European football took centre stage this week as the Champions League and Europa League continued apace. There were mixed results for the British sides, with Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea and Rangers tasting victory, while Tottenham, Liverpool and Celtic all got beaten. Manchester United, meanwhile, had to settle for a goalless draw at Old Trafford.
The second tier of English football had a busy midweek too as all 24 Championship sides were in action over Tuesday and Wednesday evening. Wins for Leeds United and Middlesbrough on Tuesday and Sheffield United on Wednesday has made it a three-way battle for top spot between these sides, each having amassed 22 points this term.
Man City Only Champions League Victor
Pep Guardiola was the only manager of a Premier League side to mastermind a win this week as Man City edged a 2-1 triumph over Hoffenheim in Germany. The visitors were stunned in the first minute of the game when Ishak Belfodil scored through Ederson’s legs to put Hoffenheim one up. City soon responded though and in-form Sergio Aguero fired in the equaliser just six minutes later.
Things calmed down somewhat after that, but City upped their game in the closing stages and David Silva took advantage of a defensive mishap to get the goal that earned his side the vital three points. They are now second in Group F behind Lyon, who drew 2-2 with Shakhtar Donetsk.
Things were not quite as rosy for the other Manchester club as United limped to a 0-0 home draw against Valencia. The pressure continues to mount on United boss Jose Mourinho, whose side have had their worst start to the league for 29 years. The United players looked to be lacking intensity and though they should still make it out of this group, it remains to be seen whether Mourinho will still be at the helm.
Liverpool and Spurs Defeated
Wednesday evening was not great for the English sides as both Tottenham and Liverpool lost in the Champions League. Spurs hosted Barcelona, and it was never going to be an easy task. Lionel Messi and co showed they meant business from the off and the visitors took the lead after just two minutes through Philippe Coutinho, and Barca were two up before half time after Ivan Rakitic scored from 20 yards.
After the break the visitors continued to assert themselves, with Messi striking the woodwork twice. But it was the home side who scored next, Harry Kane firing low to lessen the deficit. The hope was swiftly killed off as Messi slid the ball into the Spurs goal just four minutes later. To their credit Spurs stuck to their guns and Erik Lamela’s deflected shot meant there was some excitement with the score at 3-2 to Barca. It was Messi who – as so often – had the last word, however, the Argentine finishing deftly after a shrewd dummy from Luis Suarez.
Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool were even more disappointed after going down 1-0 at Napoli after conceding a goal from Lorenzo Insigne in the final minute of normal time. Liverpool were not able to assert themselves on the game and Napoli controlled things for large parts of the match, mustering 14 shots with five on target to the Reds’ four shots with not a single one troubling the home keeper.
Liverpool fans will be massively disappointed with the nature of the defeat but also because their side failed to build on their impressive victory over PSG in their last Champions League match. This loss leaves Group C wide open with Napoli top on four points and Liverpool and PSG (who beat Red Star Belgrade 6-1) level on three points apiece.
Europa Victories for London Clubs
Thursday evening was more favourable to the English sides with Arsenal putting in a solid 3-0 triumph at Qarabag and Chelsea edging a 1-0 win at home against MOL Vidi. Meanwhile Steven Gerrard’s Rangers won 3-1 at home against Rapid Vienne while Celtic lost by the same scoreline at Red Bull Salzburg.
Arsenal’s latest fine performance was most impressive for the depth it showed the squad possesses. Okay, the opposition were not from the top drawer, but it was a potential banana skin and Unai Emery guided his side to a relatively easy win while also employing a 3-4-3 formation for the first time. Emile Smith Rowe, an 18 year old Arsenal academy graduate, scored his first goal for the senior team, and he looked like he could have a bright future.
Chelsea made plenty of changes to personal for their Europa League clash, but they did just about enough to get the victory. In truth they had more than enough possession and territory to have won this one easily, but in the end a single goal from Alvaro Morata was the difference.
Championship Title Race Evermore Exciting
As mentioned there is a three way tie for top spot in the Championship with Leeds, Middlesbrough and Sheff United all on 22 points. Leeds have the best goal difference of the three, and their narrow 1-0 victory over Hull on Tuesday was reward for a steady, confident performance in East Yorkshire. Leeds boss Marcelo Bielsa will be aiming for his side to string some wins together in the coming weeks to assert their authority at the top of the table.
Middlesbrough, meanwhile, won 2-0 at struggling Ispwich, while Sheffield United also posted a 2-0 victory, at mid-table Blackburn.
Fourth place West Bromwich Albion came back from 2-0 down with two late goals to earn a point at Sheffield Wednesday, while fifth place Norwich drew 1-1 at Derby County
There are some big matches in the Premier League this weekend, not least Liverpool versus Manchester City on Sunday. Then next week the focus turns to international football as the UEFA Nations League gets back underway. England have a couple of tricky matches to negotiate: away to the side that beat them in the World Cup semi final, Croatia, and then away to Spain. Anything other than two defeats might be seen as positive for Gareth Southgate.