Thursday, 25 September 2014

Leagues Apart

When the Champions League returns, it brings plenty of talking points. And plenty of opportunities for cynics to criticize the English contingent. They are cynics, however, and must not be taken seriously. I am, by contrast, a relentless ball of sunshine.

I can confidently say that all the English teams did everything they could on Match Day One to portray themselves as mildly genuine “maybe quarter-finalists” of the tournament. Arsenal went to Dortmund and touched the ball five times in the first hour. Now, there are those who would interpret that negatively. But, I think that was a tactic- to not play like a football team at all. It’s much easier to beat a football team than whatever Arsenal was trying to be. That’s why Dortmund only won 2-0.

On a more positive note, Arsene Wenger’s defence after the game was only about half as transparent as his defence during it. “They scored two- we had three chances. If we had taken our chances, we could have won 3-2”. Granted, lamentations about missed chances are bound to appear more frequently in his post-match musings now that ace finisher Danny Welbeck has joined their ranks, it still begged a rather eloquent “Whaaaaa…” which Geoff Shreeves declined to provide.

Arsenal fans since witnessed their side “hammer” (yes, that’s what they’re calling it) Aston Villa and then put in a “spirited display” (yes, that’s what they’re calling it), bowing out of the League Cup to Southampton. There, MK Dons have gone further than Arsenal as well. All United need now to regain self-respect is for MK Dons to win at Stamford Bridge.

Let’s move beyond Arsenal now because I think we can all agree they were never in contention to win anything anyway. Except, maybe, the League Cup. Oh, wait.

Liverpool returned to “Real Madrid and Bayern Munich’s Premier Club Competition” at home to Bulgarian Champions Love-your-forests (close enough, don’t be a nit-picker). They created a number of tactically relevant “to-be-discussed-in-the-studios-later” almost opportunities (known colloquially as “Raheem Sterlings”) and finally broke the deadlock when Emile Heskey’s less successful cousin Mario did what Luis Suarez would have done about 9 times in as many games- score at the Kop and look ghastly celebrating.

Thankfully, that only took 82 minutes- which is not surprising because Liverpool are known for rapid starts at Anfield. They are also known for getting ridiculous refereeing decisions given in their favour. Love-your-forests goal-keeper *insert name here* really didn’t see that coming. Steven Gerrard stepped up and scored and promised that this year when he slips, they will be nowhere near the title.

English Champions Manchester City went to German Champions Bayern, who have started calling City their “best start to the group stages- let’s have them every year”. City created about half as many good chances as Arsenal did at Dortmund (I know what you’re thinking and yes, half of zero is still zero).

“They only beat us in the last minute of the game- I’ll take that”- this jubilant City fan celebrating the defeat against a depleted Bayern says everything I could ever hope to about the standards English teams are aspiring to.

But wait, let’s not get carried away here! There’s still hope for England in last year’s semi-finalists and this year’s Premier League Champions (was I not supposed to give that away?) – Jose Mourinho (formerly known as Chelsea Football Club). And, well, as luck (read Champions League group stage draws which are very obviously rigged) would have it, he ended up with probably the easiest group of the lot.

Maribor and Sporting are very good in their respective countries of *insert name here* and Portugal, which means they might as well step aside. Add to this “that-German-side-that-was-good-until-Manuel Neuer-left” and Jose must have been readying himself for a delicious second round tie with Love-your-forests.

But, things started sourly on Match Day One when Didier Drogba look-alike Didier Drogba took to the field and put on an utterly uninspired performance and Chelsea could only manage a 1-1 draw. Jose came out after the game and refused to criticize his team- I like to end every paragraph with a joke.

“There are still 5 games to go” echoed around England after Match Day One and, while gauntlets haven’t been thrown down, towels remain firmly in place as well. There will be a resurgence, one wagers. So let’s come together and hope that I’ll be back soon blogging about a resolute Chelsea totally outclassing Maribor one nil, Danny Welbeck scoring his second Champions League goal in the same tournament and Liverpool winning comfortably against 8-man Basel thanks to a Steven Gerrard hat-trick of penalties.

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