Should Tottenham Fans be Worried? UEFA Champions League Preview 19/20 – Group B

The second group of this year’s competition, while not as competitive as others, still could be full of surprises. Two teams, you expect to progress and two that have been difficult in the past, there is still a chance for an upset

Red Star Belgrade

The Serbian side have garnered a reputation for being one of the scariest grounds to visit. Passionate and aggressive fans in an old stadium make an atmosphere some rarely experience in the modern game. We first saw Red Star at their best in recent memory in their surprising 2-0 win over Liverpool. It could be placed on Liverpool having an off game, but 2 first-half goals mounted a lot of pressure on the eventual winners that they couldn’t overcome. 

I fully expect Red Star to continue in their consistent enjoyment of causing problems for teams during their visit to Serbia, but it still won’t be enough. They’ll continue to struggle away from home, and while Marin, Van La Parra and Pavkov have their moments, It’s improbable they’ll escape this group. 

Bayern Munich

Bayern under Kovac have been tricky to describe. They did deservedly win the Bundesliga once again, but many issues were exposed. Weaknesses in midfield, lack of players in the wide areas and an overreliance on Lewandowski showcased a dominant team with so much work needed in keeping the side competitive in the future. 

Bayern’s first plan of action was to resolve their defence through the added additions of Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez. It’s strange how they’ve spent so much money fixing their defence when it was already the best in the league. Clear areas were needing of improvement, but I can understand their desire to add numbers. Hummels and Boateng were approaching the latter stages of their careers, and Kovac seemingly wanted more athletic defenders than the options at his disposal. Pavard and Hernandez were World Cup-winning defenders, capable at playing at either full-back or at centre half. 

Their acquisitions would have made more sense if they actually resolved the issues regarding wingers. Robben and Ribery finally departed the club and left huge holes that needed to be fixed through the transfer market. Bayern’s summer was dominated through the continual pursuit of Manchester City forward Leroy Sane. The German international would have been a sensational signing, giving a perfect winger, able to create and score. Unsurprisingly, The Premier League champions were unwilling to sell, and it left Bayern in a real predicament. Bayern are one of the few big clubs who are usually reluctant to pay more than their valuation. We’ve seen Manchester United, Barcelona, PSG, Liverpool and Juventus spend too much on individual players in their goal of being the best in Europe. Bayern are more traditional in a sense and do not want to get involved in the mess that is the transfer market. While it is respectable to have such an approach, sometimes beliefs just have to be sacrificed if you want to compete with the best teams around. 

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We even saw how they aren’t nearly as frightening as they once were in last year’s Champions League. Bayern were the first team to be absolutely ripped open by Ajax. It was the first time since in years we’ve seen Bayern struggle so much against opposition that isn’t Real Madrid or Barcelona, and it continued in the round of 16, where they were drawn against Liverpool. Their performance in both legs was poor. Bayern went to Anfield with conservatism in mind, opting to stop Liverpool instead of playing them. The Bavarians have been so imperative at the Allianz for years, that it made sense to take a point and attempt to beat the Reds back on their own turf. The problem is they were playing the second-best team in Europe, known for their ability to tear open big sides like Bayern, and were comfortably beaten by the eventual winners. This game displayed just how much needed to be done in turning Bayern back into the juggernauts they were under Heynckes and Pep.

Nevertheless, I expect Bayern to win this group. They will struggle when the round of 16 arrives, but for now, they’ll be at their usual best. They’ve started the season in extraordinary form, and I expect Kovac and his players to ease past a relatively weak group.

Olympiakos

After missing last year’s competition, Olympiakos return after qualifying in extremely comfortable fashion, beating Viktoria Plzen, Krasnodar and Başakşehir while only conceding a single goal, while scoring 13. There is a possibility they could cause a threat to either Tottenham or Bayern, but it’s improbable. Their best attacker, Konstantinos Fortounis, suffered an ACL injury back in July and isn’t returning until 2020. It leaves them with Mathieu Valbuena, Daniel Podence and Masouras as their main attacking threats, which just isn’t enough to worry their opponents. It may sound harsh to write them off completely, but I cannot see Olympiakos escaping this group at all, but will most likely finish in 3rd if they manage to overcome Red Star. 

Tottenham Hotspur

Mauricio Pochettino’s side spectacularly reached the Champions League final. Their historic comeback to beat the neutral’s favourite team Ajax will go down as one of the best comebacks in Champions League history, but their whole season can be best described as overperforming. They were laughably placed in the same title-chasing bracket as Manchester City and Liverpool by Christmas when they were never close to them. Spurs were overperforming expected goals throughout the season. The only reason they managed to finish in the top four was down to their strong start, because their form during their second half of the season was relegation worthy, losing to Bournemouth, Burnley, Southampton, West Ham and Manchester United. 

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Tottenham finishing in the top four and reaching a cup final should all be credited to their manager. Pochettino managed all this without signing any players and missing crucial personnel through vast stretches of the season. Not only that, he had to work without any competent midfielders. Spurs went from a generally fun side to watch to be more direct and efficient, due to their lack of midfield talent. When attacking, they would continually skip the midfield and attempt to play it long to the attackers, which worked well considering their situation. The reality is that Tottenham should never have reached that far in the Champions League. They narrowly escaped their group and got lucky with wins over City and Ajax. 

After a summer which saw significant improvements in midfield but weakened in other areas, I’m expecting Spurs to struggle again. They’ve started the season poorly, and their performances against Newcastle and Aston Villa highlighted some glaring issues in attack. I still expect Tottenham to escape the group, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see them limp over the line in worrying fashion. 

UEFA Champions League 18/19 Preview – Group C

While I’d argue that Group B is the group of death, Group C is seriously not far from it. With last year’s finalists, Ligue 1 champions, Europe’s hipster team, and the team with the craziest fans, it’s going to be every interesting.

Red Star Belgrade

Talking about the way Red Star play or their threatening players is difficult because I do not know much about them at all. All I can take is how they performed against Arsenal last season in the Europa League, where they defended well and caused Arsenal the occasional problem. They only just about reached the competition, by beating Red Bull Salzburg on away goals. They have won every game so far this season, with their most recent win being a Vojvodina 4-1. They go into the competition in good form. However what they are most known for is their crazy supporters, to a point where they have been banned from the away games. They will create an atmosphere that will trouble all the teams that will go there, and could even cause an upset with their crazy supporters behind them. But the quality of the other teams is too high, so a bottom finish for them, but they will surely be entertaining.

Napoli

Napoli were absolutely sensational last season. They played some of the best football in Europe, with a team so balanced and full of players that have turned into real world beaters. However unfortunately for them they were against Allegri’s winning machine, and couldn’t beat them over the line, but they did come so close, and kept Serie A entertaining. However the summer wasn’t great. While Ancelotti is a solid appointment, Sarri built that team in his image, and it’ll be difficult to change it. Losing Jorginho was predicted, but still difficult. He is one of the best controllers of the game in Europe. He is one of the reasons Sarri ball worked so effectively. Fabian Ruiz is a fine addition to the side, and Diawara and Zielinski are both talented enough to fill that void effectively. Napoli have been slightly inconsistent to start the season, however they have had a difficult start to say the least. Playing Milan, Lazio, and Sampdoria to start the season is a tough way to introduce a new manager. Their 3-0 defeat to Sampdoria was difficult to watch, with Napoli just being so poor on the day, especially in attack. I do think they are going to struggle in this group. They play 2 sides that are so good at counter attacking and can hit so hard on the pace that it’ll be difficult for Napoli to compete. While they are a very good side, they just had the wrong end of the draw. Europa League again for the Italian side.

Liverpool

Liverpool go into this group as my favourites. Their team is now at a stage where it can win a major trophy, whether it’s a league title or this competition. They fixed some of their bigger areas, being their midfield and goalkeeper. Allison already looks like twice the player that Karius was, being so composed and confident in goal. The additions of Naby Keita and Fabinho give some great depth in an area I have criticised Liverpool for not addressing for a while now. Keita is one of the most complete midfielders around and Fabinho is excellent in the air and gives good defensive support to the centre halves. Speaking of centre halves, the difference Virgil Van Dijk has made to that side is just outstanding. Having a defender that confident, strong and intelligent, just makes the rest of the team so much more confident. He is by far Liverpool’s most important player, and has transformed himself into one of the best defenders in the world. However it’s their attack that always catches the headlines. Salah, Mane and Firmino is easily the best front three in Europe. While it can be argued that Barcelona and PSG have better individual players in those as areas, they just work so well as a unit. Mane is incredibly flexible, and can create and score. Firmino gives so much for team, with his tackling and movement, and Salah is just a goal machine. They have the ability to beat anyone, and I think they will top this group.

Paris Saint-Germain

The Ligue 1 champions look extremely deadly going into this tournament. They finally have a coach that can match their ambition of winning a champions league. Tuchel’s coaching ability cannot be underestimated. He kept Dortmund competitive and will now make Paris better than they’ve ever been. They have improved on areas in their squad I have had issues with. Mainly their goalkeeper and left back. I never liked Kurzawa. His off the field antics kept him from being a top level defender. Bringing in Juan Bernat, a player with a great dribbling ability and contributes well in the final third, is a great move. Gianluigi Buffon is a great signing. He is the best goalkeeper of all time in my opinion, no matter how old he is, he will add something to any team. Their attack is still incredibly deadly. Mbappe is coming off a historic world cup, Cavani is an elite forward, and Neymar is an excellent player, and continues to fight for that Balon d’Or. However he is part of the problem with this team. He seems to be a problem for the team. His clear ambition to move to Madrid will hold Paris back in the long term. Rabiot is another who as emerged as a real problem. The Frenchman acted incredibly immaturely when not selected for the France squad before Russia. Marco Veratti is another who seems to not be on good terms with Tuchel, with the manager making the midfielder lose weight because he doesn’t deem him fit enough to play. Tuchel has a lot of work settling this squad. But they are still so talented and will get out of this group based on manager and player quality.

Final Table

1. Liverpool

2. PSG

3. Napoli

4. Red Star Belgrade