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Champions League: British chances of success

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Phil McNulty | 11:17 UK time, Monday, 17 September 2012

The Uefa Champions League's power to surprise was illustrated perfectly by the hazards Chelsea negotiated to claim the prize owner Roman Abramovich craved most last season.

On the brink against Napoli, Abramovich sacked Andre Villas-Boas and handed the levers to his right-hand man Roberto Di Matteo to take control of an unlikely journey to success.

Survival against Napoli and victory against Benfica acted only as the starter for the main courses of victory over holders and overwhelming favourites Barcelona - achieved largely without the ball - and ultimate triumph on penalties against Bayern Munich in their own Allianz Arena.

As the journey starts again for holders Chelsea this week, Premier League champions Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal and Scottish champions Celtic will be aiming to go as far as they can.

Here's my assessment of their chances...

Celtic have been handed a group packed with glamour such as Barcelona and Benfica as well as Spartak Moscow. Even the most optimistic of followers may accept the last 16 is an unlikely prospect when faced with such opposition.

Manager Neil Lennon has demanded a big improvement following their surprise 2-1 reverse at St Johnstone on Saturday.

Celtic host Benfica on Wednesday and Lennon wants his team to bounce back in style. "We need to get back on the horse very quickly. There'll be a full house and I'm expecting a big performance from them," he said.

Chelsea beat Bayern Munich 4-3 on penalties to lift the trophy in May 2012. Photo: Getty

Manchester City were dealt a tough hand on their first venture and this season has followed suit, starting with a trip to Real Madrid on Tuesday.

Manager Roberto Mancini flies into Spain with mixed messages from Jose Mourinho ringing in his ears - a subtle reminder of their richer history in one sentence then a concern about Real's vulnerability in the other.

"Real Madrid is like no other club in the world," he said. "There is no other team anywhere that can be compared to Real Madrid - none."

And yet not long after, 'The Special One' was questioning his players after defeat against Sevilla left them eight points adrift of Barcelona in La Liga.

Mancini knows the scale of the task but the Champions League will present a measure of their progress after failing to negotiate a tough group containing the likes of Bayern Munich and Napoli last year, saying: "Real Madrid are one of the best teams in the world. To play the first game away will be very tough but at the same time I think it will be a fantastic game for everyone."

City's new arrivals might not contain the stellar names Mancini might have liked, but Sergio Aguero may return and in Yaya Toure he has a formidable presence with the highest Champions League pedigree from his time at Barcelona.

It is a test for City, as is the rest of the group alongside Borussia Dortmund and Ajax. They may have spent millions once more on reinforcements but Mancini may regard it as a job well done to reach the knockout phase.

Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has not made too many glaring errors in his Old Trafford career - but he admits himself resting players in the Champions League last season was a decision punished by failure to reach the knockout phase for only the third time 17 years.

He insists there will be no repeat this time - although there would be no excuses for a club and manager priding itself on European exploits not navigating a group containing Portugal's Braga, Galatasaray from Turkey and CFR Cluj of Romania.

And in Robin van Persie, Ferguson believes he has the £24m weapon that can now propel United back to the later stages of a competition they won in 2008 and ended as runners-up to Barcelona in 2009 and 2011.

He said: "What gives us even more strength are the combinations I have up front. If you go back to the 1999 season when we won the Champions League as part of the treble I had Dwight Yorke, Andy Cole, Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, they were the four best strikers in Europe.

"I think I'm getting towards that now. I've got Javier Hernandez, Wayne Rooney, Robin, Danny Welbeck and Shinji Kagawa. It's a fantastic collection of players and hopefully I pick the right combinations."

What may undermine United's campaign is a vulnerability in defence that has been exposed at Everton and Southampton already this season - and whether for all Paul Scholes's enduring brilliance he can seriously influence the bigger games in the Champions League.

United start against Galatasary at Old Trafford on Wednesday. The knockout phase will surely be reached - but doubts remain about whether this squad has enough quality to impact as the tournament arrives at the sharp end.

Arsenal will also fancy their chances of emerging from a group with Schalke 04, Montpellier and Olympiakos, but for all the quality added in the shape of Santi Cazorla and Lukas Podolski, their more serious aspirations of silverware will realistically lie away from the Champions League.

Chelsea's challenge will be intriguing because of the shift in tactical emphasis this season. Di Matteo triumphed by preparing his team to keep away from the big punches of opponents and hitting on the counter.

This season, with the addition of players such as Eden Hazard and with Fernando Torres now the main man following Didier Drogba's departure, they seem more willing to trade blows. How they fare will be fascinating to watch, starting against Juventus at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday.

Di Matteo is happy he retains the basis of his Champions League-winning squad but has also added - as well as Hazard - Brazil's Oscar and Marko Marin.

Frank Lampard, a hero of Munich, knows the challenge presented by Juventus, Shakhtar Donetsk and FC Nordsjaelland but is in confident mood.

"It's fantastic to have it in the bank but we can't relax on that if we want to be a club that creates a real mark in Europe," said Lampard. "We've done it once and we want more and it gets more difficult each year.

"Barcelona and Real Madrid are as strong as ever, if not stronger, but we're not looking that far ahead. We have to concentrate on getting out of the group."

Chelsea should do that, as should Manchester United and Arsenal although City and Celtic may end up in a real dogfight.

Comments

Page 1 of 11

  • Comment number 1.

    City to strike First Blood

  • Comment number 2.

    Your piece on Arsenal must have taken an age to think up, Phil?!! The way the Champions League has been over the last few years, I think it is wide open. Arsenal could easily be one of four English teams in the Quarter-Finals. My Dark horse is Borussia Dortmund.

  • Comment number 3.

    I think Celtic will not get out of their group with Benfica who are always an ample challenge to even the most elite clubs Spartak also come from a strong Russian league and this is without Barca being mentioned!

    Arsenal should win their group and should look for a Quarter-Final place and should do well with few real threats considering Montpellier and Schalke have lost key strikers over the summer

    City i think won't get out of their group Madrid will raise their game in Europe much like they do when against Barca and Dortmund are also a classy opposition who i feel are much in the same boat as City in that last season they struggled to balance domestic and European football but i think Dortmund will finish second behind Madrid and the Europa league for City

    Chelsea who I felt didn't deserve to win last season as they were played off the park by Barca , Napoli and Bayern Munich they should get out of the group but i feel it will be in second behind Juventus who have quality players and are comfortable in their league

    United should get out of their relatively easy group as Ferguson will not allow them to make the same mistakes twice I see United making the semis

  • Comment number 4.

    Cant wait to see City up against these teams - a measure of where we are and where we need to improve. Hopefully a better shoowing than last year and no distractions from players on the bench please!

  • Comment number 5.

    Phil I would put my mortgage on you writing a positive blog about Arsenal!!
    That's the sort of elaboration I used in year 5!!

    5 British teams are involved. How about getting behind them all?!

    Well done on getting your job btw!!

  • Comment number 6.

    City should get out of group easilly, Dotmond is more like Bremem and Wolfburg in the sense that thier domestic dominance cant be transferred to european success.

  • Comment number 7.

    Arsenal could reach Quarters this season because i dont think that they are eligible to meet Juventus or Real Madrid if they both come second, certainly not Chelsea or Man City. So i see a much easier KO round tie for them, provided Schalke doesnt top the group.

  • Comment number 8.

    What's with the Arsenal preview? You give Celtic 3x as many words and they will surely come last in their group! I know it's unpopular to give Arsenal any type of realistic chance (it's much easier to talk about how they haven't won a trophy in ages), but at least try to hide some of your bias

  • Comment number 9.

    Goluboy

    you could have said draw rather than strike

    "Don't push me!"

    I will watch the battle of the cheque books tomorrow. Mourinho has the edge as he knows what it takes to win the competition. Mancini is a bit of a dark horse because nobody knows if he can actually be competitive in European competition as he has never achieved anything on that stage in over a decade in management. Of course that could all change having out spent most world clubs in the previous three seasons. It will be interesting if Tevez refuses to play again. Would Mancini insist that Tevez is finished as a Man City player (again)?

  • Comment number 10.

    Had a quick look and it's remarkable how bad Mancini did in Europe with Inter, considering how they won the Champions League within two years of dumping him after Liverpool had beaten them home and away in the first knock out round. I suppose it highlights just how easy it was for Inter to win Serie A three times on the trot with Mancini at the helm and no real competition.

  • Comment number 11.

    Chelsea - Will have a fighting chance. They did it last year so they know how to win it and what it requires mentally. Unfortunately Torres is not an adequete replacement for the Drog so I seem them going out in the QF/SF.

    Manchester United - true British European warriors of the last 25 years. With SAF anything is possible. I don't think they have the quality to top Barca/Madrid/Bayern so they are out as soon as they meet any of them.

    Manchester City - they have the quality in the team to win it. They have four better strikers then manchester united and shouldn't struggle for goals. They have the best midfielder in the EPL in Toure and a worldclass keeper. It may be a case of keeping their heads in the game and not getting overawed when they travel to the big stadiums in Europe. I think they will choke and go out in the early knockout.

    Celtic - don't have the quality. Will get knocked out in the group stages.

    Arsenal - On current form they look like a difficult team to beat. Then again they haven't faced any decent competition. Probably the trickiest of the lot to guess. I imagine they qualify from the group but they could do anyting in the knock out rounds.

  • Comment number 12.

    christoforo

    Chelsea fan by any chance? I notice how you say Arsenal haven't faced any decent competition, but you avoid the certainty that Chelsea have had easy opening fixtures as seems to be the case every year. Not of course forgetting that Arsenal finished 6 points above Chelsea last season and beat Chelsea 5 -3 on their patch.

  • Comment number 13.

    To all those who said Chelsea's Champions League triumph was lucky - jog on! You're hardly a lucky team when you beat Barca over two legs and kept the World's best player from scoring. Messi has failed to score in 8 matches against us and couldn't even hit the target from 3 yards out! Can't laughing about his penalty....haha. United could of beaten Barca in 09 if they hadn't of tried to play them at their own game, and instead shown the organisation and commitment Chelsea displayed. Fist London team to win! KTBFFH

  • Comment number 14.

    Here's a thought - for Manchester United to have dominated domestically like they have for 25 years, they haven't been all that good in Europe. SAF is a great man manager (probably the best) but at times in Europe has been shown up tactically.

  • Comment number 15.

    I believe there are valid reasons to hope all four English representatives can reach the quarter finals stage of Champions League this season.

    The European Champions, Chelsea, have added quality, especially Hazard who is one of those players who can make you pay the ticket just to watch them play. When Chelsea new comers gel into the team, Chelsea will be close to becoming formidable again.

    City are perhaps the strongest English representative at this moment. Has Mancini matured in Europe? Time will show. Even if they finish second behind Real Madrid, they have the fire power to get past their next opponent, past the group stages, at least.

    United, my team, have shown through the years that, when there's a season with a disappointing European campaign, they always come back next season. They're stronger than last season.

    Arsenal seem to have improved both going forward and in defense this season. Cazorla is another player that can make your eyes glue on his exploits on the pitch, able to make other players in the team look better while they have an alternative to RVP in Podolski.

    It could be a season where the fans of all four teams could enjoy the ride of this Champions League campaign. Can't wait for the games.

    I can't say the same about Celtic though. With Rangers missing, they give me the impression they've eased off, taking the foot off the pedal, both in terms of strengthening and application during matches. Group stages is their limit to me.

  • Comment number 16.

    The manager of Arsenal is too old, not the age but the mind. So not included in knock-out stage. The same as MU. M. City is the threat of all. Tonight if draw with Madrid, then see them at the knock-out stage. Chelsea the new-comers excellent but the aged are the emperor not the manager. If they respect the manager and the other players, included the young and new, they are still better than the others English side but the manager cannot hold the conductor's baton, that is the main factor.

  • Comment number 17.

    "What may undermine United's campaign is a vulnerability in defence that has been exposed at Everton and Southampton already this season..."

    Aren't you a full time football journalist Phil? It's necessary to confirm at times. You did notice both Carrick and Valencia playing in defence against your beloved Everton didn't you? The fact Utd have started the season with 4 CBs injured is of no consequence when assessing the defence then?

    And by the way, Utd conceded a single goal at Everton. "Defence exposed" Dear me Phil, think before you write such nonsense.

  • Comment number 18.

    Mourinho's musings on City are hilarious. In classic Mourinho fashion what he essentially said was: "City will manage to buy the CL just like Chelsea did. Chelsea bought all those other trophies and the CL finally arrived. City have now managed to buy a cup and a PL title. Sooner or later with that amount of money being spent the CL will arrive."

    That is in essence exactly what Mourinho said........and he's spot on!

  • Comment number 19.

    There's hope for all really. In the past decade we've seen complete mediocrity win the CL: Porto, Liverpool and Chelsea. Irionic that Chelsea were good enough to win it in other years but actually won it when they were probably at their poorest under Abramovitch.

  • Comment number 20.

    Phil why write about Arsenal? 6 lines? Ohhh I forgot you preferred it was Loserpool, but haha you have to wait many more years for that to happen

  • Comment number 21.

    Arsenal got the coverage they deserve - exit in the group stages.

  • Comment number 22.

    Only United could exit from the group they had last year. Arsenal Will progress again.

  • Comment number 23.

    Chelsea have a tough group but should at worst come second. Man U and Arsenal both have easy groups so finishing less than top would be shameful. City will have to decide whether to stick or twist. Mucking around with the squad will lead to failure and could damage their EPL chances. Any mistakes will mean likely elimination. Any of these teams could win it but I fancy only Chelsea and Utd have a decent chance. They both have the experience and that is massive, even set against a squad like City's. Arsenal could reach the final but will bottle it if they do. The spirit of Adams et al. is now a faded memory and scoring 6 against the worst team in the EPL is the kind of mental distraction that has left them without a sense of realism. Celtic would be better in the Europa league (cash apart obviously) to avoid humiliation. They will finish bottom and after the fun their fans had at Rangers plight they may realise that removal of the only credible opposition in the SPL is hugely damaging. You can't play rubbish teams week in week out then step up & perform in the CL. Scottish football should turn off the lights when the last man leaves...

  • Comment number 24.

    City are serious contenders if they get out of their group, which I dont think will happen unless Mancini gives up the league atleast temporarily. He will have to rest players before the European games. They look light in midfield without Toure and arent very good on the wings, link up play for attack comes mainly from Silva when Toures not available, and he can be contained.

    Chelsea, work in progress, surprised Oscar hasnt played more, with him and Hazard with Torres in form they look really good, but if they continue to play Terry in defence, they are struggling against a quality attack. Very strong though, and a very good opportunity imo.

    United, too light in midfield still and jurys out on the defence. With Vida back they will improve, alot depends on who is playing alongside him consistently. Midfield needs Cleverly to play in a deeper role allowing kagawa to roam forward. But I see Carrick as a weak link. team is very dependent on him but he isnt good enough imo to break up play against the big teams. Only hope lies in the wealth of attacking talent, and as SAF said, the combinations. Not too far away, but prob second fave behind Chelsea from the EPL imo.

    Arsenal.. not really sure they will get anything in Europe, they will need Giroud to chip in, Podolski and Cazorla are great, but midfield, I'm not convinced. Diaby? Wilshere needs to get back and by then it may be too late for Europe. Ramsey needs to be more consistent.

  • Comment number 25.

    After our delightfully unexpected success last season I cannot see Chelsea doing very well this year. A change of style and of course no Didier to make it happen in the big games. I will take the semis now. I am hoping to see City, United and the Guns do well and I believe they can all make it to the quarters at least. It's unfair that City get such a tough group and stupid that it's allowed to happen. They should progress but it may well take it's toll and City could suffer domestically with so many hard games. If Chelsea take an early exit then I would love to see Arsenal pass Barca off the park in the final in a 3-0 win! Other than that I will support the other English clubs but if they all go out then i hope Bayern win it after being so unlucky last season. Good luck everyone!

  • Comment number 26.

    Do they really pay you to write this?

    TV license is a joke and should be stopped...

  • Comment number 27.

    hahahahahaha could you make the Arsenal section even smaller please we can still read it from the moon.

  • Comment number 28.

    firstly read this for a laugh, i particularly love his dimitar berbatov entry!? http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/football/19619085

    no, phil, scholes wont have any influence, just the same as pirlo wouldnt influence italy in euro 2012, that statement alone is rash and stupid, if , scholes is supplied with the ball scholes will be gipetto pulling all the strings.

    i think if we play de gea, buttner, vidic, ferdinand (although id prefer evans), rafael, giggs (subbing on young at 70mins) scholes/carrick (subbing on cleverley at 70mins), kagawa, valencia, welbeck (subbing on chicharito whenever) and RVP we have a shot if evra plays we are doomed!

  • Comment number 29.

    @1 - goluboy yeah i reckon so, a kompany own goal in the 1st minute should seal citeh's fate!

  • Comment number 30.

    @23 southampton arent the worst epl team, they have had a bad run in with CITEH and then us and then AFC they gave the 1st two a run for their money, and with united well they had us scared a while. the worst three teams are villa , wigan and a toss up of qpr or reading. ill go with reading and put them as the very worst. it will be villa, wigan/qpr and reading going down this season.

  • Comment number 31.

    Really looking forward to city real tonight. Should be a cracker and must be the game of the group stages. I have got a feeling city can nick a point.

    It should be a cakewalk for united and arsenal. City and chelsea need to rely on their home games and both should progress.

    I like arsenals fluidity and i think they can go deep this year.

    Celtic are going to be bottom.

    I know it is off topic but i have a new found respect for Neville after yesterday. Came across like a good guy for a change after last nights game.

    3 Terrible decisions - welcome to the Pl.

  • Comment number 32.

    a bit early to say at the moment especially as a ball hasnt been kicked yet, would this blog be better to comment on after Wednesday night ?

  • Comment number 33.

    I think United will be getting a lot of silverware this year, league and possibly champions league. If they win it , Ferguson will retire. If they win nothing he will step aside.

  • Comment number 34.

    We know you hate us gunners..do you have to show us with 2 lines about our champions league aspiration... we will be right here..we ain't going anywhere.

  • Comment number 35.

    Bbc chief sport writer my A**..Biased and confused.

  • Comment number 36.

    Some comments and some parts of the main article make you wonder about the quality of both the article and fans posting here.

    This is the beginning of new football season. All teams participating in Champions League have strengthened. It does take time for teams to gel together. However, it will be enough time to learn each other's play when the knock-out stage of the tournament begins.

    You can't really say that United are weak in defense with Carrick and Valencia having played in defense due to injuries to defenders. Exactly as you can't say Southampton and Reading are going down, 4 match-days into the new season. Exactly as we don't know who will win what and who will fail in what.

    There is one thing we all know though: all four England representatives in Europe are strong teams with strong squads. And that's it.

  • Comment number 37.

    SIR Alex Ferguson has been to a lot of games lately, and a few off the cuff meetings with managers, pep guardiola being one of them! i believe he was at the everton game last night to watch young moyes, he has a maximum of two seasons left in him and one of them has started, we cant replace him but whoever comes in needs to be of real quality!

  • Comment number 38.

    @36 you are right we cant say for definite who is going to do what but the blog and comments are for opinions and that is all we are posting our opinions to create discussion among men and women alike and gain new outlooks on the game. alas, i fear you may have misunderstood the premise of the comments section.

  • Comment number 39.

    Champions league time again. My verdit! We have Celtic who i believe shouldn't even turn up to save themselves embarrasment. Chelsea and Man Utd will provide the strongest threat due to experience in previous success. I wont be suprised if again Man City fail to reach knock out phase like last season. Arsenal? another exit im afraid as this is one competition Arsene will never win.

  • Comment number 40.

    @38

    this blog is to early by a couple of days thats all. the players have not found their feet and you will onlt get comments that are biased more than anything.

    no oone has seen any of the teams in action in the cl and its all just pure spec, keep the blogs coming by all means, they always just tend to go into free fall anyway so the titles of the blogs is not always a big factor to people commenting and discussing and arguing.

    i was tipping real for la liga and barca dropping off because of new management, but thats not happening at the moment, its the opposite, so speclation in football counts for nothing.

    didnt the bookies unwisely put man city as favorites last year and then they get knocked out in the group stages alibeiet slightly unlcky getting 10 points.

    i see tonights game being a tight one and quite cagey unless there is an early goal, man city will be deep and hoping to beat madrid at home, i dont think it will be the game everyone is expecting.

    wouldnt the blog be better if it was written about how they think they cl will be like this year, not if british teams can win in.

    my first prediction on if british teams can win and without doubt cletic will not, the rest of the british teams always stand a very good chance, anymore than this is just useless babble.

  • Comment number 41.

    Really think City can finish second behind Real Madrid, never thought that Dortmund & Ajax are that good anyways so City have a real chance.

    Man Utd & Arsenal should qualify first and very comfortably.

    Could see Chelsea struggling to make the top two especially if we fail to win all our home games.

    Celtic have no chance of qualifying and I can only see them getting 2 or 3 points from the entire group.

  • Comment number 42.

    Phil unable again to disguise his dislike of Arsenal. I guess it is a shame for him that Liverpool failed to qualify again and look a million miles away from doing so. I imagine if Phil does do a piece on the Thursday league it will be 99% about Liverpool with a couple of small paragraphs on Newcastle and Spurs.
    Awful biased reporting.

  • Comment number 43.

    #38,

    No, I've misunderstood nothing. It's expected to have a number of visitors to the page expressing opinions on limited understanding on football. However, when you see "regulars for a long time" expressing nonsense, you're fully aware that only one of two things may be happening: (a) some bloggers trying to be 101% bias; (b) some others trying to diminish the value of these blogs altogether.

    I can understand the reasons for which Mr McNulty presents certain aspects the way he does. It's all about provocation and shaking a bit the waters in order to create movement, if I could put it that way. But that's different and based on the intention to ignite participation. Still though, some Arsenal fans have every reason to believe that the Arsenal section in the article has been presented in a 2' work-time slot allocated for that club and that looks amateurish to say the least.

  • Comment number 44.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 45.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 46.

    @mind the gap, you are correct there are some with little or no knowledge of football, see comment number 1, but for every imbercile theres a regular, who chips in a valid point or a new topic that we all are really concerned about.

  • Comment number 47.

    @40 " i was tipping real for la liga and barca dropping off because of new management, but thats not happening at the moment, its the opposite, so speclation in football counts for nothing.
    i see tonights game being a tight one and quite cagey unless there is an early goal, man city will be deep and hoping to beat madrid at home, i dont think it will be the game everyone is expecting.
    the rest of the british teams always stand a very good chance, anymore than this is just useless babble." a most contradictory comment, but in principle isnt most of sport useless babble anyways, MOTD is formatted around 3/4 ex players/managers pretending to know why a player has opted to volley instead of take another touch or why a manager has set a team up defensively when attacking was the better option. i despise people commenting whilst ripping another fans opinion apart so it pains me to mention yours but i hate people validating their own view after such outlandish critisism of anothers.

  • Comment number 48.

    champions league for me isnt a hot topic i want to know whether my beloved uniteds 'fans' will be ammicable and curtious during the hillsborough tribute at anfield this weekend, and i sincerely hope all that handshake nonsense is dealt with by buttner playing instead of evra!

  • Comment number 49.

    got out of bed the wrong side zboy.

    my comment is only one of this blog is premature, cant see it as outlandish criticism of anyone at all.

    more coffee mate

  • Comment number 50.

    43.
    At 08:58 18th Sep 2012, Mind the gap wrote:

    Still though, some Arsenal fans have every reason to believe that the Arsenal section in the article has been presented in a 2' work-time slot allocated for that club and that looks amateurish to say the least.
    ___________________________________

    It looks like Mr McNulty did not have any quotes to use to pad out the Arsenal section. Or he just forgot. I agree it does look a bit silly.

  • Comment number 51.

    Cristoforo and others. Are you mad?? I know it's a much trudged media path to say that United are light in Midfield and that this will de-rail all of their bids for silverware. It's lazy journalism and poor comment. At least examine teams on their relative merits objectively. For example, it is fair to say that United have several new/ or young additions to their squad and that combined with their attacking quality that might lead to a cavalier attitude, which could see leads slip and concentration falter. That is a fair criticism, based on evidence. Saying United "do not have the quality" in their squad is just rubbish. How can a squad that has Rooney, Vidic, RVP, Kagawa, Valencia and Ferdinand, and is bringing through the likes of Cleverley, Welbeck and De Gea be considered low on quality. I know United aren't popular but even as a neutral, you have to admit they have a great squad.

    Likewise Man City. Although, like Man Utd, they are not without faults.
    The strain and rigour of competing on so many fronts is unusual for most of their players and will doubtless prove a challenge, especially in light of Mancini's indifferent Champions league record.

    The media's love affair with the Spanish teams leads them to basically ignore their instrinsic faults and it persistently amazes me. Neither team are as invincible as they are made out to be. Still great sides but there are plenty of concerns: Barcelona have a new manager, playing a different system and are struggling to fit in all their many attacking talents. Still a phemonenal side of course but by no means clear favorites.

    Real Madrid have a great collection of players but unrest is always so close for the Madridistas that it is hard to make solid predictions. I mean, the fact that they are second favorites is ludicrous. They have not won it for 10 years, have consistently failed to get past the last 16 (apart from last year) and apart from Ronaldo and Iker Casillias, they have virtually no-one that has gone the distance before.

    As for Chelsea and Arsenal. Both will get through and probabaly get to the QFs (maybe further). I think Arsenal are still in the state of flux that high level departures will cause. A season too soon for them in my opinion. Next year, with Cazorla, Podolski, Wilshere and Vermalen as the spine of their team, they will be a real force to challenge. Chelsea got hammered in their first real test this season at Atletico Madrid which is worrying. The question of whether they can hold out against some of the subtle craft around in Europe still stands despite last years heroics (a one off, if an impressive one). That said, they have got an embarrasement of midfield riches. An injury to Torres is surely their major concern.

    There we go, not that hard to be objective is it?

  • Comment number 52.

    #48, zboy1989,

    I am a United fan too. However, I would never even think of talking / singing, etc., giving the impression that I feel happy (should I say?) that a big United opponent had such a terrible event happening for their club.

    I strongly believe that every person coming under the umbrella of United fans and mentions, in any form of way, Hillsborough at Anfield isn't a football fan, isn't a United supporter really and needs to rethink some important details in life. There are hundreds of real people who have lost family that terrible day and, personally, I can't feel more sorry for that.

  • Comment number 53.

    What have Arsenal and Celtic done wrong to deserve such scant mention?

    I'm not a fan of either but the BBC's fixation and dodgy pics contract - with ManU really is unfair.

    All fans pay for the licence. Not just those in Manchester.

  • Comment number 54.

    This is certainly a 'go to sleep' article if you're an Arsenal fan. I'm sure even my 10 year old son could think of more than 44 words to say about our Champions League aspirations for the year...

  • Comment number 55.

    @52 totally agree, the 'HARDCORE' fans who like to sickeningly remind loved ones of losses is total disregard of human rights and is as bad as any human can be!

    whats everyones views on the whole ''handshake-gate'' should the fa get rid should the pl have never brought it in, i agree with most pundits, you earn a handshake, you wouldnt go up to a kid whos battered your son and shake his or his dads hand youd go and thrash out a way to meet on common ground, nobody who feels wronged should have to be subject to a forced 'bowing of the head' thats just a way for the world to force you to give up on your beliefs as a human being.

  • Comment number 56.

    Utd are hell bent on winning the league this year and will slip up, as will an over confident Chelsea. Arsenal and City are my tips for the semi's - as a neutral I'd love to see an all English final at Wembley.

  • Comment number 57.

    and he is a Liverpool fan apparently.....

    maybe he is trying to get to the better nature of SOME(NOT ALL) united fans who will without doubt find that familes who lose 96 members is some how fnny and worth a tant.

    if anyone does do this they need lifetime world wide football bans and then sent to a Liverpool prison for 12 months, and that's being generous.

  • Comment number 58.

    I always back any English team to in europe, but an all english final doesnt cut it for me, we have plenty of chances to them play in the prem against each other and the other cup comps.

    manu, real is the game i have been hoping to see as final, both play good attacking football.

  • Comment number 59.

    Blimey there is some self righteous tosh written on here! it's all opinions and we are all entitled to one!

    I'd be delighted with a draw (Man City) tonight...do I think we'll win it? no probably not but can't win it unless your in it! Got a sneaky feeling that Barca will win (hardly a brave punt I know)

    United have a Bye so expect to see them at least in the Semi'. Chelsea and Arsenal could go a long way and City...would take the Quarters (an improvement each year is enough for me)

    Exciting times ahead!

  • Comment number 60.

    This bias against Arsenal is just ridiculous now. As the chief football writer (lol) of the BBC which is supposed to be a non biased organisation i think we deserve a lot better. Several paragraphs on Celtic, Man U, Man City and Chelsea and then 1 sentance on Arsenal, dismissing their chances. Poor poor effort

  • Comment number 61.

    60. At 09:48 18th Sep 2012, John_Jensen wrote:

    Who cares if he doesn't like Arsenal? I fancy them to do well this year! (hope they do too)

  • Comment number 62.

    A bit of a non article again Phil McNulty. Do you need a proof reader?

  • Comment number 63.

    Celtic's current first team squad cost between £12-14m (around half a Rooney) They are not going to win any European competition. The last 16 will be largely teams from the Big 5 countries - the usual suspects - and the winner will also come from one of these countries.

    Realistically, only three English clubs have a chance. I don't think Arsenal will do it and they should concentrate on trying to win a domestic trophy first.

  • Comment number 64.

    Why does it say "british", not english? By saying british it implies Celtic have a shot at winning, they clearly do not, they'd struggle against most premier league teams.

  • Comment number 65.

    i would love celtic to do a chelsea!

  • Comment number 66.

    BBC Sport's chief football writer, if so, you should write a piece worthy of your position. Arsenal has good CL pedigree and should get to the semis at least.

  • Comment number 67.

    Yes a British team CAN win it. Will they? Probably not, but I think they'll be at least one in the semi's this year. Real Madrid are there for the taking for City tonight, they've been a shambles this season so I think they'll qualify. No reason for them not to get at least a draw. Arsenal should progress fairly comfortably, as should Chelsea. We should as well, I actually think our defence is more suited to European football at the moment as the defensive struggles and goals we've conceded have all been from big hoofs and crosses which happen less in Europe.

  • Comment number 68.

    parkingthebus @62

    It seems to be that way for most of the articles on here. TV on S American football is the only one that offers knowledgeable blogs and something different most weeks.

    I always see them as a starter for posters rather than taking them seriously.

  • Comment number 69.

    At 10:06 18th Sep 2012, jwc1989 wrote:

    Arsenal has good CL pedigree and should get to the semis at least.

    -----------------

    Arsenal getting to this stage all depends on them having weaker opponents.
    We all know when Arsenal are up against one of the favourites this is the time when they will bow out of the competition.

  • Comment number 70.

    I just hope we aren't as tactically wishy-washy and naive like last season. That was horrendous at times, compared our previous seasons of tactical discipline. I am not sure what direction of tactical warfare, especially in CL, Ferguson is taking the side in from last season onwards yet, especially with the surprise signing of RVP and the injuries to Anderson, Fletcher and Cleverley in central midfield (please no Jones in central midfield in CL, nowhere near ready) last season. So it is still a somewhat of a mystery of how tactically apt/inept this squad is in CL on that basis but anymore of what we saw from last season, we haven't got a chance, nowhere near.

  • Comment number 71.

    Cant see the point of the article , Real Madrid are going to win it , I got 20 quid riding on them at 5:1 :)

  • Comment number 72.

    "Champions league time again. My verdit! [sic] We have Celtic who i believe shouldn't even turn up to save themselves embarrasment [sic]."

    Comments like this appear all the time. Celtic fans are absolutely delighted to be part of the champions league again. Admittedly we don't have aspirations to win it like a couple of the English clubs do, but we've been to the last 16 twice in recent seasons. Celtic Park genuinely is a European fortress (look back at European results over the last 10 years if you don't believe me), if we can pick up 6 points at home we've got a chance.

    Man Utd are the only English club that I can see making this year's final. Possibly City, but they need to prove they've matured since last season....

  • Comment number 73.

    #71
    If they play like they've done so far they won't even get out the group.

  • Comment number 74.

    @68 Londoner

    Maybe you should throw your hat into the ring to write a blog for the BBC? You obviously watch a lot of football and from what you have said have nearly 60 years of experience.

  • Comment number 75.

    It makes a nice change coming to the start of the competition without the monkey on the back.

    Will Chelsea win it? Maybe, but it doesn't actually matter this season as much as it has done in the past. A good showing, getting out of the group and winning a knockout match or two will do this season, as unambitious as that sounds. Would quite like Chelsea to win in back to back though!

    But I think the first port of call is the league. 6th last year was poor, albeit there are caveats.

    And, I'm really looking forward to Real Madrid v Man City tonight.

  • Comment number 76.

    I would like to make just a couple of points. Firstly monsieur Phil, please tell me your work for the BBC is of a voluntary nature, as I find it rather difficult to believe that the BBC, or, should I say the license payer, is actually willing to pay you for scripting such dull predictable dross. BBC, it is time for change, there is some talented young fresh talent out there who write without fear. I suggest you spend a little of our money on searching for it, as your website is becoming duller by the article. For example, "can an English club win the champions league this season" . What a wonderfully original title for such a mind numbing article.

    Secondly, oh my days Britain, at what point in evolution did your abilities to use the Queens English and master the use of the grammar contained within become so dire. Actually, I suspect, the era of the mobile phone may have some part to play. Carry on dumbing yourselves down Britain, this way, the likes of monsieur McNulty will forever remain as a literal genius in the eyes and minds of a, somewhat, uneducated nation. The unfortunate part is that we shall therefore carry on paying for such dross.

    BBC - our nation needs you, so do the right thing by all of us, after all , we are the ones who keep you in such luxury.

  • Comment number 77.

    Last season, once AVB had gone, Chelsea clearly prioritised the cups, afterall it was their only realistic chance of success. This season I would of thought the league will be the first target and depending on what happens there, will once again dictate the CL chances.

    Utd, i believe Phil had it way of mark, they were poor last season and would of struggled no matter what team they picked. This year, i couldn't back them because they still look unbalanced as a team.

    City, a totally unknown quantity in terms of pedigree but they do have the players.

    Arsenal, perhaps the most interesting because in the past 18 mths they have continuously changed direction as a team. They are certainly not one dimensional now. They retain their passing game but have added far more to it. Good enough for CL? well you do not have to be the best team on paper for starters. But i would of thought they would class success as a decent run for now.

    Way too early to start thinking who will win it though.

  • Comment number 78.

    73.At 10:27 18th Sep 2012, Weallfollowunited wrote:
    #71
    If they play like they've done so far they won't even get out the group.
    ____________________________

    Fair point !

    But I placed the bet about 6 weeks ago , besides I think I was the only one who backed Chelsea to win it last year and won myself 300 quid :)

  • Comment number 79.

    I think Chelsea did deserve the Champions League in the end being down to 10 men and two nil down teams like Arsenal would have crumbled and yes they where out played but they should determination and the will not to give up so fair play to them. I think it will be a Barcelona vs Real Madrid final or Man united final with one of the two teams, as for Arsenal getting anywhere it will be that same as the last 7 years, I dont see them getting past teams like Madrid or Barcelona or Man United.

  • Comment number 80.

    Haha @ the Arsenal part. You can't really blame Phil can you? :)

  • Comment number 81.

    baggiosponytail @74

    Maybe you should throw your hat into the ring to write a blog for the BBC?
    ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    lol.........NO WAY

    But if i did, the blogs would certainly contain questions for posters as well as the starting points for discussion.

    I also do not think blogs have all the angles covered. They rarely present both sides of the issue which is up for discussion.

  • Comment number 82.

    #79 alex

    I wouldn't go as far as predicting the final but I would imagine that it will be most of the usual suspects in, say, the last 8.


    Barcelona
    Benfica
    Chelsea
    Bayern Munich
    Manchester United
    AC Milan
    Real Madrid
    Shakhtar Donetsk

  • Comment number 83.

    Shakhtar Donetsk isn't what it used to be couple of seasons ago. Would be interesting to see them in the last 8 though.

  • Comment number 84.

    repo @78

    But I placed the bet about 6 weeks ago , besides I think I was the only one who backed Chelsea to win it last year and won myself 300 quid :)
    -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    I remember your posting from last season and i remember congatulating you.

    I only had a couple of CL punts, one was Chelsea/Barca when they were a massively overpriced 4/1

  • Comment number 85.

    @53 - I don't pay a licence fee so no, not all fans of other fans do :p

    For the Arsenal entry, what more could be written? It makes sense for this article to focus on ManU and Chelsea as they are past winners (and holders) so have realistic possibilities. Man City needs a few lines after their effort last year, the fact they are in the 'group of death' and they are current EPL champs. Arsenal hasn't won anything in what, seven years? Plus their squad is steadily weakening.

    Celtic deserve a few more lines than Arsenal as they are the sole representative from Scotland.

  • Comment number 86.

    celtic to meet arsenal in the QF of the CL you heard it hear 1st.

  • Comment number 87.

    ahem, *not all fans of other clubs do*.

  • Comment number 88.

    81 Londoner in exile returns

    For the most part, don't we know all the issues ourselves? And if not, aren't they likely to come out organically as the conversation flows?

    I don't actually think there is anything wrong with the blog. Afterall, what else should be said as the premise?

    Personally, I would prefer journalists to act get their teeth stuck into what's wrong with European football, the inequity between the Champions League and the Europa Cup. The seedings. The qualification process that favours the big leagues over the little leagues. The impending failure of the impotent and flawed FFP.

    Now, those WOULD be fun.

  • Comment number 89.

    Alex Ferguson:

    “If you go back to the 1999 season when we won the Champions League as part of the treble I had Dwight Yorke, Andy Cole, Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, they were the four best strikers in Europe.”


    Hmmmm, really? I think Raul, Del Piero, Ronaldo, Suker, Batistuta, Vieri, Salas, Rivaldo, Bergkamp, Henry and Oliver Bierhoff would disagree! And what about Pierre van Hooijdonk?

  • Comment number 90.

    #89 Yorkieyra

    Come on though, it's typical Ferguson bigging up his own players. Nothing wrong with that, but, probably take it with the pinch of salt it deserves.

  • Comment number 91.

    @3. Scipio39

    Any team that can come back from 3-1 down against Napoli, pulls 2 goals back against a Barca in the Camp Nou WITH TEN MEN & then goes on to come back at the death against German opponents & then win during penalties, in their own stadium DESERVES to be Champions.

    Not saying we didn't ride our luck, we did at times & but so have other teams that have won it. However, I'm not accepting this 'they didn't deserve it' accusation.

    A totally ludicrous & un-football educated comment!

  • Comment number 92.

    •Comment number 68.
    At 10:11 18th Sep 2012, Londoner in exile returns wrote:
    It seems to be that way for most of the articles on here.
    -------------------------------------------------------------------
    Yep. 3 lines given over to Arsenal, 17 to Man U. Objective journalism at its best!

  • Comment number 93.

    @89 They won the CL. That pretty much means they WERE the best in Europe. Certainly Cole and Yorke were the best partnership the modern game had ever seen.

  • Comment number 94.

    mrblueburns @88

    For the most part, don't we know all the issues ourselves? And if not, aren't they likely to come out organically as the conversation flows?
    ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    If only that were true we would see a more balanced set of postings.

    Most only see one side of a subject. Most rarely look for a reason to why something happens. Most react in exactly the same way to every issue, even though they are all entirely different issues.

    Take those factors and you will understand why the posts do not achieve an all round viewpoint.

    Take yourself, obviously a Chelsea bias [and why not you support them] but mostly with a balanced approach to other teams being discussed. You also look at other factors, rarely dismissing something because you do not like it.

  • Comment number 95.

    93: They weren't the 4 best strikers, possibly the best group of strikers. There's also been some pretty good combos of first choice that would push your claim of Cole and Yorke being the best partnership. Always thought Stoitchkov and Romario were quite good myself.

  • Comment number 96.

    good luck to all english teams(except boring chelsea) i thoroughly enjoy watching the premiership and champions league.i wouldn't write celtic's chances of so quickly.we have reached last 16 twice before and beat man utd at parkhead and qualified before them.theres no atmosphere like it at parkhead on european nights it lifts the players to a new level.the reality is theres no money in the scottish game and rangers dragged it through the mud this summer so we are hoping to put scottish football back on the map for footballing reasons a win tommorow is essential .to qualify barcelona have never had it easy in parkhead.in fact before chelsea celtic were the last brittish team to knock barca out.if celtic had the ridicoulous tv money prem teams get and with our fan base we could get to a CL final.

  • Comment number 97.

    93.
    At 10:53 18th Sep 2012, Russeljones wrote:


    @89 They won the CL. That pretty much means they WERE the best in Europe. Certainly Cole and Yorke were the best partnership the modern game had ever seen.
    _______________________________

    Bergkamp and Henry? Rivaldo and Ronaldo? Bebeto and Romario? Shearer and Sheringham? It's impossible to say but there is no certainty.

  • Comment number 98.

    mrblueburns

    Personally, I would prefer journalists to act get their teeth stuck into what's wrong with European football, the inequity between the Champions League and the Europa Cup. The seedings. The qualification process that favours the big leagues over the little leagues. The impending failure of the impotent and flawed FFP.
    -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    totally agree with you

    But you are actually agreeing with me, the statement of yours, would actually create a debate and ask questions. As to why something is clearly amiss.

  • Comment number 99.

    89.
    At 10:48 18th Sep 2012, Yorkieyra wrote:


    Well done for bringing up old news.

    What are your thoughts on the building of a new wembley and ditching the twin towers?

  • Comment number 100.

    #94 Londoner in exile returns

    Fair comment. Though I would add that whilst I may appear to have a Chelsea bias, it is mostly that they are the club I know most about so can wax lyrical on issues in more detail.

 

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