Connect with us


Last Ever Champions League group Stage Starts, Man City, Madrid, Barca, Bayern Go To War



Manchester City begin their defence of the Champions League they won on June 10, against Inter Milan, Tuesday (19 September) when the group stage kicks off in the last season in its current format as Europe’s elite club competition gets ready for a radical change.

Unveiled by Uefa in 2021 at the height of the crisis which saw a group of 12 clubs, led by the competition’s top shots, Real Madrdi, Fc Barcelona and Juventus, announcing a breakaway plan to form a rival Super League before promptly abandoning the project, due to harsh reception by some clubs supporters. Therefore the reformatted new-look Champions League will begin next year.

It will see the number of clubs involved in the competition proper increase from 32 to 36, with all participants going into a single league in which teams will play eight games – up from the current six – in what is known as the “Swiss system”.
This is, therefore, the last campaign, after two decades, in which the Champions League will begin with a group stage featuring eight sections of four teams, with the top two in each advancing to the last 16.

“We are convinced that the format chosen strikes the right balance and that it will improve competitive balance,” said Aleksander Ceferin, the president of European football’s governing body, when the changes to the Champions League were confirmed in May last year.
The format that is on its way out was brought in for the 2003/04 season, ending an experiment with a second group stage.
In terms of symmetry and simplicity it cannot be bettered, with half the teams advancing from the group stage to the last 16.
But this is an era in which major club and international competitions keep expanding. In addition, there has been a recognition that the Champions League group stage has gone somewhat stale.
The financial gulf between the continent’s most powerful clubs and the rest is growing all the time, accentuated in particular by the decision to award a portion of prize money based on the position of teams in Uefa’s own club ranking.
That means the team placed at No 1 gets over 36 million euros ($38.4m) just for being the top-ranked side, with the amount dropping progressively so the lowest-ranked team receive only just over one million euros.

Even at this elite level, there are plenty of teams who are doing little more than make up the numbers, albeit while being handsomely rewarded.
It is hard to imagine Swiss side Young Boys or Serbia’s Red Star Belgrade making a big impact alongside Pep Guardiola’s City and RB Leipzig in Group G.
City should stroll through to the last 16, racking up goals in the process, and they begin as favourites to retain a trophy they won in June by beating Inter Milan 1-0 in the final in Istanbul.
That success saw City finally win the competition they had been chasing since the Abu Dhabi-led takeover of 2008 that transformed the club.
“This project is to want more, more ambition,” said Spanish midfielder Rodri after scoring the winner for City in last season’s final.

The poser now is who can stop them?
It surely will not be the champions of Switzerland or Serbia, or a Leipzig team who lost their star defender, Josko Gvardiol, to City during the close season.
But also flying presently is the record 14-time winners Real Madrid, who are always contenders in the Champions League, although Carlo Ancelotti’s team find themselves in a much more unpredictable group alongside Napoli, Braga and newcomers Union Berlin, but this is not the first time they fall in such a difficult group. One can only underate them at his own peril.
Bayern Munich have reinforced in attack with the signing of Harry Kane, while Paris Saint-Germain, although lost Neymar and Lionel Messi, but desperately kept Kylian Mbappe and strengthened around him.

FC Barcelona too is not lagging behind. They have reinforced and appeared ready to battle it all through with any top ranked contender.
Both of their seasons will be defined, as ever, by their performances in the Champions League.
Arsenal will hope to make an impression on their return to the Champions League for the first time since 2016/17, while Saudi ownership has propelled Newcastle United back into the competition after two decades away.

However, they find themselves in a section along with PSG, AC Milan and Borussia Dortmund.
Uefa might have been less inclined to change the format of the Champions League format if their competition featured groups like that more often.
“It’s hard and challenging but I think there’s some great European games for us to experience and great places to visit for our supporters,” said the Newcastle manager Eddie Howe after the draw.

His team begin away to seven-time European champions Milan on Tuesday.
While City starts their defence of the crown in Milan, an English rookie team. Newcastle United, fuelled by the Saudi sovereign wealth fund, return to the Europe’s elite competition for the first time in 20 years at AC Milan on Tuesday night, hoping this is just the start of their rise on the European stage.
The Magpies have spent more time in the Championship than facing Europe’s elite for the past two decades, but are aiming to follow in the footsteps of Manchester City by turning their Gulf state backing into glory at home and abroad.

When they broke into the Premier League’s top four in their first full season since the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF) took an 80 per cent stake in the club, the Newcastle project appeared to be ahead of schedule.
But the early weeks of the new season have brought a reality check as Eddie Howe’s men suffered consecutive defeats to City, Liverpool and Brighton before bouncing back with an unconvincing 1-0 victory over Brentford on Saturday.
As many of football’s biggest stars have been lured to Saudi in recent months by the lucrative pay packets on offer, Newcastle’s spending in the transfer market has remained surprisingly restrained due to financial fair play pressures.

They were only the seventh-highest spenders in the Premier League this summer as Harvey Barnes and Tino Livramento joined from relegated Leicester and Southampton respectively, while Sandro Tonali swapped the San Siro for St. James’ Park by joining from AC Milan.
Tonali’s move was illustrative of the shifting sands of continental football as seven-time European champions Milan were unable to resist the financial power of the Premier League even after reaching last season’s Champions League semifinals.
The Italian is expected to return to Howe’s starting line-up for his homecoming after sitting out the win over Brentford on the bench with a minor injury suffered on international duty.
Both sides are aware of the need for a fast start in Group F with Paris Saint-Germain and Borussia Dortmund making up the toughest section in this season’s draw.
These are the nights of glamour that Newcastle fans longed for during the drab 14 years under previous owner Mike Ashley.
Howe is not daunted by the level of opposition in his first Champions League campaign as he believes his side are used to competing at a higher level due to the demands of the Premier League.
“I don’t see it being a huge difference to be honest, you’re preparing against teams that are from Europe rather than England, (but) for me the Premier League is the best league in the world,” said Howe.
“I think for loads of different reasons the Premier League is an unbelievable league and I love being in it. Now we’re going to Europe, it’s a different competition and different challenges, but it’s still football.”

Manchester City may have needed 12 goes to finally win the Champions League, but the English champions have been ever-present in the competition since qualifying for the first time under Abu Dhabi-backed ownership in 2011.
That is the consistency Newcastle now expect at Europe’s top table with Tuesday the first step of another Saudi aim to make their mark on European football.
Germany’s Union berlin will on Wednesday make their Champions League debut at European royalty home of the 14-time winners, Santiago Bernabeau, when the face the competition’s most feared team, Real Madrid of Spain, just four years after a first ever promotion to the German Bundesliga.
The date with Real, who own more Champions League trophies (14) than the rest of Spain and Germany combined, is the next stop on a soaring rise as unlikely as it is meteoric.
Union’s history has become the stuff of legend; an inspiring tale that anything is still possible in a sport dominated by legacy powerhouses and new money behemoths bankrolled by nation states.

That Union have overcome their hurdles – they are just the sixth club from the former East Germany to play in the top division since reunification in 1990 – is a credit to the club’s shrewd and ambitious front office, along with one of the loyalest fan bases in the league.
The fans’ reward is a Champions League group featuring Italian champions Napoli, Portuguese side Braga and of course Real, who Union will face at the Santiago Bernabeu on Tuesday.
In the third division as recently as 2009 and having undergone periodic financial crises, Union’s passionate fans in the eastern Berlin district of Koepenick have repeatedly revived the club.
In 2004, with the cash-strapped side needing funds for a fourth-division licence, Union fans gave their club a literal transfusion, donating their blood to raise money.
In 2008, with their Stadion An der Alten Foersterei home ground crumbling, the fans of the club again rolled up their sleeves and set about rebuilding it themselves.
After a relatively stable decade in the second division, Union won a two-legged promotion tie against first-division Stuttgart in 2019 under manager Urs Fischer, giving them a first taste of the Bundesliga.

Despite being tipped for immediate relegation, Union finished 11th, and,, with Fischer still at the helm, then seventh, fifth and last season fourth, earning Champions League qualification.
Fischer’s defensive, counter-attacking playing style may not be the most eye-pleasing, but it has brought him consistent success.
The coach won two Swiss league titles and the Cup in his native Switzerland in charge of FC Basle.
He was later let go, with the hierarchy preferring a more attractive style of football, a decision which local newspaper Basler Zeitung described in 2022 as “perhaps the biggest mistake in the club’s recent history”.

Union added several top quality players over the summer in a bid to inject more creativity into their attack.
The club broke their transfer record to bring in Germany international Robin Gosens for 13 million euros ($14.5 million), along with Kevin Volland and Premier League talents David Datro Fofana and Brenden Aaronson.
Two-time Champions League finalist Leonardo Bonucci also came in on a free transfer from Juventus and will bring with him the experience of decades at the highest level.
The additions have created a few teething problems. Union travel to Madrid having lost two straight league games for the first time in 18 months.
Real, conversely, are flying, starting the season with five straight wins on the back of some stellar performances from former Borussia Dortmund midfielder Jude Bellingham, who already has five league goals.

Bellingham boasts a strong record against Union, having won four of six matches against the Berliners during his time in Germany.
Fischer denied his side “were thinking about the Madrid game” during their loss to Wolfsburg on Saturday, saying “the players are just as upset as I am”.
Gosens, who played in last year’s Champions League final for Inter Milan, on Saturday urged his team “not to travel to Madrid to be spectators and just marvel”.
“We have to try to get the best possible start to the Champions League season” Gosens said, explaining “awe and fear are exactly the two things we don’t need.” with reports from and www.reuters (September 2023)

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Barca Still Vulnerable in Europe, Xavi Admits



FC Barcelona might be threading a familiar path in Europe with the latest result where they slumped to a 1-0 defeat to Shakhtar Donetsk on Tuesday (07 November).
With this result, they spurned the chance to seal an early qualification to the Round of 16 Champions League knock-out stages.

FC Barcelona have struggled miserably in Europe since they last lifted the trophy in 2015, only reaching the quarter-finals in two occasions.

Danylo Sikan’s dipping header in the 40th minute secured Shakhtar a famous victory as Xavi Hernandez’s flat Spanish champions failed to trouble their Ukrainian opponents.
Barcelona still lead Group H ahead of Porto, second, hosting Royal Antwerp later on, with the Portuguese side able to pull alongside the Catalans on nine points with victory.
“We can see we’re in a bit of a footballing rut, we have to do a reset,” said Barca coach Xavi.
“We played a bad game, we have to admit it.”
Xavi said his team had wasted a good chance to progress.

“After two years without qualifying for the last 16, today is a missed opportunity,” he continued.
“It’s the most inopportune moment. There are a lot of demands (on us), I think that today we couldn’t fail and we failed.”
After failing to progress from the group stage for two seasons running, Barcelona saw this clash as an opportunity to get the job done with two games to spare.
However Shakhtar, playing their home games in Hamburg because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, held their own from the start.

Barcelona missed big chances in the first match in October but this time Marino Pusic’s team shut down their uninspired visitors, who produced just one shot on target.
Xavi insisted his team’s performance in the narrow 1-0 league win over Real Sociedad on Saturday was unacceptable, despite the good result, but his team did not heed the coach’s words.
Shakhtar forced Marc-Andre ter Stegen into the first save of the game, with the German goalkeeper denying Mykola Matviienko at the near post after he got in behind Joao Cancelo.
Ilkay Gundogan and Raphinha lashed over from distance as Barca created no danger, with veteran striker Robert Lewandowski woefully disconnected on his return to Germany.

The former Bayern Munich forward has not scored in any of his last six appearances for Barca, amounting to his worst run of goalscoring form for over a decade.
The hosts took the lead a few minutes before half-time, easily slicing the visitors open when Giorgi Gocholeishvili took advantage of Barcelona left-back Marcos Alonso being a long way out of position.

The full-back crossed for Sikan, who beat Andreas Christensen in the air and headed beyond the reach of Ter Stegen.
Ter Stegen saved from Gocholeishvili early in the second half as Shakhtar continued as they left off.
Just before the hour Xavi took action, sending on speedsters Alejandro Balde and Lamine Yamal, as well as Pedri, looking to shake up his team’s lifeless display.
Barcelona were better but not bright enough, as Shakhtar goalkeeper Dmytro Riznyk enjoyed a quiet night.
“Not so long ago we were playing very good football — it’s a mental issue,” said Xavi.
Shakhtar’s latest young Brazilian winger, Newerton, scored a stunning second in the final stages but it was chalked off for offside — it would have been a superb way to crown a glorious night for Pusic’s team.

Barcelona had seven minutes of added time to work with but could not find a breakthrough, with Felix unsuccessfully appealing for a penalty after he was clipped on the edge of the box.
The Ukrainian champions, third, celebrated joyously at full-time and now sit only three points behind Barcelona, who host Porto in their next Champions League match on November 28.
“We do things step by step and we stay humble,” said Pusic, who was proud of his team’s defensive effort.
“We like to attack and we had several good moments tonight, but game organisation comes first.
“If you concede easily at this level there is not a high chance you will win.”
Barcelona midfielder Oriol Romeu said his team had to look in the mirror after their disappointing display.
“Every defeat is a warning,” he told Movistar.
“We have to be self-critical and see what we did wrong, to correct it quickly.” with reports

Continue Reading


Champions League: Man City, Real Madrid, Bayern qualify for UCL last 16



Expectedly, there were less drama as the record 14-time champions, Real Madrid joined holders Manchester City, last season’s runners-up Inter Milan, Real Sociedad, RB Leipzig and Bayern Munich, to qualified for the last 16 of the Champions League with two group games to spare.

However, Manchester United’s poor form continued as they slipped to a stunning 4-3 defeat against FC Copenhagen, just as FC Barcelona could not wrap up qualification, having to wait till matchday 5, before attempting to scale the hurdle.

Madrid, the record 14-time European champions, made sure of their progress from Group C with a 3-0 home win over Braga after surviving an injury setback just before kick-off.
There were grunting around the Santiago Bernabeu when starting Goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga pulled out hurt in the warm-up, but his replacement Andriy Lunin excelled by saving Alvaro Djalo’s sixth-minute penalty.

With recuperating Starman, Jude Bellingham rested, to properly recover from the shoulder injury he sustained during the LaLiga game against Rayo Vallecano over the weekend, returnee Brahim Diaz gave Real a 27th-minute lead before the fantastic Brazilian duo of Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo both scored in the second half.

Rodrygo thanked Carlo Ancelotti for supporting him through a tough start to the season after scoring in Real Madrid’s 3-0 Champions League win over Sporting Braga on Wednesday.
Rodrygo, who hasn’t found the net in LaLiga since the first weekend of the season, but has now scored in consecutive Champions League games, ran to hug Ancelotti after scoring in the 61st minute at the Santiago Bernabeu.

“I’m very happy, it was a perfect game,” Rodrygo told Movistar. “I’m very happy with the goal and the assist, but also with the win and qualification.
“The hug was to thank Ancelotti. When you aren’t in a good moment, that’s when you see who people really are. I wasn’t in a good moment and he was always there with me. I scored and I had to celebrate it with him.”

Rodrygo has been an important player for Madrid in recent seasons, contributing to their 2022 Champions League and LaLiga double and scoring 18 goals in all competitions last season, but has struggled so far this campaign.

“In my career, there’ve been forwards who’ve scored in every game and others who have moments when it’s hard to score,” Ancelotti said in his postmatch news conference. “All you can do is support them. A player with Rodrygo or Vinícius’s characteristics will score sooner or later. They have extraordinary quality, it’s just a question of time.

“Vinicius and Rodrygo combined spectacularly in the second half. There aren’t many duos who can counter-attack like Rodrygo and Vinicius.”
Ancelotti admitted that playmaker Diaz, who returned to Madrid from AC Milan last summer, had been unlucky not to play more often.
“He showed great quality, defensive sacrifice, he did very well,” Ancelotti said. “That means he could have played more minutes. But [Jude] Bellingham has played in that position. Today Brahim replaced him very well.”

The coach said goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga, who dropped out of the starting XI before kickoff and was replaced by Lunin, had felt “discomfort” in the warm up and would be assessed on Thursday.

Napoli are poised to go through from the group alongside Real despite being held to a 1-1 draw at home by Union Berlin.
Matteo Politano put Napoli ahead late in the first half but David Datro Fofana, on loan from Chelsea, equalised soon after the restart.
The result allowed Union to end a 12-game losing run but they cannot now qualify for the last 16.

Their Bundesliga rivals Bayern qualified with a 2-1 victory at home to Galatasaray, their 17th consecutive win in the Champions League group stage.
Thomas Tuchel’s side saw Galatasaray have a goal disallowed for offside before Harry Kane headed in the opener with just 10 minutes left.
Kane then added another, his 19th goal already for Bayern in just 15 appearances, before Cedric Bakambu pulled one back in stoppage time for Galatasaray.

“He’s a phenomenon and we’re proud that he’s playing in the team,” Bayern goalkeeper Manuel Neuer told broadcaster DAZN of Kane.
Galatasaray still stand every chance of going through from Group A after United lost in a remarkable game in Denmark.
Erik ten Hag’s team appeared to be cruising thanks to two goals in the first half an hour by their Danish striker Rasmus Hojlund.

Yet they suffered a blow when Marcus Rashford was controversially sent off in the 42nd minute for a foul on Elias Jelert, and Copenhagen took full advantage to haul themselves level by the break.

Mohamed Elyounoussi pulled one back before Diogo Goncalves equalised from the spot in the ninth minute of stoppage time.
Still United got back in front via a Bruno Fernandes penalty midway through the second half, but Lukas Lerager made it 3-3 seven minutes from time and Roony Bardghji, the 17-year-old Kuwait-born Swedish Under-21 international, got Copenhagen’s winner in the 87th minute.

Ten Hag’s team have now lost three of their four Champions League matches this season and have been beaten in nine of their 17 games in all competitions.
“I think first we played very good until the red card. The red card changed everything. Then it becomes a different game,” Ten Hag told broadcaster TNT Sports.
“I saw lots of positives, but in the end we lose some focus. It’s hard when you play so long with 10 men.”

Meanwhile, Arsenal are on the brink of progressing from Group B after a 2-0 home win over Sevilla, in which Bukayo Saka set up Leandro Trossard for the opener in the first half, and then added the second after the break.

“I’m really happy with the performance from the team. They showed aggression and commitment,” Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta told TNT Sports.
The Gunners are four points ahead of both Lens and PSV Eindhoven, with the Dutch side boosting their own hopes by beating the French side 1-0 thanks to Luuk de Jong’s early header.
Lens had substitute Morgan Guilavogui sent off late on.

In Group D, Inter secured their progress with a 1-0 win away to Red Bull Salzburg in Austria, a game settled by a late Lautaro Martinez penalty.
That result also allowed Real Sociedad to qualify after their earlier 3-1 defeat of Portuguese giants Benfica, who have lost all four matches in the group.

Mikel Merino, Mikel Oyarzabal and Ander Barrenetxea all scored in the first 21 minutes for the hosts, before Brais Mendez hit the post with a penalty. Rafa Silva pulled one back for Benfica. with reports

Continue Reading


Ancelotti returns to Napoli with Real to prove a Point



Fourteen times champions, Spain’s Real Madrid are set to play one of the most in-form teams in Italy in what promises to be their “toughest group-stage game”, as veteran coach, Italian Carlo Ancelotti, said on Monday (02 October) ahead of the huge Champions League clash.

LaLiga leaders Real began their quest for a record-extending 15th European Cup with a last-gasp 1-0 home victory over Union Berlin last month, while Italian champions Napoli, who are currently third in Serie A, won 2-1 at Sporting Braga.
Tuesday’s clash at the Diego Armando Maradona Stadium could be pivotal to both sides’ aims of taking top spot in group C.

“We’ll play against one of the best teams in Italy. They did very well last year. It will be a competitive and evenly matched game as they have a high level,” Ancelotti, who once managed Napoli, told a news conference.
“It’s going to be the toughest game of the group stage for us. I don’t want to say that we’re used to it, but the shirt of this club weighs on us.”
The match will also see Ancelotti return to Naples after he managed 73 games at the club from 2018 to 2019, leading the team in an unbeaten run in the Champions group stage before being sacked with the team in seventh place in Serie A.

“I had positive moments, it is a wonderful city. There were also less good moments, but I have the memory of a positive experience,” Ancelotti said.
“Backtracking before a game like this doesn’t make sense. When the relationship between a club and a coach doesn’t have the right feeling, it’s better to stop.
“I think it was the right decision for Napoli and for me, because two years later I came back to the best club in the world.”

Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti is not a man to hold a grudge, as reflected by his return to the Spanish capital despite being harshly sacked by Los Blancos chief Florentino Perez in 2015.
However the 64-year-old veteran would doubtless enjoy proving a point when his Madrid side visit Napoli in the Champions League on Tuesday at the Diego Armando Maradona Stadium.

Ancelotti was axed by president Aurelio De Laurentiis in December 2019, less than an hour after helping Napoli reach the Champions League knock-out stages with a 4-0 thrashing of Genk.
The Italian side were struggling in seventh in Serie A at the time and won their first Scudetto for 33 years in 2023, so De Laurentiis will consider his decisions more than justified.

Ancelotti spent a year and a half in charge of Napoli, guiding them to a second place finish in the 2018-19 campaign, but his tenure was abruptly cut short in its sophomore year.
At the time it seemed Ancelotti had reached the game’s summit years earlier and was on the way down football’s food chain, with his next appointment at Everton appearing to confirm that.
Dressing room tensions and a dispute with De Laurentiis over a training camp led to his downfall in Campania. The president appeared to think Ancelotti did not have it in him to manage the squad.

However Ancelotti’s surprise return to the helm of Madrid in 2021 put him back among the elite, and in 2022 he won his fourth Champions League title as a coach, more than anyone else, as well as LaLiga to complete a superb double.

Meanwhile, Madrid’s 3-0 win at Girona on Sunday ensures they also arrive in Italy as leaders in LaLiga, after a wobble in the derby against rivals Atletico Madrid. A painful 3-1 loss at the Metropolitano on September 24 saw Ancelotti come in for criticism for his tactics and diamond midfield system.

However the Italian made some minor changes and it proved sufficient to earn a comfortable victory over the high-flying Catalans, who had hoped to score a second consecutive home win over Madrid at Montilivi.
“Winning here means that we did well and I’d like to highlight our defensive work, which was very good,” Ancelotti told reporters.

The coach deployed Eduardo Camavinga at left-back instead of the more attacking Fran Garcia, and also asked Jude Bellingham to help with covering Girona to ease the burden on Vinicius Junior.
“We put Bellingham on the outside to avoid Vini having too many defensive duties, bearing in mind that (Aurelien) Tchouameni was in the centre to provide cover,” added Ancelotti.

Bellingham has seven goals and two assists this season across all competitions, largely playing in the number 10 role, despite his capacity to operate in deeper areas.
It was an “invention” by Ancelotti to help cover for the departed Karim Benzema and so far it has paid dividends for the England international, top scorer in Spain.

The coach’s tactical shift and subsequent tweaks dispel any doubts over his dedication at Madrid, showing he is not just on cruise control and heading towards the Brazil national team job he is set to take next summer.
Part of the reason behind the new set-up is to add muscle to the team and bolster the midfield, after Manchester City demolished the record 14-time European champions in last season’s semifinal.

The visit to Napoli will be another acid test for both Ancelotti’s plan and Madrid’s squad depth, with striker Victor Osimhen in excellent form, despite his recent anger over the club insulting him on social media network TikTok.
Los Blancos are without injured defender David Alaba, leaving only Antonio Rudiger and Nacho Fernandez available in central defence.

Napoli coach Rudi Garcia will also be looking forward to the game – he was due to face Madrid when at Roma in 2016, but was sacked ahead of the last 16 tie.
Real Madrid and Napoli last met in the Champions League in the 2016-17 round of 16 when the Spanish giants won both legs 3-1 to and went on to claim the title. with and www.reuters reports

Continue Reading