournament seeming to be the pinnacle of club football, it seems the world’s best teams, and players, are showcasing their talents and as such, it may be challenging for a British club to claim the trophy. Yet, this seems to be a challenge the clubs are relishing, as the four English sides are all currently in the qualification positions for the Round of 16.

In Group C, table leaders, and victors in their opening three matches, Barcelona, travelled to the Etihad to play Manchester City. Whilst it seemed the Catalans may have been the favourites pre-game, considering they emerged victorious in the reverse fixture 4-0, it was the English side who claimed the three points, elevating them to second place in the group, and seeming to provide them with momentum, and motivation, to advance to the next round. Summer signing Ilkay Gundogan seemed to be the catalyst in the victory, scoring two goals from holding midfield, instigating the comeback after Lionel Messi’s early goal. The other British side in the group, Celtic, managed to gain a point versus Borussia Monchengladbach thanks to a Moussa Dembele penalty in the 76th minute. It was Dembele, who ended the game with the Man of the Match award, who originally won the penalty, simultaneously contributing to Julian Korb’s red card; this seemed to be the catalyst in the Scottish side earning a point, which seemed a reward considering Scott Sinclair had earlier hit the post.

Arsenal, the other English side competing, travelled to Bulgaria to face Ludogorets; versus the same team at the Emirates two weeks prior, the Gunners had emerged victorious, seeming to control the game from start to finish. In the 6-0 win, midfielder Mesut Ozil scored a hat-trick, and as such it seemed pre-game he may be the catalyst in contributing to victory in Bulgaria, most notably due to his vision and ability to pick a pass. Yet, it was Ludogorets who took an early lead, eventually doubling it three minutes later; the Bulgarian side seeming to capitalise on Arsene Wenger’s decision to rest key talismen, including goalkeeper Petr Cech. Yet, it seemed going behind motivated the London side, and by half-time the scores were level after goals from Granit Xhaka and Olivier Giroud. It then seemed to fall to Ozil, the aforementioned key man from the reverse fixture, to showcase quality in the final third, and in the 87th minute he lobbed the goalkeeper, and rounded two defenders, before slotting home to earn Arsenal the three points.

Arsenal players celebrate Mesut Ozil's winning goal. Credit @tumblr.com.

Arsenal players celebrate Mesut Ozil’s winning goal. Credit @tumblr.com.

Wednesday night sees Leicester City play their fourth Champions League fixture away at Copenhagen and, with victory, the Premier League Champions will qualify for the next round. After recording three wins, and three clean sheets, from their opening three ties, the Foxes seem to be in prime position to win the group, and perhaps face a more straightforward route in their quest for the final. With Ranieri seeming to rest key talismen, including PFA Player of the Season Riyad Mahrez, against Tottenham last weekend, it seems their players are at full fitness, which may be the difference in Denmark. If the Foxes are able to record victory, they may make history: qualifying for the next stage for the first time.

With previous champions including Real Madrid and Bayern Munich presently competing in the tournament, it seems they may be the favourites to add the trophy to their repertoire. Yet, the competing British clubs seem to be achieving accomplished performances in this year’s competition, perhaps elevating their credentials as top clubs in the process; with the four English clubs presently in the qualification positions, they seem to possess the capabilities to ensure their admittance into the next round. Ultimately, if the British clubs are able to maintain their form, and continue to gain victories, perhaps there may be a British club lifting the trophy for the first time since 2012.

Which British club may accomplish the most in this season’s Champions League?

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