Champions League Preview: Can English Clubs Challenge For The Cup As Five Premier League Clubs Enter The Group Stage For The First Time?

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By Ogbonna Goodluck

 

It has been five years since an English side last lifted the Champions League trophy, after Chelsea beat Bayern Munich on penalties in 2012.

Since then, Premier League sides have struggled to compete – however this year, thanks to Manchester United winning the Europa League and Liverpool coming through the play-off, there will be five sides from the division in the group stage for the very first time.

Chelsea return after a season away but could find they lack in squad depth, Tottenham are hoping to do better with experience as they play at Wembley, Liverpool also return and will look to live up to their illustrious European history, Man City look to win it with their attacking depth and Pep Guardiola in charge and Man United are making the step up after Europa League glory last season.

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CHELSEA

Reasons to be cheerful

For the Blues, it’s good to be back. Given their dominance of the Premier League last season, it is almost forgotten that they had no European football to contend with after their dire 2015-16 efforts. Regular midweek football is making a welcome return to Stamford Bridge.

Reasons to be fearful

Part of the reason for Chelsea winning the league last season was that they could name a very settled team, week in, week out, with minimal rotation. With six extra games before Christmas and – they hope and expect – more afterwards, this will be a tougher task.

Manager experience

Antonio Conte has bags of Champions League experience as a player – he won it in 1996, and reached three subsequent finals – but has never made it that far as a manager, with Juventus only reaching that stage after he left to coach the Italian national side.

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TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR

Reasons to be cheerful

Following last season’s disappointments, Spurs return 12 months wiser to the European stage. Only Kyle Walker has jumped ship, Dele Alli and Harry Kane are now major campaigners, and they now know what to expect from midweek nights at Wembley.

Reasons to be fearful

One win in 10 at the national stadium, they suffered defeats to Monaco and CSKA Moscow there last season, along with a shock Europa League elimination by Gent. Also, while few have left, now real extra experience of the Champions League has been added.

Manager experience

Mauricio Pochettino’s debut Champions League season was last year, and it did not go according to plan. Expectations are constantly growing and he must meet them.

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LIVERPOOL

Reasons to be cheerful

If the first 20 minutes of the second leg against Hoffenheim is anything to go by, Liverpool will bring their A-game to the Champions League this season. European nights at Anfield have a tendency to be something special.

 

Reasons to be fearful

Like Chelsea, Liverpool are dealing with added European pressures on their schedule after a season away. Given the Reds struggled to deal with the usual winter fixture pile-up, facing a whole season of it could be tough.

Manager experience

Jurgen Klopp reached the final of the Champions League at Wembley in 2013 with Borussia Dortmund – although they just fell short, as his Reds did in the 2016 Europa League final against Sevilla.

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MANCHESTER CITY

Reasons to be cheerful

Pep Guardiola has his feet under the table and the owner’s wallet fully opened. City have spent big on Champions League standard talent, and having come as close as any English side to winning it in the past five years – semi-finalists in 2015-16 – they will want to go better.

Reasons to be fearful

With a club bathed in history of being the underdog, being clear favourites sometimes does not sit easily with City – their last 16 exit to Monaco last year is proof of that. Ederson clicking in goal faster than Claudio Bravo is also a must.

Manager experience

Pep fell short of winning the Champions League while at Bayern Munich and will be desperate to avoid the same fate here. He won it twice with Barcelona of course, in 2009 – completing the treble – and 2011, defeating Man United both times.

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MANCHESTER UNITED

Reasons to be cheerful

It is well documented how Jose Mourinho gets the best out of his teams in their second season under him. Porto, Chelsea, Inter Milan, Real Madrid and Chelsea again all felt it, now United fans will be hoping the momentum of the Europa League win will be carried on into this campaign.

Reasons to be fearful

Based on two 4-0 wins from their first two league games, with a firing Romelu Lukaku and an invigorated Paul Pogba, it doesn’t seem like there are many. However, this is a huge step up from a weak Europa League last season, and United cannot be as profligate as they often were when drawing several winnable games last year.

Manager experience

Guardiola may disagree, but Mourinho is the most experienced when it comes to Champions League success. His wins with Porto in 2004 and Inter in 2010 were largely unexpected, although his record with Real Madrid and Chelsea was patchier.

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