With the big guns struggling the Champions League door is open for Manchester City and Tottenham
As the established names fail to get going the door is open for Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur writes Pete Sharland…
This season in the Champions League English teams have played 20 matches. They have won 15, drawn five and lost just once.
Manchester City and Manchester United have both won four out of four whilst Tottenham Hotspur have just dismantled the European Champions 3-1 at Wembley.
United are benefiting from an easy group, but City have just gone away to Napoli, one of the most in-form teams in Europe and taken them apart having already beaten them at the Etihad.
Sergio AgueroGetty Images
Then there’s Spurs. Plucky, over-achieving little Spurs. Rubbish. Spurs are the real deal, they are a real force in Europe and need to be taken seriously by everyone because if you don't, as Real Madrid found out, they will punish you.
For they and City are all of a sudden looking like two of the strongest teams in Europe as the established challengers start to falter, or don't even start at all. Real are a shambles defensively and in their first real crisis whilst city rivals Atletico are likely to be knocked out.
Bayern are recovering under Jupp Heynckes but still don't convince whilst in Europe Juventus and Barcelona haven't really got going despite the latter's impressive victory over the former. You cannot count these sides out, except for Atletico, but they are all off the pace thus far.
By contrast, City and Spurs are energetic, difficult to play against and fantastic to watch. Led by two positive managers, with incredible attacks and rock-solid defences.
Dele Alli celebrates at the end.Eurosport
City can now lay claim to be genuine favourites for the Champions League as incredible as that may sound, such has been their dominance both domestically and in Europe. Pep Guardiola has taken the likes of John Stones and Raheem Sterling to levels that defy the criticism they received last season with Leroy Sane and Gabriel Jesus both stepping up as well.
Sergio Aguero’s form this season makes a mockery of the reports in the summer of his possible departure and, although he’s now City’s all-time record scorer, it still feels as if he’s just getting started.
And then there’s Kevin De Bruyne. The Belgian wizard that Jose Mourinho decided wasn’t worth keeping. The man who has gone from playing wide, to No.10 to running games from the heart of midfield. Shooting, passing, tackling - you name it, he’s got it covered. He’s the best player in the Premier League and one of the best players in the world right now.
Manchester City's Spanish manager Pep Guardiola (L) speaks to Manchester City's Belgian midfielder Kevin De Bruyne during the UEFA Champions League football match Napoli vs Manchester City on November 1, 2017 at the San Paolo stadium in Naples. ManchesterGetty Images
The scary thing for City is how everyone is contributing. They have three of the top five scorers in the Premier League (Aguero, Sterling and Jesus) and three of the top five assist makers (De Bruyne, David Silva and Sane). They’ve scored 12 goals in the Champions League this season shared across six different players.
By contrast, 50% of Spurs’ 10 European goals come from one player, one Harry Kane. Yet despite his dominance (he accounts for 42% of their Premier League goals compared to Aguero accounting for 20% of City’s), it doesn’t feel like a problem with Spurs. Like City they still come at you from different angles, it’s just that they have a clear focal point.
Like Guardiola, Pochettino deserves huge praise for the way he has developed his players. Ben Davies and Kieran Trippier didn’t look out of place at all against Real and it was only a few months ago that Spurs fans were lamenting going into the season with those two as the starting wing-backs rather than Kyle Walker and Danny Rose. Davinson Sanchez has immediately slotted in at the heart of the defence whilst Pochettino’s continued desire to promote young talent, exemplified by the rise of Harry Winks, should also be applauded.
After a continued presence in the latter stages of the tournament during the mid-noughties English clubs have had to listen to how the Premier League is declining and they are no longer the force they once were. Chelsea’s incredible run in 2012 aside the criticism was correct, Spain and Germany became the dominant countries, not the English.
This could be a sign that the tide is turning and it is Pochettino and Guardiola leading the charge. Two different approaches in the transfer market but two managers who believe in attacking football, and who are harnessing young English talent. There is no reason either cannot win it.